Rafale combat aircraft
Rafale combat aircraft (@ U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Harrison)

Exercise Sky Shield II enables further interoperability training between USA, France and Qatar

Members of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, 380th AEW, 332nd AEW, Qatar Emiri Air Force and French Air Force participated in Exercise Sky Shield II at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, March 1-3, 2021.

The exercise allowed members from all three coalition nations to practice air-to-air refueling with members from the 380th AEW while continuing to work on the Defensive Counter-Air Combat Patrol (DCA CAP) procedures learned in the first exercise conducted in December of 2020.

The employment of a DCA CAP is meant to protect an asset and defeat an adversary,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. James McCarthy, 379th AEW exercise director. “DCA operations involve the integration of weapons, sensors and communications to protect friendly forces and strategic interests from air and missile threats.

This iteration marked the first time the QAEF manned both ends of the DCA CAP procedures while also operating against a simulated adversary. The 332nd AEW sent F-15E Strike Eagles to participate as a simulated adversary , allowing the exercise participants to apply procedures in a contested environment.

Exercise objectives from the first Sky Shield event improved this time with the additional familiarity between the partners. One such success was the integration of the Link-16 communication network. “We were able to successfully use Link-16 in this exercise with the Qataris,” said McCarthy. “Having the ability to send and receive messages on the link and broadcast tracks in an exercise network is a small step towards getting the Qataris into the operational network that we use daily.

These U.S. Forces and Qatar exercises provide valuable lessons as Qatar fine-tunes their airspace defense in preparation for the World Cup in 2022. “As a guest and a partner, the U.S. Air Force can provide exercise opportunities that will help the Qatari Air Operations Center, Ground Control Intercept and fighters integrate with our assets to ensure that collective defense,” explained McCarthy. “We hope this partnership eventually leads to Qatar being able to take a larger role in the collective defense of the Arabian Gulf.

The exercise is an extension of the interoperability events held over the past year. As part of the continuing resolute partnerships between nations, the Qatari forces have worked hand in hand with U.S. forces to train pilots and operate in an austere environment as Qatar prepares to acquire F-15QA aircraft from Boeing. This variant of the F-15 Eagle is designed specifically for the QAEF.

The more we cooperate together, the more effective we will be when we execute operations together in the future,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Eric Vanley, the Qatar Air Defense Liaison Team senior duty officer for U.S. Air Forces Central. “It sends a message to the world that the U.S. and Qatar are close partners and will continue to be close for the foreseeable future.