RAF F-35s Make History With French and US Air Forces On First International Exercise

Aircraft from the British, US and French Air Forces practised a scenario in which control of the skies is contested.

Two of the RAF's F-35B Lightning stealth fighter jets have taken to the skies over the North Sea as part of Exercise Point Blank.

Aircraft from the British, US and French Air Forces all scrambled together to practise what has been described as part of an "insurance policy" against global threats.

It is the first time the French Air Force has been involved in Exercise Point Blank, which is led by the US Air Force's 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

The exact details of the scenario are classified but some of the aircraft were playing the enemy whilst the rest were trying to defeat them.

Colonel Jason Camiletti of the US Air Force said: “They’ll be positioned throughout the North Sea.

"We’ll also have simulated surface-to-air-missile sites – getting that high end contested environment, that we quite frankly… haven’t had to face in the last couple of decades.

“That was really one of the genesis of Point Blank, to expose our aircrews to that type of training environment.”

In total 200 personnel and 40 planes took part in the exercise, including Typhoons from RAF Coningsby.

What has been released is footage of an RAF Voyager refuelling the F-35s and the French Air Force’s Rafales.

It was carrying 106 tonnes of fuel, playing a vital role in allowing the jets to top up mid-flight. 

F-35 about to refuel 281118 CREDIT BFBS
An F-35 about to refuel from an RAF Voyager.

F-35s have previously conducted flight trials off the US coast with American F-35B aircraft, but for the French personnel who were flying in their Rafale jets, working alongside the British aircraft was a new experience: "The F-35 poses some new challenges,” said Major General Luc De Rancourt.

“Since the F-35 is a brand new aircraft within the RAF, we need to train together.”

“Every day literally we are involved in common missions,” added his Major Guillaune Claudius, “especially in the Middle East or in Africa, so we are used to working together.

"We plan the same way, we brief, we fly the same way.

"We just have to improve this way of working in...very demanding scenarios.”

Officers from Royal, US and French Air Forces 281118 CREDIT BFBS
Officers from all three Air Forces are keen for similar exercises to take place in the future.

The possibility of facing similar threats in the future were also in mind. RAF Air Commodore Jez Attridge spoke in particular about Russia:

"We can see the environment is changing, we can see the challenge that Russia is giving to the international rules-based order so we are the insurance policy.

"We are recognising that through the scenario that we've got, the non-permissive environment, our ability to operate with our allies, the French and the Americans, is paramount.

"It really is a case of us staying ready so that we can be used if we need to."

All three air forces are keen to see such co-operation continue.

Major General John Wood, 3rd Air Force Commander USAF, said the consequences of not holding such joint exercises would be negative:

“The risk is then you get there and, you know, I can use examples in our own history, but I’ll just say generically that you show up, you can’t talk, communicate or even operate together. And then you’re less effective.”