NATO Tiger Meet 2010

From October 4th - 15th the skies over Holland were filled with the tigers roarrr produced by some 50 aircraft participating in the NATO Tiger Meet 2010. 313 Squadron based at RNLAF Volkel was host to this annual exercise organised by the NATO Tiger Association (NTA). It was the largest exercise held in the Netherlands in years and attracted lot's of interest in the country and abroad. On October 7th we attended the media day to get some insights on the exercise.

Being the 46thofficial NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) in the 49 years of existence of the NTA it was only the first time the RNLAF was host. Lt. Col. Marten 'Jimi' Hendriksma, commander of 313 Squadron explains: "In the past, the RNLAF had its focus elsewhere with a lot of operational obligations and we aimed on other exercises. The NTM had an image of being more a social meeting than an large scale exercise. In 2008, 313 Squadron decided to organise the NTM aiming on a complex level and high training value compared to the Flag exercises in the USA and Canada."

Director of this NTM was Maj. Niels Haarsma. With 3 years of experience in the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) he had an important role in creating awareness of the value of such a large scale exercise within 313 Squadron and the RNLAF. The objectives of the NTM are: strengthen relations between NATO units, preparation for real world operations, national tasking, combined operations and joint operations with army and navy units. Maj. Haarsma task was to write scenario's to achieve these goals in a 2 week exercise.

Most scenario's were in essence a copy of those performed at last years Tiger Meet organized by the 31 Smaldeel at Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium. (See:NATO Tiger Meet 2009 - the exercise) Lt. Col. Hendriksma mentioned a couple of differences between flag exercises and this Tiger Meet. One of them was the limitation that no live weapons could be used. An advantage compared to former NTAs was the planning being executed at Squadron level i.o. Headquarters. This ment short decission lines and full control to achieve goals.

The original planning was to fly 715 missions in exercise area's above the North Sea (in Dutch and German air space) and in special assigned area's in Holland like the Veluwe.

Last minute changes

While logistics and flightplans were planned already, the Spanish delegation consisting of Mirage F1 and F/A-18 Hornets cancelled only a week before the start of the exercise due to financial reasons. This added to the earlier cancellation of the French Rafales the organisation had to deal with some challenges. Therefore the original goal was not obtained and in the end of the 2 weeks 644 missions were conducted.

To fill the gap that was created, the French Air Force offered to participate with additional Mirage 2000's. They were flying several missions from their  home base Cambrai. They however were not the only participants who didn't fly out of Volkel. A USAF KC-135R from the 121st ARW flew out of Eindhoven daily missions in the afternoon. The NATO E-3A Component, being a full NTA member, supported the missions flying out of their homebase Geilenkirchen.

To express the tiger spirit it has become a tradition to paint one or more planes from each country with a tiger scheme. As the tradition and spirit is most dedicated in France, Belgium and Germany these countries often paint their whole plane. Lt. Col. Hendriksma however was proud that 313 Squadron got permission at last to decorate the tail of an operational F-16, expressing the official logo of this year.

After two weeks of intense operations, flying 2 missions a day, the balance was made up. In the tradition of the NTM, several awards were presented to the participating units. The winners of this years edition are:

  • SILVER TIGER 2010: 211 Squadron - Czech Republic
  • BEST FLYING: 338 Skv - Norway
  • BEST PAINTED JET: 192 Filo - Turkey
  • BEST TIGER DRESS: 21° Gruppo - Italy
  • BEST TIGER SKIT: JTS - Austria
  • TIGER GAMES: 221 Squadron - Czech Republic

"With the Tiger Games, who take place in the weekend in between the two weeks, the organisation din't loose sight to the social aspects of the NTM" thus Lt. Col. Hendriksma said.

Next year, from May 9-20, the NTM will take place at BA103 Cambrai, France. It will be the 50th birthday for the NTA and promises to be the best and largest meeting in their history.

Tiger in the wild

At the press conference Lt. Col. Hendriksma emphasized the joint character of the NTM being the main objective for this exercise. "During the NTM we are cooperating with RNeth Army units as well as with RNeth Navy units. The HMS Tromp for example will be under attack and is delivering air defense as well." Civil contractor's participated as well, like Skyline Aviation providing aircraft for electronic warfare.

During the 2 week exercise we could witness the cooperation between the NTA units and the RNeth Army our self at various training locations in the Netherlands. The scenarios executed were written in view of Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) and Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) missions. While the first week only a small number of helicopters and F-16's, delivering Close Air Support (CAS), participated, the second week more complex missions were flown with the support of the Air Mobile Brigade from the RNeth. Army.

Both CSAR and CASEVAC mission's aims at rescueing downed pilots and wounded or hostaged people out of enemy territory. Every day, while the pilots and aircrew were briefed, one or two pilots (RNLAF) were picked to play those who had to be rescued. Unlike a real world situation, they were dropped in enemy territory by car or helicopter and the scenario to rescue them was directed in advance.

This however didn't mean concessions were made to get the best training value out of it. To review the missions a camera team accompanied the pilots. In one mission a downed pilot had to hide for the enemy and supply it's coordinates to the rescuers. A Cougar drops troops to secure the area and took the pilot while covered by F-16's and the AB212's. The MI-35, playing opposing forces was already eliminated by a ground-air defense system.

A smaller scenario was executed the week before, when only one AB212 and the MI-35 had to rescue a pilot without additional support. One of the largest scenarios was where two pilots were captured by the enemy and all participating helicopters were on their side. They delivered troops who had to force a breakthrough to rescue the pilots. Meanwhile the Mi-35 eliminated strategic positions of the enemy. At the end one pilot was wounded and was evacuated by a Cougar and the other was taken home.

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