The 2022 iteration of NATO’s Tiger Meet took place at Araxos Air Base in western Greece between 9th and 20th May. Chris Wood reports.
This was the first time that the Hellenic Air Force (HAF – Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia) had hosted a Tiger Meet since Greece joined the organisation in 1972. The host squadron was 335 Mira, ‘Aegean Tigers’, flying Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52+ Fighting Falcons.
The exercise provided the opportunity for the participating squadrons to practice a variety of complex air operations covering a wide spectrum of modern air warfare, such as Defensive and Offensive Counter Air, Air Interdiction, Dynamic Targeting, Time Sensitive Targeting, Suppression and Destruction of Enemy Air Defences, Air Power Contribution to Land Operations and Air Power Contribution to Maritime Operations. Around 60 aircraft took part and over 600 missions were flown throughout Greek airspace.
Taking part were 31 Smaldeel from Kleine Brogel, Belgium with F-16AM Fighting Falcons.
221 Vrl from Namest, Czech Republic with Mi 35 Hinds
Escadron de Chasse et Experimentation (ECE) 1/30 from Mont de Marsan, France with Rafale Bs
Escadron de Chasse (EC) 3/30, also from Mont de Marsan, with Rafale Cs
11 Flotille from Landivisiau, France with Rafale Ms
12 Gruppo from Gioia del Colle, Italy with Eurofighter 2000s
Ala 15 from Zaragoza, Spain with EF-18 Hornets
Staffel 11 from Meiringen, Switzerland with F/A-18C Hornets.
External assets included the F-16C/D Block 52+s of the other Araxos based squadron, 336 Mira ‘Olympus’.
Other aircraft from a large number of HAF squadrons also took part, flying F-16C/Ds, Mirage 2000-5s, F-4E (AUP) Phantom IIs, C-130H Hercules, AB205As and Airborne Early Warning and Control EMB-145H, as well as assets from the the Hellenic Navy and Army. Additionally Aeronavale E-2C Hawkeyes from 4 Flotille based at Lorient were involved.
A number of countries sent observers and other personnel, including Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and the USA. Germany and Portugal also sent aircraft for a weekend stop.
The Tiger Meet has a number of traditions, ranging from painting aircraft in special tiger themed colour schemes, through special tiger games to each country hosting nationally themed dining. Another is the awarding of various categories of prize. This years prize winners were:
- Silver Tiger: EC3/30
- Best Operations: 31 Smaldeel
- Best Tiger Aircraft: EC3/30
- Best Uniform: EC3/30
- Tiger Games: 221Vrl
The HAF organised a number of events during the exercise; a Spotters Day on Friday 13th May, a small airshow on Sunday 15th and a Media Day on Monday 16th.
The Spotters Day activity comprised a large Combined Air Operations mission in the morning, a Tiger Formation which overflew various landmarks including Athens in the early afternoon and further afternoon sorties.
The airshow was a small affair, with a relatively small crowd of enthusiasts and local people. Most of the Tiger jets were on static display, and the flying display comprised a Czech Mil 35 Hind, Belgian F-16 Fighting Falcon, Spanish EF-18 Hornet and the Aeronavale Rafale M two ship tactical display. The HAF contribution was the T-6A Texan II ‘Daedalus’ Demo Team, the F-16C ‘Zeus’ Demo Team and the recently restored Spitfire Mk IX MJ755.
335 Mira is considered the oldest squadron in the HAF and can trace its lineage back to October 1941, when it was formed at Akir in Palestine with Hurricane IIs. These were replaced by Spitfire Mk Vs, which in turn were replace by Spitfire Mk IXs and XVIs in 1947. In 1953 it became the first HAF squadron to operate jets when it received F-84G Thunderjets and RT-33As. In autumn 1957 it received F-84F Thunderstreaks, which it operated until they were replaced by F-104G Starfighters in May 1965. The F-104s gave way to A-7 Corsairs in 1993 and then the squadron transitioned to the F-16C/D in 2009. The squadron has been at Araxos since June 1977.
One Greek F-16C was adorned with tiger markings, and led the Tiger Formation. 335 and 336 Mira share the latest batch of 30 F-16s acquired by Greece, but this aircraft isn’t one of them. It’s their first Block 50 aircraft, and it’s spent time based at Edwards Air Force Base in California, trialling weapons and electronics. Whilst stateside it wore an Edwards tailcode and it’s full FMS serial 93-1045. Consequently it still carries a four digit serial, whilst all the other Greek F-16s carry three digit serials.
Plans are already underway for the 2023 Tiger Meet which will be hosted by Gruppo 12 of the Italian Air Force. With 313 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in the process of converting to the F-35A Lightning II, 2023 could see the first deployment of this aircraft to a Tiger Meet. Keep an eye on here for details.