Exercise Air Khanjar at Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE
Ex AIR KHANJAR has been a prestige exercise involving the RAF and United Arab Emirates Air Force at Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE.
The exercise, which is the culmination of a long period of planning, is a continuation of similar training exercises designed to enhance the way in which UK and UAE militaries cooperate.
Ex AIR KHANJAR has reinforced how the 2 nations fly and work in a very similar fashion and has enabled seamless integration of the 2 air forces. It has been part of the wider support to a bilateral Defence Co-operation Accord between the UK and UAE.
Ex AIR KHANJAR has reiterated the flexibility of Airpower and, for the RAF, it has given valuable experience of operating in challenging desert conditions. The exercise was planned on a ‘building block’ approach of gradually increasing the complexity of training, however, it was soon apparent that the skill levels at both individual and squadron levels were closely aligned and the exercise was accelerated into more complex areas.
Wing Commander Jez Attridge, Officer Commanding XI Sqn and also, for the duration of Ex AIR KHANJAR, Officer Commanding 906 Expeditionary Air Wing, said:
“We’ve found the UAE AF to be very flexible in its operations and able to adapt well to working with us. They have some excellent aircraft that have integrated remarkably well with Typhoon”.
He went on say: “The UK has long standing close cooperation with UAE and complementary weapons systems, which given the current political and military realities of most military operations worldwide being coalitions, it is always good to rehearse operations with other proficient partner nations”.
He went on to describe the fantastic facilities at the Al Dhafra Air Base and the impressive Air-to-Ground and Air-to-Air Ranges available within the UAE. But the real bonus, for a world class fighter aircraft, was to practice ‘Dissimilar Air Combat Training’ against other aircraft that are both new and challenging adversaries. He also smiled: “The weather is a pretty big bonus too, obviously it’s nice to live and work in good weather, but it actually means that we can pretty much guarantee maximum training time”.
Another essential part of Ex AIR KHANJAR has been the command and control contribution of 8 Sqn’s AWACs E-3D aircraft. The AWAC (Airborne Warning And Control) aircraft is more than a ‘flying radar’ it provides information superiority for Commanders both in the Air and on the Surface, land or sea. To demonstrate this important aspect of the exercise the involvement of HMS Cumberland, operating in the Persian Gulf, has added significant value to the exercise. Combined forces of RAF Typhoons and UAE AF aircraft rehearsed both protecting and attacking the ship, all controlled from a distance by the AWACs.
Wing Commander Paul Moss, Officer Commanding 8 Sqn, discussed the way in which the way RAF and UAE AF crews operated: “Apart from call signs there was no real difference in the crews, the professionalism and motivation was identical”.
He talked about the Expeditionary Air Wing model, the combined force of both Typhoons and AWACs, which utilises dedicated aircraft types and personnel ready to deploy as a single unit. Whilst both the Typhoon and AWACs crew are used to regularly working together back in the UK the rest of the EAW, the Force Head Quarters and supporting areas such as the Engineers and Administrators, rarely get the opportunity to do so until they are deployed together. He said: “Its interesting to see that we’ve effectively travelled thousands of miles to see the massive benefit we get once we know each other well and work together regularly. The trouble is, although we’re only 25 miles apart back home in Lincolnshire, we basically don’t have the time to travel and work more closely. However, the benefits have been so tangible here that certainly the Force Head Quarters will now do this more often at home”.
Another remarkable aspect of Ex AIR KHANJAR, which underlines the rapid response and adaptability of airpower, was that it wasn’t launched from the UK, but directly from Ex INDRA DANUSH in Chalikunda, India. This was an intensive 3-week Air Defence Exercise operating in an oppressive 35-degree heat and 100% humidity.
And if that wasn’t enough challenge then the privilege of supporting a Royal Fly-past for a State Visit by Her Majesty the Queen to Abu Dhabi was a public demonstration of the seamless cooperation and levels of precision that were quickly reached between the RAF and UAE AF crews.
In terms of a rehearsal of concept of the bilateral accord between the UK and the UAE then Ex AIR KHANJAR was extremely successful, but furthermore, it also proved the deployability and sustainability of Typhoon in a hot and dusty environment. In addition, with regard to the AWACs of 8 Sqn, who are no strangers to deploying, it helped maintain many easily lost skills such as dealing with Diplomatic Clearance for aircraft to operate in one of the world’s most politically sensitive areas.
The exercise was concluded with an opportunity for Colonel Mubarak, the Base Commander of Al Dhafra Air Base, to experience the potent power and manoeuvrability of a Typhoon mission.