The French Air Force and Royal Air Force have sent their finest equipment and crews to Langley AFB in Virginia to take part in an inaugural exercise, dubbed simply “Trilateral Exercise,” alongside the 1st Fighter Wing’s F-22 Raptors. This international air combat force will focus on integrated training for taking on enemies while operating in anti-access and area denial environments.

Six Rafales, eight Typhoons, along with two KC-135FR Stratotankers and two KC-30 Voyagers, made the trip across the Atlantic for the exercise that will last from Dec 2nd to the 18th. Playing the bad guys will be American F-15E Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson AFB, as well as Langley’s own jammer-toting T-38 Talon force that the F-22s are constantly training against. USAF E-3 Airborne Warning And Control Systems (AWACS) will also be part of the integrated training scenarios.

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Surely there will also be a wide array of advanced radar threats to deal with, and the Navy could very well play a role, acting as enemy picket ships, although these details remain undisclosed. US, French and UK tankers will provide tanker support for the exercise.

Dealing with fighting in an anti-access/area denial environment against an advanced foe is changing military doctrine as we know it. Countries like China have built a fortress-like defensive strategy around it, and the U.S. is working to adapt to that strategy with concepts like the Air-Sea Battle and distributed lethality.

As advanced surface-to-air missile systems, low observable and unmanned technologies, as well as long-range weaponry and sensors proliferate around the globe, near-peer state adversaries will not be the only ones who can lay down and anti-access, area denial gauntlet. Iran, with its new S-300 missile system, small boat swarms, sea mines and missiles can also present a anti-access scenario in the future. As such, developing tactics for such situations, and training with allies to employ those tactics will be increasingly necessary. And this is clearly what this exercise is all about.

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U.S. Air Force Colonel Pete Fesler, the commander of the 1st FW at Langley described the exercise as such:

“The RAF and FrAF are our vital strategic partners and allies in the current fight against extremism, and will be in any foreseeable future conflict... The trilateral exercise gives us an opportunity to train together in realistic counter-air and strike scenarios. This training is critical to ensure that we have day-one inter-operability for future contingency operations.”

This highly focused, exclusive, multi-nation exercise, where everyone’s top-end assets are brought to the table, is a new development, one that is much different than wider focus and more accessible Red Flag air-war exercises held multiple times a year at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. As such it is a clear signal that America and its closest allies are coming to terms with the fact that the highly asymmetric wars of the past may not resemble the wars of the future.


Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.

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