Western allies' top guns hold joint war games

British and US aircraft taking part in the trilateral training mission at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. American F-22s, British Typhoons and French Rafales are training together against a mock enemy, represented by fleets of US F-15s and T-38 t
British and US aircraft taking part in the trilateral training mission at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. American F-22s, British Typhoons and French Rafales are training together against a mock enemy, represented by fleets of US F-15s and T-38 training jets.PHOTO: COURTESY OF BRITISH MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

HAMPTON (Virginia) • American F-22s, British Typhoons and French Rafales - three of the world's most sophisticated fighter jets - roar through the skies over Virginia in the eastern United States in a show of aerial might.

They are a world away from the deserts of northern Syria and Iraq, where all three militaries are part of a US-led coalition bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group. But it is not the fight against the terrorists, who have no air capabilities, that prompted this trilateral training mission.

Instead, the Western allies are focusing on more traditional aerial threats, as well as air-defence systems that are being increasingly deployed around the world.

"Today, there are roughly 10 integrated air-defence systems in the world that you would have a difficult time operating in or around," said General Mark Welsh, the chief of staff of the US Air Force. "By 10 years from now, there will be 25 or so."

For two weeks this month, the planes are training together against a mock enemy, represented by fleets of US F-15s and T-38 training jets.

"It's fabulous," said Marco, a Rafale pilot who is not allowed to provide his full name. The Rafale - the name means gust of wind - is the French military's signature fighter.

"For us French, it's the first time we've really worked in integration with the F-22 Raptor," Marco added.

The F-22 is a feat of US technology. The sleek, stealthy craft bristles with sensors and advanced weapons systems, and the US military closely guards its secrets.

Each air force takes turns commanding the mission.

General Frank Gorenc, the commander of US Air Forces Europe, said there is considerable proliferation of air-defence systems on the continent, in a reference to Russia's air-defence systems.

Washington last month expressed concerns after Russia deployed advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to Latakia in northwestern Syria, in a move that came after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in the increasingly crowded airspace along the Syrian border.

China, too, has made steady investments in anti-aircraft defence systems, again raising eyebrows in Washington.

"You have to have the ability to dismantle those things," Gen Welsh said, "so that you can operate fully across the spectrum of air power operation. If you can't do that, you can't do land or maritime operations."

The training exercise, which was launched in 2010, comprises six F-22 Raptors, eight Typhoons and six Rafales, as well as two Awacs surveillance planes and two air tankers. The training mission wraps up today.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Western allies' top guns hold joint war games'. Print Edition | Subscribe