Once a Tiger, always a Tiger! The 50th meeting of the NATO Tigers

Philip Stevens reports on the 50th NATO Tiger Meet at Cambrai from May 9-20, 2011

The annual NATO Tiger Meet (NTM 2011) this year was hosted by Escadron de Chasse 01.012 at Cambrai in northern France. This year was the event’s 50th anniversary and was to be the biggest to date, however operational commitments such as the NATO lead campaign 'Unified Protector' in Libya reduced the attendance. The Dutch, Hungarians and Norwegians were the notable no-shows. Despite this over 60 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters were involved with forces from Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom, drawn together because of their common squadron emblem a tiger.

Spanish ground crew prepare their EF-18A Hornets for the next sortie. They were carrying the IRIS-T air-to-air missile on their wingtips.

Spanish ground crew prepare their EF-18A Hornets for the next sortie, they were carrying the IRIS-T air-to-air missile on their wingtips.

The two week flying program consists of air-to-air and air-to-ground and a wide variety of support missions, comprising Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) and large Combined Air Operations (COMAOs). The host nation is responsible for overall planning of the exercise, for NTM 2011 the mission planners and tasking staff were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Daroux, the operational director of the exercise. “I am in charge of the overall air activity; from the conception of missions to the management of the air space. We reach about one hundred take-offs a day, which can be compared to a large-scale air operation.”

Lt Col Daroux emphasized the important training element and the scope of the exercise; “The very high number of air vectors and the variety of the missions provide a very useful training context. We fulfil all the requested skills of a major exercise like a 'Flag'. In addition to the aircraft deployed at Cambrai, we can also combine GBAD (Ground Based Air Defence) equipment, electromagnetic jamming systems with live feedback. This allows us to study each operation in minute detail. Thanks to three giant screens and the use of ‘Liaison 16’ (Data Link 16), we can supervise the air situation in real time. We are able to compare the missions planned with the ones actually carried out. Everybody learns a lot from the results!”

For NTM 2011 Polish Air Force F-16 Block 52 of the 6 Squadron from Poznan attended their first Tiger Meet, they were equipped with AIM-120, AIM-9X, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) and Sniper pod. Not all went well for them however as one of their F-16’s suffered engine damage on the first Friday and their missions were curtailed in the second week.

A Cech Republic Air Force Mil Mi-35 Hind from 221 Squadron based at Namest departs at low level, it will be protecting a pair of Italian Air Force AB.212ICO's on a CSAR mission to rescue a downed pilot.

A Cech Republic Air Force Mil Mi-35 Hind from 221 Squadron based at Namest departs at low level, it will be protecting a pair of Italian Air Force AB.212ICO's on a CSAR mission to rescue a downed pilot.

Helicopters also play a part in this predominantly fast jet exercise this year two nations flew rotary aircraft. The Italian Air Force were represented by 21° Gruppo, 9° Stormo based at Grazzanise, with their Agusta-Bell AB.212ICO helicopters. They were tasked with Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) operations with Special Forces support and Non-Combatant Evacuation operations. The Czech Air Force provided force protection with a pair of Mil Mi-35 ‘Hinds’ from 221 Squadron based at Namest.

For the first time in the Tiger Meet history, a unit of the Special Forces has been integrated to the exercise. The 1st Marines paratrooper regiment (1st RPIMA) from Bayonne operated a hundred kilometres away from Cambrai. Every day their mission was that of Close Air Support (CAS) using high-tech equipment including; Vector goggles to acquire GPS coordinates and multi-emission radios to liaise directly with pilots. A Master Sergeant with the 1st RPIMA explained; “On the field, we communicate with aircraft, indicating to them the threats they have to deal with. We guide them towards the targets. We are somehow the eyes of the pilots on the ground.” He continued; “The Tiger Meet also allows us to attend the planning of the air operations, a phase where we learn a lot". The Special Forces used their expertise in varied scenarios of CSAR, including one of a simulated pilot ejection in a hostile territory.

Traditionally at least one aircraft from each attending squadron will be painted in a special colour scheme with tiger markings, some are painted in elaborate bright colours while others are more subtly painted in low-viz ‘tiger’ themed schemes. It was pointed out that the high-viz schemes do not affect their ability to conduct air-to-air operations as today’s scenarios are mostly conducted Beyond Visual Range (BVR). The ‘Tiger’ spirit of camaraderie also spreads to the pilots and ground crew, helmets, clothing and equipment, all can be found to have black and gold tiger stripes applied, belying the serious nature of the exercise.
French Air Force Dassault Mirage 2000-5F (44 '118-EQ') from ECE 05.330 at Mont-de-Marsan in a special NTM 50th anniverary scheme. German Air Force Tornado ECR (46+33) from Jagdbombergeschwader 32 (JBG 32) based at Lechfeld. Belgian Air Component General Dynamics F-16AM Fighting Falcon (FA-87) of 31 Smaldeel, 10 Wing based at Kleine Brogel. FA-87 was rolled out on April 7 at Kleine Brogel with a special scheme of 50th Anniversary of Tiger Meet on starboard side fin and 60th anniversary of 31 Squadron on the fin’s port side. Portuguese Air Force F-16A MLU Fighting Falcon (15106) from 301 Squadron (Esquadra 301 ‘Jaguares’) based at Monte Real in a low-viz Tiger paint scheme. The Jaguares scooped three awards, including the ‘Silver Tiger Trophy’ and the ‘Best Flying Unit’.

Some of the colourful 'Tiger' paint schemes which the Tiger Association's 'NATO Tiger Meet' has become famous for.
Left to right: French Air Force Dassault Mirage 2000-5F (44 '118-EQ') from ECE 05.330 at Mont-de-Marsan in a special NTM 50th anniverary scheme.
German Air Force Tornado ECR (46+33) from Jagdbombergeschwader 32 (JBG 32) based at Lechfeld.
Belgian Air Component General Dynamics F-16AM Fighting Falcon (FA-87) of 31 Smaldeel, 10 Wing based at Kleine Brogel. FA-87 was rolled out on April 7 at Kleine Brogel with a special scheme of 50th Anniversary of Tiger Meet on starboard side fin and 60th anniversary of 31 Squadron on the fin’s port side.
Portuguese Air Force F-16A MLU Fighting Falcon (15106) from 301 Squadron (Esquadra 301 ‘Jaguares’) based at Monte Real in a low-viz Tiger paint scheme. The Jaguares scooped three awards, including the ‘Silver Tiger Trophy’ and the ‘Best Flying Unit’.


The first ‘Tiger Squadron’ meeting was in 1961 when the USAFE’s 79th TFS flying F-100D Sabres from RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk invited the Lightning’s from 74 Squadron at RAF Coltishall to their air base. For the following year’s meeting French Air Force Super Mystere B2s from Cambrai were included, one of their former aircraft is on display on the air base. Since those early days the NATO Tiger Association as it became known has grown to 21 full members, plus two probationary and 11 honorary members. The Hellenic Air Force’s Mira 335 based at Araxos arrived with their relatively new Lockheed F-16 Block 52M Fighting Falcons and were promoted to full member status. In later years NATO squadrons have been admitted with other large cat emblems apart from that of the traditional tiger, the Portuguese Air Force’s Esquadra 301 for example are known as the ‘Jaguares’ and attended this year with General Dynamics F-16A MLU Fighting Falcons.

Getting into the spirit of the Tiger Meet some ground crew prepare make some 'Tiger' changes to their uniform.

Getting into the spirit of the Tiger Meet some ground crew prepare make some 'Tiger' changes to their uniform.

After the end of flying operations on Thursday May 19 various ‘Tiger Trophies’ were awarded for six mostly frivolous team bonding categories, the Portuguese were the most successful scooping three, the ‘Silver Tiger Trophy’, the ‘Best Flying Unit’ and the ‘Best Skit’. The Armée de l'Air's Escadron de Chasse et d'Expérimentation 05.330 from Mont-de-Marsan won the prize for the ‘Best Looking Uniform’. The ‘Most Fancy Paint Scheme’ award was given to Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 from based at Schleswig-Jagel for their specially painted black Tornado IDS (45+51). Finally Fliegerstaffel 11 of the Swiss Air Force were the ‘Tiger Games’ winner. Many friendships were renewed during the exercise along with the serious aspect of forging close seamless working relationships within NATO.

Lieutenant Colonel Sébastien Vallette, Commander of the 1/12 Squadron was satisfied that the event went well. “The whole personnel from the “Cambrésis” fighter squadron can really be satisfied with the work they have achieved over the last few weeks. The exercise we were assigned was carried out well. We were able to come up to all the participants’ expectations. The operational objectives have been reached and we gained a lot from the missions completed”. He went on to say; "For fifty years, the Tigers community has been gathering every year for the most important joint and combined air exercise in Europe. For fifty years, the Tiger Spirit has been perpetuating around values like fraternity, bravery and respect. Once a Tiger, always a Tiger!"

Friday was departures day for the aircraft most leaving during the morning and the final exercise to be held at this historic air base had ended, Cambrai is scheduled to close in 2012 and the future of SPA 162 the original Tiger Squadron is uncertain.
Next year’s NATO Tiger Meet is already on the calendar, it is planned to run from May 28 to June 6, 2012 and is to be hosted by the Portuguese at Monte Real Air Base.

German Air Force Panavia Tornado IDS (45+51) from AG-51 based at Schleswig-Jagel, winner of the 'Most Fancy Paint Scheme'.

German Air Force Panavia Tornado IDS (45+51) from AG-51 based at Schleswig-Jagel, winner of the 'Most Fancy Paint Scheme'.

 

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