FRANCES AIR WAR
During the Cold War and for a few more years yet after the general collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, France used to conduct an annual air defence exercise called AIREX and later DATEX. Its main objective was to test the ability of the French air defence assets to detect and intercept enemy air attacks against the national territory. On some occasions and particularly during the last exercises, allied countries had aircraft based in France to participate in the air defence exercise, and although NATO air forces were invited to attack various targets in France during the two-day exercise period, DATEX remained essentially a national exercise. However, after 1989 the probabilities of an air raid originating from the former Warsaw Pact air forces soon evaporated and the usefulness of a very specialised exercise like DATEX became questionable. In order to meet the new challenges of the post Cold War world, a new more complex international annual exercise, organised accordingly to reflect the type of multi-national military operations of the nineties (Gulf War, Yugoslavia etc.), was created in 1996 to supersede DATEX: ODAX was born.
Since then, ODAX has taken place each year, except for a notable exception in 1999 when the exercise was cancelled on operational and economical grounds as a consequence of the Operation Trident (the FAF contribution to Operation Allied Force in former Yugoslavia). Each exercise has been the opportunity to try a new scenario for example, the first in 1996 was linked with Brilliant Foil, whereas the 1998 version took place in the south of France and the Mediterranean area and has seen new and unusual participants like the United Arab Emirates.
As for 2000, this year's vintage was divided into two different phases. The first, which took place between 26 February and 9 March, was a Computer Assisted (CAX) Command Post Exercise (CPX). This phase was aimed at training commanders and the personnel in charge of planning and conduct of air operations by simulating an air campaign. Contrary to past habits, the second phase or Live Exercise (LIVEX), which saw actual operations of aircraft within the limits of French airspace, was clearly separated from the first one as it took place more than one month later, between 19-27 April.
Traditionally, ODAX is based on a fictitious scenario inspired by real events - this year, the French territory was divided into three areas, each one representing a different nation (Blue, Yellow and Orange), which were once united into a common federation. After the Blue land decided to quit the federation to integrate into an international democratic North-European structure, Yellow land declared its intention to follow the same destiny. However, an ethnical minority living in Yellow land, but closely linked to Orange land, did not agree with that secession and asked for a referendum about the decision to break its relationship with the federation. As Yellow land rejected that idea, significant troubles and violent acts were perpetrated against Yellow populations in areas mainly controlled by the Orange community, which was secretly manipulated by Orange land. As a consequence of the deteriorating situation, the United Nations mandated a coalition with France as the leading nation, in order to set up an interposition and peacekeeping force to avoid a general conflict in the area. This did not impress Orange land much, so it decided to attack Yellow land to isolate it from Blue land. A massive air campaign was then launched by the coalition forces against economical and military targets of Orange land, the two latter aspects constituting the LIVEX part of the exercise. The Armée de lair public relation and information service had a special section devoted to the exercise on its internet site. Detailed information about the federation history and its political leaders were available and it was even possible to check the evolution of the fictitious scenario day by day. Information about real activities were added during the LIVEX period.
The main goal of the exercise was to verify the ability of the coalition forces to operate theatre air assets from deployed multi-national command structures in a crisis or a conflict of high intensity within an implementation period of 24 hours, as well as to conduct up to 600 missions per day. In reaching that target, France demonstrated at the same time its own ability (without the Americans) to organise and operate communication and information systems related to combined elements for a thorough air campaign and functioning with real-time information in an international environment.
The exercise director was Air Marshal Fouquet, who is the commander of the FAF Air Operations and Air Defence Command (CDAOA) based underground at Taverny, north-west of Paris. For the exercise purpose, he was also in charge of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) set up to implement the UN mandate. Commanded by Air Commodore Michel, the air component of the CJTF, known as Joint Force Air Component (JFAC), was responsible for the overall support, offensive and defensive air assets. JFAC was assisted in its mission by three main structures comprising a headquarter responsible for the planning of air operations, an air intelligence centre and a Deployable Combined Air Operations Centre (DCAOC) in charge of command and control of coalition air operations. The latter was deployed at Creil air base, on Blue land territory.
No less than twenty allied and neutral countries (1) took part in the CPX/CAX phase of ODAX whereas nine of those participants (Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Poland, Singapore, Spain and The Netherlands) took also part in the LIVEX phase. Thirteen other countries (2) sent observers to France for the occasion.
France was divided in two parts, with the northern half playing as Blue land and the southern half as Orange land. The smaller Yellow land was right in the middle, north of Orange land against Blue land border. While some coalition aircraft were operating from their home base (for example BAF F-16s and GAF Tornados (four aircraft each)), the main forces were deployed on Blue land territory. One German Navy Atlantic ELINT/SIGINT aircraft was based at Metz from where it operated along the FAF electronic C.160G Gabriel. More German assets were deployed in the north-east with four to six Tornados of AG-51, equipped with their new reconnaissance pods and operating along with the Mirage F1CRs of ER1/33 and 2/33 at Reims, as well as two Tornado ECRs of JBG-32 based at Nancy and operating together with local Mirage 2000Ds capable of SEAD missions with their Martel ARM. SEAD aircraft had the opportunity to test their abilities against live radar threats above Yellow land in the centre of France and above the Alps. Moreover, airfield anti-aircraft defence units were deployed at each airbase throughout France. Luxeuil airbase and its Mirage 2000Ns also took part in the exercise as in fact did all the FAF operational bases.
While four RNLAF F-16s of 323 Squadron were deployed at Cambrai, more unusual participants were based at Dijon (two updated Polish AF MiG-29s) and Saint-Dizier (three updated PAF Su-22M4s of 40.elt). The Republic of Singapore AF deployed six A-4SU and TA-4SU Super Skyhawks at Colmar for their second ODAX participation. A detachment of thirteen operational pilots, commanded by Major Keith Rodrigues, had come straight from Singapore to France for the occasion. They spent one week in Cazaux to learn French procedures as well as to accustom themselves with a new flying environment, quite different to their own country, and two weeks in Colmar for fighter affiliation before the exercise. As last year, they operated the Super Skyhawk of the Advanced Jet Training unit based at Cazaux. As the A-4s detached in France are training aircraft, they are not comprehensively equipped for operational missions. The six aircraft taking part in ODAX were therefore equipped with internal ECM kits for the exercise period only, the equipment being removed and taken back to Singapore at the end of the period.
Besides AWACS and tankers, attack packages were usually composed of sixteen to twenty coalition aircraft, including reconnaissance, attack, air defence and SEAD assets. Finally, two PAF An-26s, German and French C160s, CSAR Pumas and ALAT Gazelles and Pumas were deployed at Avord, the home base of the FAF AWACS fleet. Ground operations, supported by French army helicopters, were indeed planned for the exercise and the transport aircraft were used to drop paratroopers and to evacuate populations. More assets were deployed on Yellow land territory itself, comprising Hunter reconnaissance drones and Horizon battlefield surveillance helicopters.
Orange land air force was composed of air defence Mirage 2000C based at Orange (of course!) with EC1/5 and 2/5, and ground-attack Mirage 2000Ns of EC3/4 based at Istres. More Mirage 2000Cs of EC1/5 had been deployed at Cazaux together with four Italian Air Force F-104S-ASA/Ms. The busiest airbase of Orange land was undoubtedly Mont-de-Marsan, where more Mirage 2000Cs of EC2/5 had been detached together with Mirage F1Cs of EC3/33. One local Mirage IVP was responsible for reconnaissance missions. Four Spanish AF Mirage F1CEs and four Greek AF Mirage 2000CGs were deployed there together with five Morocco AF Mirage F1CHs. This was the fourth time Morocco had participated in ODAX (they also took part in one of the last DATEX exercises).
The exercise went off smoothly without incidents despite difficult weather conditions, allowing all-weather missions. Although most of French AF was implicated in ODAX, normal missions went on during the exercise. Security remained of paramount importance: on 26 April, two Mirage 2000-5Fs from Dijon interrupted their mission to assist a civilian light aircraft in difficulty. For once priority was given to military aircraft during the LIVEX period - press releases warned potential travellers that regular flight schedules could be delayed because of a 'military air exercise'!
(1) Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, The Netherlands, UAE, United Kingdom, USA.
(2) Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Japan, Jordan, Oman, Slovakia, Taiwan, Ukraine.