Exercises

RAF And US Aircraft Part Of 'High-End Fight' Drill Over North Sea

British, American and Dutch personnel have joined efforts for Exercise Point Blank, involving more than 50 aircraft.

Royal Air Force personnel and their aircraft have taken part in a major exercise over the North Sea with two NATO allies.

The United States Air Force (USAF) said the "high-end fight" involved F-15s, F-16s, F-35s, Typhoons, B-52s, and KC-135s.

More than 50 aircraft from the UK, the US and the Netherlands have joined forces for Exercise Point Blank.

Commander Mark Sparrow, of 617 Squadron, told Forces News: "Exercise Point Blank is a great opportunity to use our local training area, the Delta 323 Airspace, which is up over the North Sea to the north of Norfolk and off the east coast of the UK."

The location was chosen because of its proximity to the F-15s based at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, and the Typhoons based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire.

"Point Blank is an opportunity for fifth and fourth-generation fighters to operate together against the simulated threat that is presented by multiple assets.

"It's an ideal training opportunity to have that number of assets working together as we learn," he explained.

Cdr Sparrow also remarked on the importance of working together to learn how to "maximise this fifth-generation capability".

"We can't do it on our own. We need to work closely with our Typhoon team, but also our US colleagues and the F-15 to work out how we maximise the capability of both those assets," he said.

The UK's F-35s are "friendly assets" and as such they are working to integrate with the F-15s and, "on occasion", with Typhoons to support them in fighter integration tactics.

Cdr Sparrow said the exercise was "really exciting".

"The opportunity of where we're based, in East Anglia, [...] we've got all those assets in a really small area and we have a great piece of airspace immediately adjacent to us," he said.

"We can get airborne and get straight into training."

Due to the strategic location, cooperation with international partners is also relatively easy.

Cdr Sparrow explained that UK forces recently collaborated with Dutch and Belgian colleagues while using their airspace.

"We are really well positioned, I think, to maximise that training opportunity," he continued.

"It's hugely exciting to see the fifth-gen capability that we have, but also to see the lethality that we have with the F-15s and the Typhoons when we work together."

American F-35Bs arrived in the UK last week ahead of their part in Point Blank (Picture: MOD).

The exercise varies on a daily basis, but the UK works primarily together with USAF assets.

"You're looking at 30 to 40 'blue assets' rotating through a time period," Cdr Sparrow told Forces News.

On the exercise that took place on Thursday, the aircraft and their crews spent three hours simulating they were protecting a point and working "against a red threat".

It is the fourth time the exercise has taken place this year, but it is the first time the US Global Strike Command have taken part.

Cdr Sparrow also said he believes the drill marked the "very, very first step" in the integration with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211.

He added it feels like there has been a long build-up to this point, but there is still a way to go.

"We've still got a way to go, we're still building," he said.

"From a tactical perspective, things like this: Exercise Point Blank and operating with 211 for the first time.

"There's so much we can learn from the US Marine Corps because they've been operating the F-35B for quite a long time now.

"There's going to be a huge amount we can learn from them over the next six to seven weeks going through this before they go back to the US for Christmas."