Bob Archer reports on 'Ocean Tiger', the 2008 Tiger Meet, held over 20-30 June at Landivisiau, Brittany. Pictures by Gary Parsons
The annual NATO Tiger Association 'Tiger Meet' is one of the most popular and colourful events in the European aviation calendar. Now in its forty-seventh year, the 2008 gathering was entitled 'Ocean Tiger' and was the first time that it had been hosted by the French 11 Flottille at Base Area Navale Landivisiau in Brittany. Ocean Tiger took place in an area surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, enabling a bias towards a nautical theme; French Navy warships were included in the exercise, adding unparalleled realism to the scenarios.
Originally JbG-32 at Lechfeld was selected to host the 2008 Meet, but operational requirements prevented this, resulting in 11 Flottille being selected as a substitute. The base at Landivisiau was in the enviable position of having completed the construction of new infrastructure associated with the introduction of the Dassault Rafale into Naval service. With a host of new buildings available, and a fifteen-month hiatus from shipboard deployments while the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle receives its first major overhaul and refit, 11F was ideally placed. With all the necessary requirements in place, 11F began the lengthy planning phase at the end of 2007.
Aircraft arrived on 20 June enabling aircrews to begin familiarisation sorties to begin on 23 June. Operational missions, formed around the traditional Combined Air Operation (COMAO), began on the 24th, with two daily sorties. The COMAO was designed to enable the nine participating nations flying a mix of aircraft and helicopters to function safely and cohesively. Fighter aircraft formed the majority of participation, with the Mixed Force Fighter Operations component of the daily air tasking order (ATO) containing fighter bombers for simulated attack of ground and naval targets; suppression of enemy air defences against replicated radar sites and surface to air missile systems; photo reconnaissance of targets; air superiority to enable the ground attack and reconnaissance assets to operate with minimal disruption from enemy forces.
In addition the ATO exercise scenario involved fighter sweep and escort missions to enable the helicopters to conduct Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) of shot down aircrews over hostile territory. Each of the eight mission packages was planned and executed by a different squadron, enabling most of the participants to benefit from the complex planning process of a huge multi-tasked, multi-national exercise. The huge area of Brittany, combined with the vast and largely empty airspace over the adjacent Atlantic Ocean, afforded uncongested flight operations. The exercise operating area was above the Bay of Biscay, extending some one hundred nautical miles to the west of Landivisiau, and forty nautical miles to the south of Lorient. Weather conditions throughout 'Ocean Tiger' were ideal with occasional low cloud from the coast obscuring an otherwise clear blue sky - no sorties were lost to weather factors. Throughout the event, a NATO Boeing E-3A Sentry operating from Geilenkirchen, Germany monitored each mission, providing command and control of all participants.
The Tiger Meet tradition of elaborate colour schemes were in evidence, but less so than those participating in Norway for Arctic Tiger in 2007. In fact, had it not been for the French contingent of five colourful aircraft, the Meet would have been fairly low key in new designs. The Belgian Armed Forces F-16AM, Swiss Air Force FA-18C Hornet, Austrian Air Force Saab 105OE and Czech Air Force Mil Mi-24V were all displaying colour schemes from previous years. The Spanish Air Force Mirage F1M had an original design composed of a ferocious Tiger attacking a fearsome shark applied to the fin, thereby representing both themes. However, it was the French who effectively stole the show with their highly original, all-over artwork; the resident 11 Flottille painted two of their Dassault-Breguet Super Etendard Modernise (SEM) in an overall gloss-black finish with red stripes to create a highly original Tiger pattern. It is worth mentioning that the unit emblem of 11F is a seahorse, but the Tiger lineage has been adopted by the squadron from the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which had the feline as its official insignia. When the aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 1997, 11F assumed the Tiger ancestry as the squadron had demonstrated its commitment to the Association.
from Cambrai-Epinoy decorated Mirage 2000C 99 with a different Tiger's
head on both sides of the tail, while beneath the nose was a black and
white Tiger pattern and aft of the nose cone extending to the centre of
the fuselage was a traditional black and yellow Tiger stripe design. The
black Tiger stripes continued over the grey area, petering out ahead of
a large red double-chevron on the fin. Beneath the fuselage was a huge
Tiger paw. Without doubt EC05.330 from Mont de Marsan presented the most
original pattern to one of their Rafales, with the traditional Tiger scheme
applied along the upper fuselage and wings blending into a huge Tiger
eye on the tail. The fifth French exhibit, and one which was applied entirely
for amusement, was Nord 262E 51 of 28 Flottille from Nimes-Garons; the
entire aircraft was repainted in an
'arctic Tiger' scheme, identical to the 11F Super Etendards from the 2007
event. 28F is not a member of the association and has no formal Tiger
links, but chose to participate anyway, and whose contribution was welcomed.
The Nord flew each afternoon, often in connection with the CSAR helicopter
contingent, although with no rotary capability, the former was little
more than a spectator.
The base organised a superb photographer & spotters' day offering access to most of the flightlines, and an unobstructed viewing area extremely close to a taxiway. The two final missions were flown during this event affording almost one thousand visitors access to 'Ocean Tiger'. Furthermore a free-to-enter 'Joint Porte Ouverte' was staged on 29 June, which was blessed with fine weather, and an enjoyable flying programme. The finale was a flypast by all the colourful Tiger jets, with the exception of the decorated Luftwaffe Tornado ECR. The German defence ministry have banned all flight activity at air shows, resulting in the pretty Tornado remaining earthbound for the public event. In a similar vein, the UK Ministry of Defence seem reluctant to allow their two representative squadrons to apply any form of decoration, with the three helicopters flying in conventional marks only - one of only two participating nations to do so. But as one crew member commented, "The UK was lucky to be able to send two participating squadrons considering the tempo of commitments worldwide at present." The Czech Air Force was operating the JAS-39 Gripen for the first time - understandably these too operated without any additional titivation, although the crews were of the opinion that such embellishment could be applied at some in the future.
One of the traditions of each Tiger Meet is the camaraderie fostered through both air and ground activities. While the presentation of aircraft and flight activity is the cornerstone of the event, a high degree of importance is attached to the non-aviation aspect, including the famous 'Tiger games'. The most prestigious award is the Silver Tiger, which was won by 11 Staffel of the Swiss Air Force - the award is made to the squadron who is judged to have the best overall performance and appearance throughout the Meet. The best flying unit and the victor of the Tiger games went to 31 Smaldeel, Belgian Air Force. The aircraft selected to win the prize for 'the most fancy paint scheme' was the highly original Rafale of Escadron de Chasse 05.330, French Air Force. The Spirit of the Meet was quite rightly presented to 11F, who not only managed to organise the event in such a short time, but maintained a cohesive gathering in an efficient, but relaxed manner. While most participants brought a host of technicians to maintain their aircraft, Austria's Jet Training Squadron attended with just six pilots and two ground crew. The 2009 event is already scheduled for 14-28 September at Kleine Brogel, Belgium.