CO-OPERATIVE KEY 2002, ST DIZIER, FRANCE - Geoff Stockle reports on an Eastern European gathering
Since the end of the cold war at the beginning of the nineties, NATO has seen its role change from the defence of Europe by a massive onslaught from the Warsaw Pact to one of global involvement in smaller conflicts and counter-aggression/terrorism.
Indeed, NATO now has three former WarPac nations in its ranks - Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to swell its signed-up members to nineteen (see left). Many other 'old enemies' now see NATO as the corner stone of mutual defence and are trying to join, and reap, the collaborative benefits. Whilst this selection process is a lengthy one, a programme was initiated in 1993 so as non-members could participate with NATO and become associated with some of the systems and procedures that have been finely tuned since 1949.
This initiative is the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and includes all nineteen NATO members as well as twenty-seven others (see left). Amongst other duties the EAPC overseas an annual military exercise under the Partnership for Peace (PfP) title.
Five exercises have been held so far in Romania ('96 & 2000), Slovakia ('97), Turkey ('98), and Bulgaria (2001).The latest entitled 'Co-operative Key 02' was held at the French Air Force base at St Dizier-Robinson (Base Aerienne 113), currently home to the last wing (EC 007) of Jaguars in French Air Force service.
Seventeen nations participated with some sixty aircraft directly involved and some 1,800 ground personnel over the period of 22 September to 5 October. The first week was set aside for acclimatisation and familiarisation flights and the second week for actual 'missions'. At least two nights each week were allocated for night flying, daytime activities occurring between 11:00 and 18:00 with two missions varying in endurance depending on the type of aircraft. Only the transports flew solo outings, the tactical jets and helicopters operating in impressive packages of up to ten aircraft, most led by French types. Additional aircraft were noted over the two weeks and some aircraft were exchanged over the period. There were also various support and visiting types. Up to ten Jaguars were noted.
With a reasonable forecast for early autumn, the chance of seeing incredibly rare types and air arms plus the opportunity to photograph the dwindling fleet of French Jags, the event looked too good to miss. It turned out to be very worth the trip with a welcoming relaxed attitude, even from the local Gendarmarie, for spotting and photographing from the local football field. Co-Operative Key 2003 will be held next autumn at Plodiv, Bulgaria, and again a long journey may well be worthwhile!
Co-Operative Key 2002 aircraft participation log:
NB - Additional aircraft were noted over the two weeks and some aircraft were exchanged over the period. There were also various support and visiting types. The list above was seen over the period 1-3 October. Up to ten Jaguars were noted but the two listed above appeared to be the main pair allocated to the exercise.
With thanks to the excellent NATO, St Dizier town and Scramble websites.