Last week the Armée de l’Air’s Base Aérienne 118 (BA 118) at Mont-de-Marsan hosted the second edition of the Recce Meet exercise, cunningly named “Recce Meet 2014”. Karl Drage reports for GAR.
Located approximately a 1.5 hour drive south of Bordeaux and a 2.5 hour drive west of Toulouse, BA 118 Mont-de-Marsan is located in a particularly quaint part of the Aquitaine region.
BA 118 is home to several units of the AdlA and a variety of interesting and attractive French-designed and built aircraft including examples of Dassault’s Mirage F1, Mirage 2000C and D, Rafale and Alpha Jet.
2014 will see the retirement of the sleek Mirage F1 from AdlA service, and, as such, ER 2/33 “Savoie” – the squadron responsible for organising Recce Meet 14 – took the opportunity to invite enthusiasts from around the world to share with them on what would be one of the last opportunities for the public to get up close and personal with the type in an operational environment.
While demand outstripped supply, GAR was fortunate enough to have two representatives present for the Thursday event.
Organised for the first time in 2013, Recce Meet was conceived to provide a forum for the exchange of reconnaissance skills and experiences, as well as putting lessons learnt into practice in an environment relevant to real world operations, with multinational co-operation in mixed fighter packages.
As well as recce tasks, simulated strikes were also carried out against realistic airborne threats, and pilots, intelligence personnel and imagery analysts were all involved and challenged in the evaluation of the captured footage.
Recce Meet 14 was scheduled to take place over a period of three days with each participating squadron flying a total of five missions.
Three of those five missions were classed as “War Time Recce”, which involved the employment of tactical reconnaissance techniques, such as operating at high speed and at low-level and making use of stand-off sensors. Those missions were also the ones that included the COMAO (COMbined Air Operation) element, where packages of dissimilar types operated together.
The remaining two missions were considered to be “Peace Time Recce” sorties, performing searches for specific targets and for the creation of objective files.
Participating directly in the exercise were the resident Mirage F1s of ER 2/33 “Savoie” and the Rafales of EC 2/30 “Normandie-Niemen”. Additionally, EC 1/7 “Provence” provided Rafales from BA 113 at St Dizier, while the Aéronavale’s Flotille 11F contributed Rafale Ms from its base at Landivisiau. Whilst single examples of aircraft from the latter two named squadrons were present at Mont-de-Marsan on the Thursday, it is assumed that the bulk of their participants had operated from their home bases.
The multinational part of the exercise came courtesy of a pair of RF-4E Phantom IIs from the Hellenic Air Force’s 348 Squadron based at Larissa and Spain’s Ejército del Aire, which supplied two EF-18M Hornets from Ala 12 based at Torrejon AB near Madrid. They, along with the German Luftwaffe and Royal Air Force – neither of which was able to attend – were invited to share the ‘recce spirit’ but were not fully integrated into the competitive element of the exercise.
At one stage during Thursday’s proceedings, a mixed formation of two Mirage F1s and two Spanish Hornets was being chased around the circuit by a pair comprising Mirage 2000D and Rafale C. A most unusual and very welcome spectacle!
Many things were judged during the exercise in order to declare a winner, such as identification challenges based on images, observation and interpretation work, as well as the way the missions were conducted.
Ultimately, ER 2/33 was forced to hand over the trophy that they won during the inaugural edition of the exercise to their resident BA 118 rivals EC 2/30 following a narrow victory.
At this stage there are plans for the Mirage F1 to soldier on until mid-August, with the type featuring prominently in the Bastille Day flypast down the Champs-Elysées on 14 July.
For those present at the ‘Spotters Day’, it was a very well-organised event offering superb access to some stunning aircraft operating in a magnificent tree-lined environment. The excellent lunch and goody bag were very well received, too, even if the former did cause some concern for members of groups 3 and 4 who had to eat theirs whilst groups 1 and 2 got to shoot the morning recoveries and circuit-bashing Mirage F1Bs! Such was the quantity of afternoon flying that that was soon forgotten, however!
Karl Drage and Tom Gibbons extend sincere thanks to everyone at BA 118 Mont-de-Marsan and ER 2/33 “Savoie” for making access possible.