The 2019 iteration of the NATO Tiger Meet took place at Base Aerienne 118 Mont-de-Marsan, in southwestern France, from May 13th to 24th. Chris Wood reports from le repaire du Tigre (the Tigers’ lair) for GAR, with additional photography by Tom Gibbons.
This was the first time that the Tiger Meet had been held at Mont-de-Marsan, which is home to Escadre de Chasse EC 30 (30th Fighter Wing) of the Armee de l’Air (French Air Force). EC 30 includes two Tiger squadrons; Escadron de Chasse et d’Experimentation ECE 1/30 (1st Fighter and Experimentation Squadron of the 30th Fighter Wing) ‘Cote d’Argent’, and Escadron de Chasse EC 3/30 (3rd Fighter Squadron of the 30th Fighter Wing) ‘Lorraine’. This year’s event was hosted by EC 3/30, who are the newest members of the NATO Tiger Association having joined in 2016. They became eligible to join the community when SPA 162 ‘Tigers’ transferred to EC 3/30 as the 3rd Escadrille (Flight). It is also home to the French Air Force’s Centre d’Expertise Aerienne Militaire (CEAM, Air Warfare Centre), and various other flying and ground based units.
Whilst the Tiger community enjoys a strong camaraderie, the Tiger Meet has a serious purpose and is probably one of the largest and most diverse exercises within NATO. This year’s exercise involved around 50 fast jets, 10 helicopters and other airborne assets, from nine countries, as well as ground based air defence systems and a warship. A further four countries sent observers. A total of 700 French Air Force servicemen and woman, plus a further 150 from the French Navy and Army as well as 800 foreign servicemen and women were expected to take part.
On the flying days two missions were scheduled, a COMAO (COMposite Air Operations) mission in the morning and what was termed a Shadow mission in the afternoon. The COMAO mission was described as a ‘large scale international Entry Force’ (first to enter a contested airspace in a hostile territory) mission, whilst the Shadow mission covered a variety of scenarios; Within Visual Range combat, Close Air Support, Electronic Warfare, Jamming and Mixed Fighter Element (mix of French and foreign fighters in a patrol).
Analysis of the missions was done through a dedicated Distributed Mission Operations Centre (DMOC), which gave a real time display of the air situation using software that enabled a connection, via Link 16, to the same network as the aircraft. Within the DMOC an experienced pilot, the Air Boss, was able to lead, and modify, the missions to meet the training objectives. Assisting the Air Boss were two Range Training Officers who were able to do real time battle damage assessments and remove aircraft from the mission that had been ‘hit’.
The Tiger Meet is strong on traditions (don’t mention ‘dead bugs’ around Tiger aircrew!), one of which is a theme for the Meet. Perhaps not surprisingly EC 3/30 chose the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, opting for a ‘Dark Smoking Tiger’ to represent the smoke screen created in the early hours of 6th June 1944 by twelve Bostons of 342 Squadron (the forerunner of EC 3/30) over the Normandy beaches. ‘The Dark Tiger rises from the night’s darkness and blows the wind of freedom. It symbolizes the union of the Tiger spirit and the mythic heritage of the Free French Forces’.
The squadron painted a Rafale in a ‘Dark Tiger’ scheme, and this was one of five aircraft with overall schemes. A further ten aircraft sported Tiger tails.
On the first Friday the base held a Spotter’s Day, which allowed enthusiasts and photographers to get up close to the action with an enclosure between the taxiway and the runway. Unfortunately, what had started out as a gloriously sunny week saw a deterioration in the weather as a storm system moved in and the day was rather wet. However this didn’t affect the flying, dampen the enthusiasm, or deter the arrivals of a number of aircraft for a Families Day, held the following day.
NATO Tiger Association participants:
Austria: 1 Jet Trainer Squadron, Linz-Horsching, three SAAB 105OE
Belgium: 31 Smaldeel, Kleine Brogel, five F-16AM and one F-16BM
France: ECE 1/30, Mont-de-Marsan ‘Cote d’Argent’, three Mirage 2000D and four Rafale B/C
EC 3/30, Mont-de-Marsan ‘Lorraine’, four Rafale B/C
3 RHC, Etain Rouvres, three SA342M Gazelle
Germany: TakLwG 51, Schleswig–Jagel, four Tornado ECR
Italy: XII Gruppo, Gioia Del Colle, four EF 2000 and two EF2000T Eurofighters
21 Gruppo, Grazzinise, two AB 212AM
NATO: AEWCF No 1 Squadron, Geilenkirchen, one E-3A
Portugal: Esquadra 301 ‘Jaguars’, Monte Real, four F-16AM and one F-16BM
Spain: Ala 15, Zaragoza, six EF-18AM and one EF-18BM
UK: 814 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Culdrose, one Merlin HM2
230 Squadron, RAF Benson, two Puma HC2
France: EE 3/8, Cazaux ‘Cote D’Or’, six Alpha Jet E
EDCA 36, Avord, one E-3F
5 RHC, Pau Pyrenees, one EC665 Tigre HAP
Additionally GFD (Gesellschaft fur Flugzieldarstellung) provided a Learjet 35 for aerial target services.
Prizes for a number of categories are another Tiger tradition. This year’s prize winners were as follows:
Silver Tiger Trophy: Esquadra 301 ‘Jaguars’ Portugal
Best Flying Unit: EC 3/30 ‘Lorraine’ France
Tiger Games Winner: ECE 1/30 ‘Cote d’Argent’ France
Best Skit: 3 RHC France
Best Looking Uniform: 1 Jet Trainer Squadron Austria
Most Fancy Paint Scheme: EC 3/30 ‘Lorraine’ France
The 2020 Tiger Meet is scheduled to be hosted by Esquadra 301 of the Portuguese Air Force at Beja Air Base, from May 11th to 22nd.
‘TIGER, TIGER, TIGER!’ (don’t mention the bugs!…..)