From August 23rd to 30th, 2019, six Mirage 2000-5F from the fighter squadron 1/2 “Cigognes” based in Luxeuil (BA 116) in the department of Haute Saône (North East of France), participate to the exercise Epervier 2019 ( i.e Sparrowhawk), from the Payerne Air Base in Switzerland. The aim is to train scouting and confrontation scenarios with the Swiss F/A-18 C/D jets from fighter squadron 17.
This is not the first joint attendance and exercise, particularly in terms of pooling experience and common procedures in the area of air policing. These exercises take place almost every year and alternately between the two countries, however they also depend on the availability and commitment on the operational theaters mostly on the French Air Force side since the last “Epervier” exercise was in June 2016 in France in Mont-de-Marsan.
The air policing experience of the “Cigognes”
The “Cigognes” (i.e Storks) have an extensive experience in air policing. In addition to the 24/7 interventions throughout the French territory, last year between May and August the Mirages carried out also air surveillance in the Baltic countries for the seventh time under NATO’s BAP (Baltic Air Policing) missions. In few words air policing consists to identify and report it’s observations to command when airplanes flying in the international sky fail to fulfill one the three below criteria:
1) Have filed a flight plan.
2) Have a transponder that identifies them as “Friend or Foe” (IFF)
3) Communicating by radio
Usually the interception is carried out by fighters under the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) state.
Exercise Sparrowhawk 2019
According to the French government declaration the aim of the exercise is to ensure the “first-in” air defense mission, fighter jets train four rounds a day for one week to confronted to air-to-air threats during complex-level missions. Those are called mixed fighter forces operation (MFFO), also known as mixed patrols, composed of both Mirages and Hornets.
Fighting over the snow-capped Swiss mountains, the pilots, whether they are young qualified or more experienced patrolmen, play blue air (friendly forces) and red air (enemy forces) in turn. “The added value of this type of exercise lies in the fact that for the same mission, everyone will be able to train in their own level of qualification,” explains Lieutenant-Colonel Aurélien, director of the exercise. A meeting that allows the two neighboring countries to maintain the level of skills of their crews and further strengthen the Franco-Swiss interoperability.