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Airex, Bapex and Volcanex…

(BRUSSELS2 in Séchault) Unlike ML12 which was more of a politico-military Staff exercise, the exercise or rather the three exercises which have just taken place simultaneously in the Ardennes, near the Vouziers base , had another nature, testing, training forces in the command and conduct of air operations (AIREX), from a projectable air base or DOB (BAPEX), and training protection forces during a international crisis leading to national evacuation operations (VOLCANEX).

An integrated exercise

The originality of this exercise was to obtain further integration of the seven participating nations in the European Air Group (France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden). Usually a nation takes charge of a function on the exercise (for example air support, etc.). Here the nationalities mixed in the different functions “to get the best out of everyone » explains General Caspar Fille Lambie, commander of air defense and air operations. This integration concerned all function levels. Thus the protection forces to protect the nationals during the evacuation exercise were British, Spanish and Italian while the extraction forces included a French Caracal, Belgian air commandos and British ground forces; the management of the base was completely mixed; to the mess where French and Germans serve together in two messes, one French, the other German. “ Never during the maneuver did multinationality delay the maneuver. (…) Far from slowing down this diversity has pulled us upwards insists Caspar Girl Lambie.

Multinational operations a necessity.

The exercise also consisted of a transfer of command during the operation between the British who had taken command at the beginning and the French who took over. “ The (British) system was robust. The transition was smooth. The failure that can be tolerated by humans is compensated by the procedures. The British are used to working in expeditionary forces” thus considers a French lieutenant colonel involved in the exercise. A point of view corroborated by his Belgian colleague, Major Ronald Hoppe: " The British have a very meticulous way of working. It's interesting to watch the way they operate in command. There are synergies to look for. Because today, it is no longer possible for a nation to work alone, deployment is only possible in a multinational ».

The multinational staff of the exercise (© NGV / Bruxelles2)

The search for realism

In addition to setting up the air base and its implementation, a series of incidents and unforeseen events were planned during the exercise which took place in hostile terrain: rebel attacks, convoy ambushes, IEDs, stockpiles NRBC to treat, etc. This required implementing all the necessary elements: from intelligence to the protection force, including the transport or extraction of civilians. The difference with a simple General Staff exercise lies in two words: the human factor and the mechanical factor. “ A transmission that does not work, the mechanics that break down, time, fatigue... All this gives realism and substance to an exercise » specifies the lieutenant-colonel in charge of the protection force. Even the role of information and counter-information was played by the establishment of a local newspaper which reported the events, sometimes in a roundabout way, for example by focusing on civilian victims attributing them to the military...

British commandos exercising to cover the extraction of nationals (© NGV / Bruxelles2)

Working on interoperability

The point of the exercise is to observe each other's methods, to perfect one's knowledge to better operate in a coalition. “ In the air, pilots have long had common standards, the habit of working together, and standardization of operating methods. On the ground, in setting up the base we do not yet have the same level of standardization says General Caspar Fille Lambie. There have been discoveries. A kennel had been set up for the guard dogs. But the French were surprised to discover the Swedish method. " A dog handler sleeps with his dog. It is the rule. So in the evening, at 23 p.m., we had to set up a tent near the kennel” says one of the base craftsmen. Basically, however, we have no fundamental difference in the way of operating. We have already been working in NATO structures for years” observes Ronald Hoppe. But, he completes « There are synergies to look for. Because today, it is no longer possible for a nation to work alone, deployment is only possible in a multinational ».

The lesson of the Libya operation: the short loop

One of the challenges of the exercise was also to “ draw the first lessons from the operation in Libya » as detailed by General Caspar Fille Lambie, in particular the “rapid loop” implemented during Operation Harmattan. From planning to strike, there were sometimes only a few hours, the longest often being to ensure that the intended target was far from an urban center or civilians, in order to avoid collateral damage. An imperative of the modern rules of engagement of the latest conflicts led by the West. This may be necessary, for example, if a terrorist group infiltrates or a threat emerges; “ We must detect it, follow it, have the appropriate means to strike,” specifies the general. Multinationality requires, for example, precise knowledge of the armaments of other nations. In the operational phase, this is a “short loop” so as not to waste time at any point in the chain. »

(*) 1400 participants including 42% foreigners, 64 aircraft (hunting, refueling, helicopters and tactical transport)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).