Running from April 11-22, Exercise Joint Warrior 16-1 was the latest installment of the long running “wargame” held in the UK. With just 30 ships being involved from 15 nations, this edition of the bi-annual exercise was – in terms of naval assets at least – smaller in comparison to previous. However, for the UK aviation enthusiast it was one of the better exercises with RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland playing host to the majority of the rotary, fast jet and Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) taking part.
Joint Warrior is one of Europe’s biggest military exercises and sees a vast array of types participating and training in ‘real world’ situations – including those of crisis. The exercise, which is organised under the control of the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS), is designed to test all the participants in a series of increasingly complex scenarios based on state versus state warfare in both a realistic training environment as well as covering all aspects of the participating forces roles.
Held over two weeks, the first sees a number of initial engagements between the battling Nation States simulated during a period of incredibly high tension but within very strict rules of engagement. The second week see these skirmishes morph into high tempo operations including amphibious assaults. These are also interspersed with smaller scenarios that give experience and training in other areas of modern day warfare such as Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) and Combat Air Support (CAS) plus counter narcotic, counter piracy and counter terrorism.
As with previous Joint Warriors, RAF Lossiemouth on Scotland’s east coast was again on hand to play host to the majority of the air assets including MPAs from six nations – the United States Navy (USN), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Aéronavale (French Navy), Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Air Force/RNoAF) and Marineflieger (German Navy) relocating to the base. Three United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) HH-60G Pavehawks from RAF Lakenheath were joined by five F-16s of the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force/TuAF) at the Moray base. Other aircraft involved included Hawk T1s from both the Royal Air Force (100 Squadron) and the Fleet Air Arm (736 Naval Air Squadron), Falcon 20s operated by Cobham and based Eurofighter Typhoons from II(AC) Squadron.
Despite the fact that Joint Warrior incorporates operations on land, in the air and out at sea, it is the later that sees the majority of the action with an area stretching from the Irish Sea, north to Cape Wrath and East to the Moray Firth as well as further West into the Atlantic. The Air Weapons Ranges at both Tain and Cape Wrath as well as the Electronic Warfare Tactics Range at RAF Spadeadam are all utilised by numerous types throughout, with both Cape Wrath and Tain being peppered with live ordinance from aircraft as well as numerous ships on a daily basis.
Given the range of types basing out of ‘Lossie’ the typical sortie times varied between five to eight hours for the MPAs, around 60 minutes to two hours for the fast jets and anything up to three hours for the Pavehawks – depending on the type of mission being flown. Other factors dictating the sortie times (and in some cases the rates flown) included currency and role training as well as how the scenarios unfolded for each side day to day.
The Maritime Patrol element made up the majority of the sorties flown from the Scottish base despite just six (down from 12 across the two weeks in 2015) MPA assets in attendance. Those six consisting of two USN Boeing P-8A Poseidons from VP-10 (Patrol Squadron 10), a single Lockheed CP-140M Aurora from 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron of the RCAF, a sole Lockheed P-3C Orion from the Luftforsvaret’s 333 Squadron, an Aéronavale Breguet Atlantique II from 23 Flottille and a Lockheed P-3C Orion from Marinefliegergeschwader 3 (MFG 3) of the German Navy.
Flying daily, the MPA sorties began on the Monday of ‘Week One’ with one of the Poseidons (168764/LD) heading out on the first tasking. However unlike previous Joint Warriors, the missions – which are spread between the attending assets and their crews – seemed to follow a somewhat more sporadic and non-uniformed pattern and in some cases aircraft were seen to fly on numerous occasions during a 24-hour period. Other obvious changes to previous editions included the lack of cover round the clock, which meant on more than one occasion there were no MPAs airborne! Yet, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there were times when multiple MPAs departed out on task within minutes of one another.
Once airborne and under the direction of ‘Hunter Ops’ the MPAs would usually find themselves with a transit time of around 60 minutes before relieving the aircraft on station. Whilst on station the aircraft would carry out their tasking jointly with both land and/or seaborne assets under the callsign MANTIS – this normally followed by two numbers. Again, unlike previous years that saw the final MPA sortie conducted on the Thursday of ‘Week Two’, 16-1 saw the last sortie being flown on the Wednesday – the honour falling to RCAF CP-140M 140104. This seemingly early finish allows for the exercise debrief and crew rest before the aircraft typically head for home on the Friday, of which all deployed aircraft did.
Over the two weeks the MPAs flew some 34 sorties – 13 from the US P-8s, 7 from the Canadian CP-140M, French Atlantique and Norwegian P-3C and just a single tasking for the German Orion.
The Canadians, like the French, are ‘JW’ regulars and were given the night shift for the majority of the first week while being tasked with mainly daytime missions during the second. The Aurora is an interesting aircraft and more on its operation role can be found here – https://www.aeroresource.co.uk/operational-reports/cp-140-aurora-canadian-mma
The Aéronavale with their Breguet Atlantique II seemed to be busier than the rest. Flying mostly at night with only a small number of daytime missions over the two weeks, the distinct drone of the type’s Rolls-Royce Tynes turbo-props filled the skies of Moray.
One of the less regular, but very welcome, participants was a sole Royal Norwegian Air Force Lockheed P-3C from 333 Squadron. The crews were certainly busy over the two weeks flying almost daily with a mixture of day and night sorties. Based out of Andøya Air Station, the aircraft is one of six (four P-3C and two P-3N) in use in the MPA role with the nation who have expressed concerns in recent years about the strain placed on the fleet since the loss of the UK’s Nimrod fleet. In early 2014, it was also reported that the country were having increasing difficulty in keeping the Orions operational and that they had looked at the possibly leasing a number of P-8s from Boeing directly.
Making a brief appearance during the first week was a single example of a German Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion from Marinefliegergeschwader 3 (MFG 3). For an unknown reason the aircraft flew just one sortie late on the first day of the exercise before departing back home to Nordholz Naval Airbase just four days later. However, until fairly recently it was usual for the aircraft to operate from their base in Germany so it was a nice addition for those at the fence despite just the single movement.
The United States Navy P-8A Poseidons of VP-10 gave RAF Lossiemouth a taste of its future. Under the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review it was announced that the UK plan to fill their MPA gap (following the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4) with nine of the type based there. VP-10 themselves are no strangers to Joint Warrior having taken part with their P-3C Orions on a number of occasions before converting onto the Boeing jet in late 2015 and Joint Warrior was in fact the first overseas deployment for the ‘Red Lancers’ with the new aircraft.
The 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons from RAF Lakenheath made possibly their last participation in Joint Warrior before they relocate to Aviano Air Force Base, Italy in 2017. The units arrived with three of the their HH-60G Pavehawks. Operating from the old 202 Squadron pan on the south side, the Pavehawks were seen to fly twice in the daylight and a number of night sorties. The HH-60Gs mainly flew Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions up to Tain Air but also made the most of their visit to Moray by utilizing the local Search and Rescue training areas around it and neighbouring Speyside. Having been a regular sight in skies of Moray during ‘JW’, the type and its unique ‘thump, thump, thump’ will surely be missed if indeed this was their last appearance at the exercise.
Joint Warrior 16-1 will however be remembered for the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri participation with a number of their Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) built F-16 Block 50s (4 x C and 1 x D ‘Big Spine’) from 181 Filo ‘Pars’. Arriving from their home base at Diyarbakir Air Base on the Thursday before the exercise, the five jets were joined by a pair of C-160D Transalls and a single Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker bringing in the necessary support – the latter also acting as a ‘flying gas station’ for the thirsty jets. Despite Lossiemouth having opened in May 1939, it is said that the arrival of the first Transall (69-021) was in fact the very first visit from a Turkish machine in the base’s 77-year history!
Flying two sorties a day comprising four aircraft, the Turkish certainly made the most of their visit to Scotland with visits to the country’s low-fly system and visiting the ‘danger zones’ of both Air Weapons Ranges at Cape Wrath and Tain. Much to the delight of the gathered aviation enthusiasts, all of the jets wore special markings featuring a stylised Leopard with green eye (Leopard is the literal translation of ‘Pars’) and were fitted with CFTs (Conformal fuel tanks). The crews also visited the fence line on numerous occasions to speak to the gathered masses – who were incredibly grateful – and to sell their squadron memorabilia. Upon departure, the five jets formed up and flew a five-ship flypast before meeting up with their tanker for the journey back to Turkey. Also providing support to the F-16s deployment was one of the Air Arm’s newest additions – an Airbus Military A400M ATLAS from 221 Filo ‘Esen’ based out of Erkilet Air Base.
Given the nature of the exercise, the base at Lossiemouth also played host to number of unexpected visitors which made very welcome appearances across the two weeks including a pair of United States Navy Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawks from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 (HSC-28) ‘Dragon Whales’ which were operating from the USNS Robert E Peary. The Seahawks made multiple visits during the exercise whilst operating at nearby Burghead Beach and Kinloss Barracks. The machines were also used to ferry troops to and from Lossiemouth to Tain – giving the enthusiasts plenty opportunities to capture these rare machines.
By far the most unexpected, but possibly the highlight of the exercise, was a visit from the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s sole VIP Falcon 20 bringing spares for one on the forces C-130J which had gone unserviceable. Whilst three of the type are operated by 717 Skv this is the only one in service with the VIP fit – the other two machines wear an all over matt black scheme and are used in the ECM role.
Although expected, it was still a welcome sight when one of the Royal Air Force’s brand new A400Ms (ZM406) arrived wearing its new 70 Squadron Centenary markings during ‘Week Two’. The arrival of the RAF aircraft meant that over the two weeks a total of four A400Ms from three different Air Arms visited the base – the highlight of the four being the first UK visits of Luftwaffe examples, the second of which wore ‘60 Years of Luftwaffe’ markings on the tail. Also supporting the P3 were numerous C-160D Transall’s with one (50+55) wearing nose art in support of the C160 fleets involvement in the Afghanistan and to celebrate the agreement between the German Air Force Transport wing and the Afghan Air Force.
Although not taking part in the exercise, Lossiemouth based XV(R) Squadron continued to fly their daily missions training both pilots and navigators how to fly the Tornado GR4. Flying a four ship in the morning and three or four single ships in the afternoon, the ‘Tonka’ boys gave the visiting enthusiasts plenty opportunities to capture the ‘Mighty Fin’ which is sadly, if rumours are true, a dying breed with XV rumoured to leave the Scottish base by the end of the year.
For many, Joint Warrior 16-1 was one of the best in a long time. There was very little time where there wasn’t something happening, be it a fast jet, rotary or MPA movement. The lack of local Typhoon action was noted by a few, but with 1(F) and 6 Squadron either going out or coming back from Operations against the Islamic State there was only II(AC) Squadron to fly the flag for the Typhoon Force. However, with two weeks of settled weather, despite two days of strong winds, there were plenty happy faces going home with what they’d captured during the exercise. Roll on Joint Warrior 16-2!