U.S.-British-French air combat exercise switched to Europe for the first time
Rick Rozoff

The third iteration of Exercise Atlantic Trident began on May 17 and will continue to May 28. It includes fighter jets from the U.S., Britain and France participating in what NATO terms simulated high-spectrum, high-intensity combat operations.

The U.S. is supplying F-35s and F-22s, Britain Typhoons and France Rafale warplanes. The F-35 Lightning II is a stealth multirole combat aircraft that can perform strike missions. The F-22 Raptor is also a fifth-generation stealth fighter.

The two previous Atlantic Trident exercises were held at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. As part of moving military personnel and equipment closer to likely battlefields – meaning the borders of Russia – this year’s exercise is being held in Europe, at Air Base 118 in Mont-de-Marsan, France. The exercise is integrated into the Trilateral Strategic Initiative which the U.S., British and French air forces established in 2010.

Some fifty latest-generation (fourth- or fifth-generation) combat aircraft are involved. The deputy director of the exercise, Lieutenant-Colonel Peyrard Mickaël, described the drills in standard NATO terminology:

“Interoperability means how to fight together. It’s about increasing exchanges between the most modern fighter jets in the world, sharing our tactical and technical knowledge and improving the responsiveness of our joint operations.” In short, it’s about conducting state-of-the-art aerial warfare. And not against small Middle Eastern countries.

Interoperability of air forces was defined in a paper by U.S. and British air commanders as:

“Specific to air operations, the importance of interoperability has consistently been identified during North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) actions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya, as well as ongoing coalition efforts in Iraq, Syria, and sub-Saharan Africa.”

NATO quotes a British liaison attached to the exercise as adding, “Atlantic Trident will notably be the first international exercise in which the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will be deployed.” The HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Groups will then sail to the Mediterranean Sea, where a guided-missile destroyer and frigate will deploy to the Black Sea, then the group will proceed to the Red Sea and from there to the Indian Ocean to the Asia-Pacific region.

NATO says this about the purpose of the exercise:

“Exercise Atlantic Trident is a demonstration of the transatlantic link in NATO and another example of three Allies operating cutting-edge technology to protect European skies. The findings of the integration of modern generation aircraft into existing Air Power capabilities during Atlantic Trident will also inform NATO concepts as other Allies start operating and integrating new aircraft such as the F-35 fighter or the A400M transport and the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft.”

What has been described appears to be an updated version of air combat on a scale not seen since World War II.