NATO’s Tactical Leadership Programme 18-4: Amendola Air Base, Italy and Italian F-35s Shape a Way Ahead


By Robbin Laird

Normally, the TLP is held in Spain at Albacete Airbase.

We visited Albacete Airbase in 2016 and talked with Spanish Air Force pilots concerning their Eurofighter operations at the base.

As we noted at the time:

“Albacete flies a regular Quick Reaction Alert force to provide for Spanish security in the Mediterranean.

“The engagement in the Baltics is in effect a QRA mission further north.”

And earlier this summer the F-22 came to Albacete for the first time as the European Air Forces focus on the impact of fifth generation aircraft and on shaping ways to leverage fifth generation aircraft and to shape a fifth-generation enabled combat force.

In an article published on September 20, 2108, we highlighted the coming of the F-22 to Albacete and its impact.

In that article we provided a translation of an article on the Spanish Air Force website which described the first visit of the F-22 to Albacete in August 2018 and the workup on 5th gen operations with Spanish Eurofighters and F-18s.

This story was published on August 17, 2018 and was translated by SLD’s Chloe Laird as follows:

August 17th 2018

The F-22 for the First Time in Spain

Yesterday at the Albacete Air Base, there took place an advanced aerial training exercise, consisting of two USAFE Fifth Generation F22s, a couple of Eurofighter planes as well as some F-18s from the Spanish Air Force.

It was a great opportunity to evaluate the capabilities of the Albacete Air Base and of the Tactical leadership Program (TLP). 

The exercise demanded the participation of a 5th generation plane (i.e. the F-22s from the USAF).

Exercises of this sort create an excellent opportunity for instruction and training that allows a successful evaluation of the joint capabilities of the planes- in this case, two of North American manufacture and one of European origin. 

Each of them was placed in a demanding tactical environment.

The exercise consisted of two independent missions, both of them placed in the assigned flight zone for their specific purpose….

After the initial takeoff of the two Albacete Air Force Eurofighters, they took part of a mission with one of the F-22s. 

During the mission, they carried out different combat maneuvers, in light of the different characteristics of the fighter planes.

At the same time, an F-18 from the 12th Wing detached from Torrejón Air Base in order to meet with the second American F22 and carried out a similar mission.

Next the two Eurofighters from the 14th wing, on a mission of aerial police/enforcement, located a trace corresponding to the F-22 and were able to carry out maneuvers of interception for posterior identification.  

Before any sort of offensive action from the fighter planes, they carried out defensive maneuvers and of partner/paired coordination in order to maintain the enemy control zone. 

Once the work in each sector was completed, each American F-22 reunited with the assigned pair of Spanish Fighters and went on to land at Albacete Air Base.

 The next step is now being taken at Amendola Airbase.

In a story published on December 4, 2018 written by Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfield, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, this next step is described as follows:

AMENDOLA AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) — Above the mountainous landscape of Amendola Air Base, Italy, F-15C Eagle pilots assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron are training side-by-side with NATO allies from Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium in support of Tactical Leadership Programme 18-4.

The month-long program gives participants a chance to see how others get the job done. TLP builds familiarization and strengthens interoperability within NATO through combined training in the classroom and in European airspace.

“Our methods may be different, but the end goal is all the same,” said an Italian Air Force F-35 pilot assigned to the 32nd Stormo. “We share a commitment to maintaining security and enhancing our air readiness within NATO. Training opportunities like TLP allow us to come together and learn from one another, giving us an edge in the future with a deep partnership to lean on.”

During the course, some pilots noticed more similarities than differences in how each country got things done. TLP is designed to bridge the gaps and help form cohesiveness between allies.

“Building partnerships here will make us more effective in the future,” said a 493rd FS flight commander. “There are a lot of similarities to the way we all operate, and exercises like this help us find those similarities and break down any language or cultural barriers that appear.”

The effectiveness cultivated by the training has molded NATO and allied forces’ flight leaders into the mission commanders of today, creating skilled and competent leaders able to tactically and operationally work within the NATO alliance.

“The program condenses the mission planning process and then adds everything that comes with working with our international partners,” said a 493rd FS flight commander. “We are constantly pulled in different directions and you have to learn how to prioritize and work effectively with the whole team.”

TLP is the focal point for NATO’s Allied Air Forces tactical training. The hundreds of NATO mission commanders developed by the program are able to lead coalition force air strike packages, instruct allied flying and non-flying personnel in matters related to tactical composite air operations, and provide tactical air expertise to NATO agencies.

This event marks the first time the course has been held in Italy, from its normal host location at Albacete Air Base, Spain.

And in preparation for TLP 18-4, the Italian Air Force declared its F-35s to be operational.

In an article by David Cenciotti published by The Aviationist on December 1, 2018, the author noted that the Italian Air Force is the first Air Force in Europe to declare IOC for its first 35-A squadron.

On Nov. 30, 2018, during the media day of TLP 18-4 currently underway at Amendola, in southeastern Italy (the first iteration of the course to integrate 4th and 5th Gen. aircraft), the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) declared Initial Operating Capability with the F-35A Lightning II.

ItAF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Alberto Rosso broke the news:

“Today is an important day for the Italian Air force. With the Initial Operational Capability we are the first in Europe to achieve a real operational capability with a 5th generation aircraft: it means we reached the capability with multiple aircraft, we have crews properly trained to operate the platform and a long term maintenance and logistic support”.

Indeed, the IOC certifies that the first Italian unit, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron), belonging to the 32° Stormo (Wing) based at Amendola, is ready for allied operations.

As Aeronautica Militare put it in an article published on November 21, 2018 about the TLP engagement in Italy:

“The joint participation of fourth and fifth generation aircraft provides a unique opportunity not only to facilitate standardization of the tactics, techniques and procedures of operating both generation of aircraft, but above all to exercise interoperability between the different generations or the the ability of  each system to cooperate, exchange or use information or services produced by the different fighters.

“The F-35 with is capabilities provide an incredible force multiplier and provides technologies which are able to enhance the relevance or capabilities of the other systems currently available in the armed forces.”1

The first slideshow above highlights the 48th Fighter Wing’s participation in the TLP training at Amendola Air base. And that engagement was described in a story published on November 23, 2018 by Senior Airman Malcolm Mayfield .

 F-15C Eagles assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron are continuously training at Amendola Air Base, Italy, and every sortie puts a toll on the aircraft. The constant dedication and skillful attention of the 493rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit keeps the Eagles in top form for the NATO Tactical Leadership Programme 18-4.

TLP is designed to help pilots develop tactical air expertise and leadership skills, but as a bi-product it gives maintainers a chance to use ingenuity and innovation to provide first-class support hundreds of miles away from their home station.

“Anytime we’re on the road, our job, maintenance wise, is to provide safe and reliable jets for the pilots to accomplish their mission, which here is joint training between some of our allies to develop a NATO mission commander,” said the 493rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer in-charge. “Every new location presents a different challenge in how we get the job done, but the end goal for providing a safe jet for a pilot never changes. What does change is the environment in which we operate in.”

Within the year, the 493rd AMU has supported the fighter squadron on multiple trips to different countries including Iceland and Morocco. Each trip enhances the capabilities of the Airmen who participated, a fact that is clearly visible in their work ethic at TLP 18-4.

“Every TDY you go on is different, and it can be hard to start off,” said a dedicated crew chief assigned to the 493rd AMU. “It could be not having the parts we need on hand, or not knowing how the base operates to get the support we need. Over time you figure out how to acquire some of that on site, what to bring along yourself and how to solve a problem before it becomes one.”

The second slideshow above shows the various units involved on the Italian side during the TLP event.

These photos were provided by the Italian Air Force and can be found here.



This is Pretty Cool: Brothers in Arms Quite Literally


On 5 December 2018, brothers Kyle and Jace Brokenshire had the rare opportunity to fly an F/A-18 sortie together as part of Exercise Lightning Focus.

This was the first time the brothers have flown the F/A-18 Hornet together in the Royal Australian Air Force.

To celebrate the occasion, parents Deb and Steve Brokenshire visited RAAF Base Williamtown to watch the action from the ground.

Australian Deparatment of Defence

December 6, 2018

The F-35 Global Enterprise and Australia: The Opportunity for Allies to Learn How to Conduct Sustained Engagement Crisis Operations

By Robbin Laird

The RAAF F-35s on on their way to Williamtown and thereby opening the F-35 Aussie fleet operations in-country.

As the Aussies work out their sustainment approach on the various airbases where the F-35s will operate in normal times as well as crisis times, the F-35 partners of Australia have a significant strategic opportunity — namely, to learn how to do sustained engagement operations working with the RAAF in supporting regional deterrence operations.

The Aussies are standing up a significant support structure in Australia for regional support.  As they do so, allies such as the US and Japan can shape an approach to what I would call sustained engagement.  With crises to come in which the F-35s will play a key role, the Australians can provide operating locations for allies, without having to base those allies on a long term basis.

This allows Australia its sovereignty but also allows allies like the United States and Japan to gain operational depth which will be crucial for deterrence in the region.

Because they are flying virtually the same aircraft, stockpiling parts and leveraging an expanded sustainment base with the Australian maintainers leading the way for the USAF to move to a new approach to operations which does not require them to operate like Fed Ex flying in resources to then stand up support in a crisis.

The USAF or the Japanese could fly to Australia and be supported by Australian based supplies and maintainers supplemented by Japanese and US maintainers and could operate rapidly in a crisis, rather than engaging in a significant airlift and tanking support set of missions to stand up aircraft in Australia on a case by case basis.

It is not about just showing up; it is about being able to do sustained engagement with a very light expeditionary support structure to establish and operate from a solid operational footprint.

An allied approach towards sustained engagement when married with Aussie rethinking about how to use their geography as well as base mobility creativity would significantly enhance deterrence and operational flexibility in a crisis.

Recently, the Australian National Audit Office provided a look at the current RAAF sustainment approach and gave it a thumbs up but cautioned with regard to the global sustainment piece.

It might make a lot of sense for Australia’s allies to embrace the opportunity to make the global sustainment piece a core strategic effort both for Australia’s requirements but shaping a 21st century approach to deterrence as well.

In a piece published by the Australian Defence Business Review on December 6, 2018, the findings of the ANAO were highlighted.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has released a report into the ADF’s plans to sustain the RAAF’s fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters.

The audit was commissioned to examine the ADF’s preparations for the F-35A’s introduction to service in light of the imminent arrival and the significant delays and cost increases the program has been through during its development.

Released just five days before the planned official welcome of the first two of 72 F-35As to Australia, the audit report is a generally favourable one, but highlights that some of the sustainment costs of the program remain unknown.

The report summary says the audit criteria were; “Defence has established effective strategic planning and project governance arrangements; and Defence has undertaken effective planning, is achieving progress against relevant plans and effective risk management is occurring for selected capabilities.”

The executive summary states that, “Defence’s preparations to date for the introduction and sustainment of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft into Australian service have been effective with the exception of arrangements for sustainment of JSF aircraft under the Global Support Solution,” with the caveat being, “JSF sustainment cannot be fully costed until the Global Support Solution further matures.”

That maturity is not expected to be realised until after 2020 when the global fleet has achieved a steadier state of commonality and more operators – including Australia – have achieved an initial operational capability (IOC), and the global supply chain has spun up to support higher production volumes.

“Defence has established effective strategic and project governance arrangements to date for the introduction of the JSF into Australian service and its sustainment,” the report adds.

“These arrangements include: plans addressing the transition from the Classic Hornets to the JSF; sustainment arrangements; infrastructure requirements; workforce planning and training; project governance arrangements and procedures for regular engagement with the international JSF Program; and procedures for regular monitoring and reporting on risk, cost and schedule to governance bodies, senior Defence leaders and Defence Ministers.”

For sustainment, the report adds, “Defence is monitoring and managing risks to effective sustainment of the JSF arising from the Global Support Solution including — the availability of spare parts, the development of the Autonomic Logistics Information System, and access to maintenance facilities.

“Defence is constrained in its ability to effectively manage some risks, including access to JSF spare parts due to limited global supply. Not all of the costs associated with Australia becoming a regional hub for JSF aircraft maintenance and warehousing were known by Defence when the project was approved in 2014. This is adding cost pressures to the project.”



The “Month of Living Dangerously”: French Unrest and Its Impact


By Murielle Delaporte

With the fiftieth anniversary of “May ’68” this year, many activist groups in France tried last spring to recreate it.

It did not happen then, but a new effort has been launched in the past couple of months to make it happen, although the motivations, conditions and state of the country are rather different today than it was fifty years ago when economic growth was in the background.

France, and Europe as a whole, are indeed facing today a more explosive situation.

The unprecedented violence which burst out in parts of Paris and several cities in the French country last Saturday has stunned many foreign observers. Many non-French analysts simply take the easy road out — they blame such a phenomenon on the fact that revolutions and rioting are a deeply-rooted French tradition.

If there is some historic truth to this because of the well-known 1789 revolution and “May 1968,” the right to peacefully demonstrate is as embedded in the French culture as the right to carry a gun in America.

But the government and the population are not only used to it, but are pretty well organized to cope with it.

What is currently happening in France has a different spin to it and is forcing the Macron government to review a homeland security approach, which has often been criticized as not adapted to the evolving domestic threats over the past three decades.

This is not business as usual as France faces the challenges posed by “urban guerrillas” whose actions and impacts are not limited to France.

November 2018: The “Perfect Storm”

What initially emerged as a spontaneous grassroots facebook rally for a protest against rising fuel taxes – hence the symbolic wearing and appellation by the demonstrators of “Gilets jaunes” (GJ), i.e. the high-visibility (yellow) jackets any French citizen must have in his car and wear by law in case of a breakdown – started with a first series of actions ranging from protests to road blocking on November 17th.

Close to 288 000 people gathered in about 2000 sites across France and caused already that day one casualty and more than 400 wounded due mostly to traffic accidents.

By evening thugs joined the party like they often have done in the past to take advantage of the lack of order to steal, break and set cars on fire.

As of today, after three weeks of protests, the Ministry of Interior figures amount to about 800 wounded and four deaths (none linked to police and rioters direct confrontations, which is a miracle) and is extremely worried about the announced “Act IV” planned on Saturday.

Time as a factor to solve the crisis has been critical as the ownership of the movement by various groups with very diverse agendas has been continuously spreading making it hard to get a grip on as there is no single epicenter of protest and focus.

One can at this point distinguish four types of players in the uprising

  • First, there are the classic thugs.

These are individuals and groups who are violent and determined to use the chaos to steal and destroy.

They were rather present last Saturday in Paris, some of them coming from the suburbs. They are expected in larger numbers tomorrow.

  • Second is the political opposition, which sees a combination of the ultraright and the ultraleft.

The more moderate Republican and Socialist Parties are involved as well, but have not encouraged violence.

All of these political parties see however an opportunity to carry their own agenda at the eve of the next European elections, because the movement initially was one which had 80% support of the population. It is still supported but the public opinion has become increasingly worried about the way things haves pinned out of control in many parts of France.

  • Third, there is the internal radicalization of the movement itself, in which the older generation leadership is being replaced by younger more violent protesters.

Some of the initially calm protesters turned astonishingly violent last week-end due to the knock-on effect of the ignition of confrontation by ultras (left and right), Black Blocs, anarchists and “zadistes”  (i.e. militant occupation by anticapitalist squatters of a site to oppose a development project: Initially ‘deferred development area’ (zones d’aménagement différé), ZADs have become ‘zones to defend ‘(zones à defendre) );

  • Even more troubling, there is also a potential for an internationalization of the movement beyond – and in part because of – its infiltration by international groups.

There is already a contagious impact on some European neighbors (mainly Belgium so far).

Next there is the meddling by foreign actors seeking to put oil on the fire (e.g. Russian Channel Rossiya 1’s newsshow « Vesti » anchorman Dmitri Kisselev accusing the United States to be behind a “revolution” to fight the emergence of a European Army 1

Finally, there is the growing insertion of the migration debate – with its obvious domestic implications -as President Macron is supposed to sign what is referred to as the « UN Marrackech Pact » during next week’s “Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” 2

Moving from Managing Protests to Homeland Peacekeeping

What this leads to is the demand for the Macron government to deal with what one might call “homeland peacekeeping.”

President Macron now faces a major political crisis, fueled by three key dynamics.

First, the social anger and the now endless list of political demands is the result of decades of benign neglect by past governments on multiple issues (including the growing daily violence encountered in some suburbs against anyone wearing a uniform, such as the firefighters).

Second,  as in other Western democracies, the French society is fractured in part because of the impact of the new media and its impact on social cohesion.

Third, Emmanuel Macron and his new party were elected by rejecting the old establishment and on the promise to reform the old political system.

But by getting rid of the traditional intermediaries between the government and the people (i.e. political parties, trade unions, etc.), President Macron is now held personally responsible for all the misery the “GJ” are denouncing and has no buffer, nor legitimate obvious interlocutor, to negotiate with.

There is as well a short-term and long-term key set of issues the French government is facing right now that has to do with the evolution of the use of security forces on the national territory in order to counter unprecedented attacks and violence lead by urban guerrilla professionals.

If one wants to see them in action, last spring’s confrontation during the evacuation of the Zadistes occupying Notre-Dame-des-Landes is the perfect illustration of the preparedness of some of them: use of fire and acid, barricades filled with gas containers, use of drones.3

The lessons learned are there on both sides, except that in the current events, the context is very different and the French security forces – composed of police, gendarmerie as well as forces depending on the Paris Prefecture – could not till now use the same means – such as armored vehicles – given the fear of escalation. This has changed and these vehicles will be deployed tomorrow.

Criticized for his bad assessment and management of Saturday’s events, the Minister of Interior, Christophe Castainer, who just took office last October, testified earlier this week at the National Assembly and recently pointed out the following:

  1. There were 67 000 security forces (75 000 including administrative staffs) mobilized this week-end all over French territory and many bad things were prevented from occurring – like deaths and the burning of some buildings in Paris and in the country. As a result, tomorrow protecting the capital from more planned violence will mobilize 8000 security forces (the double of last week-end) to reach 89 000 total in France.
  2. In Paris, the Champs Elysées have always been forbidden for demonstrations because it is very hard to control with 24 access points and 12 avenues leading to the Etoile platform, where most of the violence occurred. It was allowed this time as a gesture of openness and the security was to be performed according to traditional peaceful meetings’ “fan zones,” in which people must open their bag for weapon’s check.

What happened unfortunately is that, first of all, the need to protect official buildings and national symbols (i.e. the Elysée for instance) froze part of the manpower necessary to block the most violent attacks.

Some in the Police have been suggesting using the military for that kind of “static” mission, as it is done routinely because of terrorist threats.

However, the risk of a military response against its own ‘People” in case of attacks raise another complicated legal and constitutional challenge in France, without mentioning the last resort option of a Martial Law.

Also, diversion tactics were quickly used by violent groups, which kept the security forces so busy protecting lives and defending shops and buildings, that very few peaceful protesters could demonstrate, while the Arch of Triumph was literally “taken” back and forth – and vandalism took place in various parts of the city.

Lessons Learned and Shaping a Way Ahead to Deal with Urban Guerrillas with a Long Reach

There are a number of initial lessons learned and recommendations being discussed by the government.

First, the security forces need a new employment doctrine allowing them to favor mobility and contact and a more offensive posture over their traditional static defensive tactics keeping the rioters at bay.

Second, the means or tools available to the security forces must be revised, as the latter suffered from a major decrease in personnel since 2008, but then, were asked to quickly train new people after the 2015 Bataclan terrorist attacks, without enough human resources, infrastructure and equipment.

The end result has been in the past couple of years an accelerated course of training, with lack of or aging equipment not adapted to today’s difficulties (thugs and ultras are extremely mobile, which is one of the reasons they were not arrested along with the less accustomed rioters in the past weeks).

One has to recall the weight of the gear have to wear as well as the shield’s to realize how difficult maintaining order under heavy pressure is nowadays, with video phones everywhere.

Third, there is a clear need to re-balance priorities within the Police between daily proximity police and law and order and quasi “peacekeeping” missions.

Finally, there is a need for a re-balancing in intelligence gathering essentially focused on anti-terrorism in the past years and not enough on the general evolution of the society, in which “digitalization” has made it harder to connect with the way it could be done in the past.4

These are all issues discussed in the past, but they were never considered priorities till now.

Clearly, the challenge of dealing with this kind of upheaval requires new measures along these lines but there need to be other changes in a “whole of government approach,” notably with regard to judiciary and imprisonment reforms as well in which these tools become more effective.

Editor’s Note: Murielle Delaporte is focusing on the French upheaval but the broader question is the fragmentation within Europe and its foreign, defense and security impact.

From this standpoint, what happens in France will have a broader impact than simply within France itself.

We are entering a period when domestic dynamics are clearly reshaping foreign, security and defense agendas and will require reworking how we assess foreign, security and defense policy in the period ahead, as globalization yields to domestic dynamics and their cross cutting cleavages and linkages.  

And as we have argued earlier, greater clusterzation among like minded states to deal with common domestic challenges and to shape foreign, security and defense relationships accordingly.

The Featured Photo:

Photo © Jean-François Monier Agence France-Presse, as published in :

The RAAF Gets Ready for the Arrival of their First F-35s


The RAAF is getting ready to receive their first F-35s in country on December 10, 2018.

In preparation for the arrival in country, the Australian Department of Defence has generated a series of videos explaining the F-35 and its unique capabilities to the public.

This one focused on the helmet which reflects the capabilities of the F-35 as a node in the network, one which is driven by the integration of sensors onboard a single F-35, empowered by MADL connectivity with other F-35s as a combat force, and further empowered and empowering as other elements of the network come into play.

The F-35 is part of an evolving approach to combat involving peer competitors.

Rather than working from the landscape of a large networked force, one vulnerable to significant disruptions, the focus is increasingly upon integrated force packages which can achieve mission tasks without needing to reach back to the broader global network.

In this video which the RAAF published on September 23, 2018, the RAAF explained the nature of the F-35 helmet.

And in their countdown to the arrival of the F-35 series, defence.connect published an article by Stephen Kuper on December 5, 2018 which focused on the F-35 as a node in the network appraoch.

The real-time imagery provided by the DAS enables the pilot to ‘look through’ the aircraft, allowing the pilot to see the entire environment around the aircraft. Additionally, the helmet provides pilots with infrared night vision through the use of an integrated camera, making images in total darkness look exactly like what they would see in daylight.

Each of these individual components feeds into a broader system of sensor fusion.

Sensor fusion: Enables pilots to draw on information from all of the above mentioned components, to establish a single, integrated picture of the battlespace. A core component of sensor fusion is the immediate data shearing capabilities of the F-35, which ensures that all of the information gathered is then automatically shared with other pilots and command and control operating centres on their network using the most modern, secure and low-observable data links.

Maintaining datalink and information security is supported by the introduction of the multi-function advanced data link (MADL), which enables pilots to share data with other strike aircraft as well as other airborne, surface and ground-based platforms required to perform assigned missions.

The ability to transmit both complex intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and targeting information enables Army, Navy and other Air Force assets for appropriate tasking by a ‘shooter’ platform.

This ‘node’ capability is described best by Commander Air Combat Group, Air Commodore Mike Kitcher, who told Defence Connect, “Integrating the F-35 goes beyond just the pilot and aircrew training across the technology, it involves integrating the F-35 with the Air Force’s other key platforms like the E-7A Wedgetails, our Super Hornets and Growlers and KC-30As. Furthermore, it includes integrating the aircraft into systems like the Poseidon and the Triton, which is where we start to see a web of systems created.”

This is reinforced by Major General Gus McLachlan, Commander Forces Command, who described the role of the F-35 as part of the broader ‘joint force’ ADF from an Army perspective, saying, “It is Army’s response to the ADF’s journey to develop an internet of things (IoT) approach to data gathering nodes across the services, like Navy’s AWDs and Air Force’s F-35s, and then Army being able to provide a shooting solution, should it be required.”

The F-35 and its diverse range of capabilities will radically change the options available to Australia’s strategic decision makers, enabling a tailored, adaptable and high-capability response to a variety of threats, well into the 2040s.


RAAF F-35s on Their Way Home

By Robbin Laird

“Royal Australian Air Force personnel deployed to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, USA prepare the aircraft they will bring home in December 2018. Royal Australian Air Force pilots and maintenance personnel are embedded within United States Air Force units and partnering with Lockheed Martin to prepare for the introduction of Australia’s first fifth-generation air combat capability.”1

With the arrival of Australia’s first two F-35s a little under a week away, the sun is setting on Australia’s legacy fleet of legacy F/A-18 Hornets, with the F-35 marking the beginning of Australia’s technological and capability transformation to a fifth generation air force.

For the Air Force, the F-35’s combination of full-spectrum low observability, from stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar dispersing shaping, network centric sensor and communications suites, combined with a lethal strike capability means the aircraft is the ultimate force multiplying, air combat platform with a projected life of 30 years.

Commander, Air Combat Group Air Commodore Mike Kitcher describes the F-35 as providing a “quantum leap” in capability for the Air Force requiring both the RAAF and the broader ADF to rewrite the operational, tactical and strategic doctrines which have held true for the better part of the last seventy-five years. 
“F-35 presents a quantum leap, not only in terms of operational realities, but also technologically. For Air Force in particular, but again also for the wider ADF, F-35 is a catalyst for developing a truly fifth generation force,” Air Commodore Kitcher said…..

Air Force expects that Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the F-35 to be delivered by 2020, which will see Australia operating two F-35 squadrons, No. 3 Squadron and No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) both of which will be based at RAAF Base Williamtown.

Air Commodore Kitcher said, “While both squadrons will be operations capable, No. 3 Squadron will be Australia’s first full, F-35 squadron that is combat capable by the end of 2020. 2OCU will be focused on the technical and material training for RAAF aircrew and for the training or all technicians and support personnel for the F-35.”

Building on this, Kitcher said, it is expected that by end 2020, Australia will have between thirty and thirty-three F-35s in country. Despite the challenges faced by the F-35 throughout the development process and into the early manufacturing stages, Kitcher remained upbeat about the nation’s transfer from legacy air frames.

“The best way to define the transition from Hornet to F-35 is like the Air Force’s transition from the old propeller driven Mustangs to the early jet powered aircraft in the Meteor. I am sure we will find some lessons and some challenges, people forget that is to be expected in the roll out and acceptance of any new technology, not least of all an aircraft as advanced and complex as the F-35,” Kitcher explained.2

And in an article by the same author, Stephen Kuper, published on Defence. Connect on December 6, 2018, the author marked the countdown.

In just four days, Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown will receive Australia’s first two F-35A Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) and the atmosphere is electric ahead of their arrival.

Williamtown will eventually be home to 56 JSFs, and the RAAF has been working feverishly ahead of the arrival of the first pair.

The F-35A Operational Precinct has been developed specifically to house Australia’s new jets, and at the current time is “more than capable” of receiving the first two JSFs.

Part of that project involved the extension of the runway from 8,000 feet to 10,000 feet, which not only allows extra safety for the pilots but will help reduce noise due to the jets using their afterburners less.

There will also be a combined 3 and 77 Squadron Headquarters, which will help “exercise effective command and control of F-35A operations and to prepare for exercises and deployments”.

Security for the base has also received a huge facelift, worth nearly a billion dollars.

Greater security measures have been introduced, including upgrades to the perimeter of the base as well as individual facilities.

At one point there were over 900 contractors working on-site, although that number dropped after the main exterior buildings were completed.

As it stands, the facilities are still yet to be fully completed, but are capable of holding the aircraft due to be delivered by the end of 2019.

Group Captain Peter Cluff, Base Commander at Williamtown, estimated that by the end of 2019, the upgrades at the base would be completed entirely.3

Earlier this year, we visited RAAF Williamtown and discussed the way ahead for the base with the F-35 transition with Air Commodore Kitcher.

During a visit to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown in March 2018, Murielle Delaporte and I had the chance to talk with the new commander of the Air Combat Group, Air Commodore Kitcher.

RAAF Williamtown is undergoing significant infrastructure modernization as it prepares for the F-35A and as the RAAF’s Air Combat Group (ACG) spearheads the transition in the air combat force.

They are undergoing a quite rapid transition from a legacy aircraft to a fifth generation force in terms of completely retiring their Hornets in favor of acquiring their F-35As.

ACG is moving from flying a legacy Hornet force along with Super Hornets and the E-7 (Wedgetail) to one in which Growlers, E-7s, Super Hornets and the F-35As are integrated to shape the new generation air combat capability.

This is a unique combat capability and represents a shift to the RAAF working with the USAF alongside their continuing long standing and excellent working relationship with the USN.

From this, the RAAF will shape something a bit different than the US forces will fly themselves.

“We’ve had a long and very fruitful relationship between the Royal Australian Air Force and the US Navy.

“We have flown the P-3 and now the P-8.

“We have operated the Classic Hornet since, since 1986, and more recently, the Super Hornet, and the Growler.

“It’s been a long and enduring relationship, which has proved beneficial to both, and certainly we couldn’t have got where we are with Super Hornet and Growler without the outstanding support the US Navy provided us.

“With the F-35A we’re expanding our relationship with the US Air Force.

“And clearly standing up our squadron at Luke AFB and working with the USAF has been beneficial and a key driver to this evolving relationship.”

Building a 21stCentury Air Combat Infrastructure

During a visit to Williamtown, two years ago, I visited the base with an eye to looking at infrastructure changes.

Those changes were just charging with one of the first F-35A buildings just being built.

Now two years later, infrastructure is being built up significantly and we toured the base to see many of these changes.

Air Commodore Kitcher talked about the changes which are designed to augment the ability of the base to operate with the new aircraft but also to enhance the ability to command the evolving force.

ACG Head Quarters is located in a building that was a former battery shop. Now a modern building to support the command, as well as other Headquarters and commands from RAAF Williamtown is being built.

The base is being wired to handle the advanced data systems being established with a clear eye to efficiency, effectiveness and security.

“We are seeing two basic types of change.

“The first involves the base refreshing itself. This involves base redevelopment with the base infrastructure being renewed and replaced, including runway and taxiway extensions.

“The second involves building the infrastructure and support facilities for the F-35A squadrons which will train and operate from the base.”

The OBISC or On Board Information System Center for the F-35A is built with personnel working in the Centre.

The Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) building is largely complete and will support the training squadron but will also house Number 3 Squadron (3SQN) when they return from the US at the end of 2018.

“3SQN will come back to Australia at the end of the year and work on the Australian Validation and Verification Activities for F-35A.

“By the end of 2020, they will move into their own facilities and the training unit (No 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU)) ) will move into the buildings vacated by 3SQN.

“2OCU will look after all aircrew and maintenance training for the RAAF F-35 capability.”

By the end of 2020, there will be over 30 F-35s at the base “which is initially sufficient aircraft for 3SQN and 2OCU, and that’s our Initial Operating Capability number of aircraft.”

The basic change from Hornet to F-35A at the base is driven by the data rich nature of the aircraft and the security changes associated with handling and processing the data.

From this point of view, working with Super Hornets has been part of the overall transition as well as it introduced the RAAF to the challenge of handling data differently from our legacy aircraft.

“We need to be able to port various security grades of data into and around the facilities on the base.

“AF learnt many lessons when introducing the Super Hornet and we will build on managing those sensitivities for the introduction of the F-35A.”

The Importance of Luke AFB in the F-35 Global Enterprise

The F-35 community has been stood up at Luke AFB with various nations training together at the facility for the initial cadre of pilots and maintainers generated by the Luke AFB training facilities.

“We have been impressed by the approach and attitude of the USAF trainers as we are working closely with them in training 3SQN aircrew and maintainers.

“And we have been extremely impressed by the attitude from USAF leadership which allowed RAAF personnel to fully integrate the with the US folks in the 61stFighter Squadron at Luke.

“It would have been very easy to have two teams just working out of the same squadron, but that’s exactly what the USAF did not do..

“The USAF and RAAF have worked in an integrated manner, which the RAAF is extremely thankful for.

“For example, RAAF personnel have fulfilled key squadron executive positions such as flight commander.”

Transition Dynamics for the RAAF

Air Commodore Kitcher highlighted the strategic goal of ACG with regard to the transition as follows: our challenge is to actually transition to the new capabilities in minimum time whilst ensuring we keep the overall force healthy.”

Mission Ready F-35s Delivered to RAAF from on Vimeo.

 They have an aggressive schedule with regard to F-35A transition.

They are transitioning from four Hornet to four F-35A squadrons in just four years.

“That is a more rapid change, and a more aggressive schedule than any other F-35 user is on track to do.”

And in that transition, a key objective is establishing a “healthy training system in Australia.”

And this training system will be supporting F-35As at Tindal Airbase in the Northern Territory as well.

That base is undergoing a significant infrastructure rebuild as it will receive F-35As early next decade as well.

Incorporating the F-35A, the Super Hornets, the Wedgetails and the Growlers into an integrated air combat force is the broader transition facing the RAAF. 

The challenge, which is a good one to have from the standpoint of Air Commodore Kitcher, is to learn how to fight effectively with a fifth generation enabled force.

“Learning to fly the F-35A is not the hard part.

“Working the mission command piece is a key driver of change for sure.

“And although we are working closely with the USN and the USAF, we will do things differently as we integrate our unique force package and adapt it to Australian conditions.”

Another part of the transition is working the sustainment piece. 

“We need to ensure that we have the required number of experienced and capable technicians to generate the number of sorties we need to generate, and the sortie rate is supported by the engineering and logistics systems.”

And we discussed another key aspect of combat transition, namely learning or shaping the C2 piece of the force evolution.

What can be overlooked with regard to the F-35 is that it is many ways part of the transition to distributed C2 rather than being viewed as a classic ISR capability, whose function is to distribute data widely in the battlespace.

Given the challenge of operating in a contested environment, within which adversary’s will seek to disrupt the ISR flows which the US and the allies have been able to generate within previous land centric wars, a key challenge will be to take decisions in a contested environment.

As Air Commodore Kitcher said: “With the fifth generation aircraft, there are key missions they need to perform themselves and just do it, potentially without proliferating information support to the broader force.

“Everyone’s going, “But I need the information that can come off the aircraft.

“We need to be able to say no you don’t, in this particular case, you don’t need that information right now, you may get it later.”

“It is about sorting out and collectively agreeing, from the tactical squadron to the higher HQ’s, what we should choose to do versus what we can do,” Air Commodore Kitcher said.

And that is a good way to end.

Clearly, Air Commodore Kitcher and his team are focusing on what needs to be done to deploy, develop and shape a fifth generation enabled force and prioritizing and executing those needs to get the job done.

Editor’s Note: The final slideshow are shots of classic hornets operating at Williamtown Airbase the day of our visit in March 2018 and are credited to Second Line of Defense.

Aussie F-35A Drives Historic Shift To USAF Focus From USN




Exercise Point Blank 2018-3: Working 21st Century Air Combat Teaming


Recently, the RAF hosted the latest iteration of the Point Blank exercises.

The French joined the exercise held in the UK for the first time this year. 26 fighter juets plus combat support units participated in the exercise held November 26, 2018 over the North Sea.

Two UK F-35Bs, four Typhoons, four Rafales and 16 F-15 Eagles took part in the one day drill. With the presence of the F-35, a key aspect of the exercise was working integration of the 4thwith the 5thgeneration aircraft.

The exercise draws its name from Operation Point Blank, the code name for a key portion of the Allied bomber offensive during World War II.

Since 2016, American and British units have conducted 20 Point Blank exercises with more than 400 participating aircraft. 1

According to an article by Amy McCullough published by Air Force Magazine on November 29, 2018, the key focus of the latest exercise was highlighted.

Point Blank is a grassroots effort led by lieutenants, captains, and majors to fix that, Maj. Eric Joachim, 48th Fighter Wing chief of weapons and tactics, told Air Force Magazine during a visit to the base this summer.

Joachim said when he first started flying in England in 2014, there “was no US/UK integration.”

“I’d never flown with the UK. I really never talked to a pilot with the UK up until we started doing these,” he said.

That’s not the case anymore. Since 2016, the 48th FW and its allied counterparts have conducted at least 20 Point Blank exercises, with more than 400 aircraft participating—including USAF F-22 Raptors and F-35 strike fighters rotating through theater. The exercise focuses on integrating allied fourth and fifth generation aircraft in air-to-air, air-to-ground, combat search and rescue, and dynamic targeting operations.

Though this isn’t the first time F-35 strike fighters have participated in Point Blank, it is the first time the United Kingdom’s F-35Bs have participated. RAF Marham, which is located about 20 nautical miles from Lakenheath, where USAF will beddown its own F-35As beginning in 2021, accepted delivery of its first four strike fighters this summer.

“There is quite a bit of airpower just in the southeastern part of England alone, and by 2025 we expect to increase that to about 199 aircraft as we increase the number of F-35s assigned here [at Lakenheath] and at Marham,” said Joachim, who noted that the UK also plans to “increase the number of Typhoons based at [RAF] Coningsby.”

There already have been many lessons learned regarding the requirements for fifth generation aircraft in the air and on the ranges. The surface to air emitters also are different in fifth generation aircraft, according to the document.

“Integrating these aircraft requires an increased investment into aging critical infrastructure, such as obsolete training facilities, systems, and ranges,” it states, noting that increasing the use of live, virtual, and constructive training can increase capability and reduce costs.

It should be noted that with the standup of various partner air force F-35s in the region, the role of fifth generation collaboration will go up as well.

In an article which I published in Breaking Defense in 2017, I highlighted the process of change.

Hidden in plain view is the fact that the UK is standing up its F-35 base PRIOR to the United States. And that the first squadron for the UK and Australia for that matter is being trained and equipped in the United States prior to their arrival in each of their countries. This is a case of the pilots and maintainers learning common approaches from the ground up PRIOR to standing up the new F-35 bases.

And not only that, but the facilities being established in Europe can provide a key sustainment and operational enterprise which the US as well as allies can leverage in common. Or put bluntly, the U.S. if its follows an innovative sustainment model can gain significant savings and operational advantages from leveraging the European infrastructure, rather than flying in parts and other materials to support ITS jets. The impact of savings to the lift and tanking fleet for the USAF could be very significant indeed from coming up with a 21st century approach to sustainment, support and sortie generation.

It is not just about the US sending advanced jets to Europe; it is about the US being smart enough to embed its jets in a broad scale renorming of airpower associated with the coming of the F-35 to a significant part of the allied combat fleet at virtually the same time.

Last year I visited RAF Lakenheath and recently visited both RAF Marham and RAF Lakenheath to discuss the progress in standing up F-35 bases at both facilities.

The F-35 is a data rich aircraft and needs to see a 21st century basing infrastructure built to support it as is the case of with some other aircraft like Wedgetail, P-8 and Triton. The UK and the US are rebuilding in common their respective bases from which they will operate their F-35s.

During my visit to Marham, I toured the new facilities and discussed the way ahead with senior staff.

There is a staff of 17 at the Lightning Force headquarters supporting the operational standup with nine specifically focused on the infrastructure aspects. They are busy simply in order to have the base ready next year to receive their first contingent of F-35Bs from their current base, which is in the United States.

The base will have a fully operational, training and support capability. Training, maintenance and various centers are being stood up. At the heart of the effort will be the National Operations Center in which logistics and operations are collocated and the U.S. will have personnel in this center as well.

There are multiple synergies involved with the F-35 and the standup of the Marham Air Base, two of which highlight the US-UK working relationship.

The first is the synergy from America to the United Kingdom and back again. The UK has operators at Pax River, Edwards, Eglin and Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station. The planes coming from Beaufort will provide the standup for the first RAF squadron, namely,. 617 squadron.

The second synergy is between the standup among bases and lessons learned. Marham is being stood up and generating operational lessons learned back to the United States, both in terms of the U.S.’s standup of its own bases abroad and at home, and, notably in terms of shaping a new operational dynamic for RAF Lakenheath.

The USAF F-35s at Lakenheath can become integrated into the operational, training and support elements in the UK as well, shaping a new approach for the USAF as well.

As Wing Commander Butcher, the CO of 617 Squadron, underscored the possibilities:

“We want to take forwards everything that we’ve done in the pooling and implementation agreement in the United States, and try and see how we can transpose that into a UK model.

“We’re looking to have jets taking off, F-35A’s taking off at Lakenheath. Well, what if they have an issue and they need to land in Marham. Rather than take the time to move people, spares etc from Lakenheath up to here, what’s to say that we couldn’t conceptually have some maintainers from 617 Squadron repair the jet, sign off, send it flying again.

“Lakenheath is going to be busy base with the closure of Mildenhall. Increased efficiencies working with us would make sense.

“Could we potentially have F-35As operating out of Marham on a daily basis?

“How do we organize hot pit operations on each other’s base?

“One can easily see how that could buy you a lot of combat flexibility, in terms of how you might do maintenance operations.”

And visiting RAF Lakenheath, the synergies underway are obvious as well.

According to Col. Evan Pettus, the Commander of the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England:

“We do not have a closer partner than the UK. We will both operate the F-35 from Marham and Lakenheath respectively, which are very close to one another.

“Shaping synergy between the two bases is clearly an important objective.  We are working this process in a step-by-step manner, from understanding how we might operate F-35As from Marham and F-35Bs from Lakenheath, to deeper sustainment and training opportunities as well.”

But the potential is even greater for synergy from the two bases working together across the region. During my visit last year I discussed the impact of the synergy of the US and the allies standing up at the same time the new air combat force with then Col. Novotny, the 48th Fighter Wing Commander, and now General Novotny at the Air Combat Command.

View from RAF Voyager During Exercise Point Blank 18-3 from on Vimeo.

“We are not flying alone; but joined at the hip. We will be flying exactly in the area of interest for which the plane was designed and can fly together, maintain together, and operate together leveraging the air and sea base for which the F-35 B will fly from as well. It is a unique and strategic opportunity for the USAF and for the nations.”

General Novotny added that the two bases joined at the hip can provide a key strategic impact as well.

“As we get this right, we can bring in the Danes, the Norwegians and Dutch who are close in geography and the Israelis and Italians as well to shape the evolving joint operational culture and approach. Before you know it, you’ve got eight countries flying this airplane seamlessly integrated because of the work that Lakenheath and Marham are doing in the 20 nautical miles radius of the two bases.”

The RAF, the RAAF, the USAF and the USMC are already learning how to integrate the F-35 into the air combat force at Red Flags, and recently have included the French Air Force in a Langley trilateral training exercise. But integration will be accelerated by the integration of normal operations from common bases throughout the European region as well.

As Novotny put it: “Doing Red Flags requires bring forces to Nellis and expending monies to come to the exercise, clearly an important task notably in learning to fly together in high intensity warfare exercises. But what can be shape from the RAF Marham and Lakenheath bases is frequency of operations with core allies flying the same aircraft.”

“The same aircraft point can be missed because the UK did not fly F-16s, the Norwegian, the Danes and the Dutch do. And the USAF does not fly Typhoons and Tornados; the UK does. Now they will ALL fly the same aircraft.”

“I did two OT assignments and we worked to get into Red Flag when we could to do joint training. Here we can do that virtually every day. We reach the Dutch training airspace, and can work with the Dutch, with the Brits, with the Germans, with Typhoons, with F3s, with the NATO AWACS. We take off and we fly 30 minutes to the east and we make it happen. It is Red Flag as regular menu; rather than scheduling a gourmet meal from time to time.”

And it is not only European allies who can engage in the cross learning.

The Aussies and the Dutch are standing up their F-35s at about the same time, and cross learning between the Aussies and the F-35 European enterprise is clearly already underway based on my interviews in Australia as well.

In short, the UK is leading the way in shaping a new infrastructure for a 21st century air combat force and with its operational footprint at RAF Lakenheath, the USAF is well positioned to interact with this dynamic of change.

With the RAF and the USAF setting up four squadrons of F-35s between them at two nearby RAF bases, there is a clear opportunity to shape a common sustainment solution.

And the impact of so doing could be significant on the North Sea neighbors, namely, the Danes the Norwegians and the Dutch. This is clearly a key way ahead in building out NATO capabilities going forward, which provides a 21st century example of burden sharing which delivers relevant capabilities.

The video shows footage from the cockpit of a RAF Voyager during Exercise Point Blank 18-3, a recurring large force exercise designed and cohosted by the Royal Air Force and the 48th Fighter Wing. 11.27.2018. Video by Staff Sgt. Taylor West .48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs. (Copyright RAF Brize Norton.)


The Chief of the French Air Force Focuses on the Way Ahead

By Pierre Tran, Paris

A planned F4 upgrade of the Rafale fighter jet will serve as technology demonstrator for network capability of the Future Combat Air System, said the Air Chief of staff, Gen. Philippe Lavigne.

“Studies are fine but we need a demonstrator to see if the technology works,” Lavigne told Dec. 4 the Defense Journalists Association.

“What’s important in the F4 is connectivity,” he added.

That connectivity, via data transfer through satellites and other communications systems, is at the heart of the “collaborative combat” concept, he said.

A Royal Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft, left, U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, center, and French air force Dassault Rafale fly behind a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing during Exercise Point Blank over the English Channel, Nov. 27, 2018. Training with NATO allies like the U.K. and France improves interoperability and demonstrates the United States’ commitment to regional security. Exercise Point Blank also represents an opportunity to enhance interoperability and integration between allied fourth and fifth-generation fighter aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Luke Milano)

Upgrading the Rafale to F4 will allow the certification of technology which will be at “the heart” of collaborative combat, key to the planned FCAS.

It was also important to fly the Rafale with the F-35, now arriving in European air forces.

“I’d rather have the F-35 at my side rather than flying into me,” he said.

Asked about a pending contract for the Rafale F4, Lavigne said, “it is very important it is signed as it will be operational in 2025.”

Rafale F4 will be “a form of evolution,” he said, adding that the fighter in flight rather than just have studies it work on a computer on the ground. Flying the F4 will be the start of what will effectively be a communications server for FCAS.

The network connectivity will be a critical part of FCAS, allowing the aircraft to dialog with other aircraft and platforms, while ensuring the French sovereign autonomy to carry an airborne nuclear deterrent, he said.

One way of developing communications between FCAS and allied aircraft would be working through NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, he said.

That office of the Atlantic alliance studies technology which could help allied forces.

The French and German joint chiefs of staff, the respective Air Forces and procurement offices have worked on national studies for the system architecture of FCAS, he said. Industry worked alongside on those studies, with the conclusions being handed over the chiefs of staff and procurement offices of the two nations.

The French and German defense ministers have said they back a joint approach and have a “common vision of the architecture of the future combat air system,” he said.

That is backed up with their plans to sign contracts for a demonstrator for a next-generation fighter and the engine, he said.

Key to FCAS will be future threats, delivering increased capability for area denial and anti-access, he said. That greater capacity can be seen now in the Middle East, modern Chinese and Russian fighters carrying new radars and missiles, and surface-to-air weapons.

There are also threats in space as well as jamming of GPS and communications.

Other than stealth and hypersonic speeds of Mach 5, 6 and 7, it is hard to forecast what technology will be available in 2040, he said. That difficulty of prediction applies particularly to communications technology.

There is an option of building a “sword stronger than the shield,” but the cost could be unacceptably highly, he said. Other factors to consider are stealth and enemies firing hypersonic weapons, “arriving very, very fast on you.”

Collaborative combat, seen as a way of dealing with potential future threats, rests on an aircraft firing and relying on another aircraft to guide the weapon to its target, allowing the pilot to leave the area, he said.

At the heart of the future system will be a next-generation fighter, which will be manned rather than unmanned, he said.

A manned aircraft reflects French pursuit of strategic autonomy, with an airborne nuclear deterrent along with submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

There will not be a robot flying an airborne nuclear weapon, for reasons of ethics, he said.

Naturally there will be artificial intelligence, with a start already made of merging sensors, he said.

There are French crews in Africa flying the Reaper UAV, rather than based at the Cognac airbase, he said. That differs from the U.S. as the French approach is to put “the crews closer to combat,” he added.

Exercise Pointblank November 2018 from on Vimeo.

On interoperability of the Rafale with the F-35, he said there are operational and technological aspects.

On the former, the French fighter flew with US Air Force F-15 and RAF F-35 for the first time on the Point Blank exercise recently held in the UK.

There is confidence in opening up that interoperability, he said, adding that it is necessary to continue that trilateral cooperation.

In 2017 there was an exercise with the F-22, and there will be an exercise with Britain and the US in 2020, which Lavigne said he would ask to be held in France.

Those trilateral Point Blank exercises are a way to boost operational interoperability, he said.

Lavigne, appointed Air Chief of staff Aug. 31, is a former fighter pilot, having flown combat missions in the Mirage 2000 in former Yugoslavia and in the first Iraqi war.

The French Army’s Scorpion modernization program drew heavily on the concept of collaborative combat in its plan to hook up armored vehicles and troops in a single command and communications network, dubbed Scorpion Information Communications System (SICS).