French warplanes join US, British for first time at Point Blank
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — American, British and French fighter pilots engaged in mock dogfights, avoiding simulated surface-launched missiles along the way, in the largest war game of its kind in Britain on Tuesday.
Exercise Point Blank, hosted by the Royal Air Force and the 48th Fighter Wing, gives airmen a chance to match skills while keeping down costs for the three NATO allies.
“One of the only places on the planet that we can get this kind of training is at Nellis Air Force Base and the logistical requirements to fly the fighters and support elements there is significant,” said Col. Jason Camilletti, commander of the 48th Operations Group, referring to the U.S. base in Nevada.
The French air force is joining the exercise for the first time this year to train alongside U.S. and British forces based at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Marham. The total forces include 26 fighter jets and various support aircraft, together with about 250 air force personnel.
Most of the participating aircraft will fly from their home stations in the U.K., while the French Dassault Rafale fighters are staying at RAF Lakenheath.
“The only cost is really the annual flying hour program budgets that are already allocated to each specific unit,” Camilletti said. “Above and beyond that it’s just a little bit of hotel costs for the liaison officers from each unit ... but each nation picks up that cost.”
Aircraft from the three nations, including two of Britain’s F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jets, four Typhoons, four Rafales and 16 U.S. F-15 Eagles, are taking part in the one-day drills over the North Sea.
“It is key for our three nations to train together to make the most of these systems,” French Maj. Gen. Luc De Rancourt said.
The war game is focused on integrating fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft in offensive missions against enemy fighter jets and surface-to-air missile defenses.
“What that typically means is the good guys taking the fight to the bad guys,” Camilletti said. “Tactically, where the rubber meets the road in the jets, it’s the ability to make sure we’re all playing off the same playbook.”
The exercise draws its title from Operation Point Blank, the code name for a portion of the Allied bomber offensive in World War II.
American and British units have executed 20 Point Blank exercises with more than 400 participating aircraft since 2016, Air Force officials said.