Exercise Proban Tiramus 2001
Ian Doyle reports from Netheravon
I doubt whether there are enough superlatives in the English language, let alone the French, to describe the events witnessed by many seasoned enthusiasts at Netheravon airfield, Wiltshire over the 8/9 June. Exercise "Proban Tiramus" was without doubt a remarkable demonstration of French military global power projection, which was quite simply awesome in its execution. Rumours had been circulating in the previous week leading up to the exercise about the potential number of movements that might be involved. Initial estimates centred on 64 although a figure in the high eighties had also been mentioned. I am sure that most observers were perhaps somewhat cynical about both figures, not least because no similar exercise involving such high numbers had taken place on British soil for many, many years.
These concerns however were soon dispelled when the first wave of aircraft arrived en-masse over Netheravon Airfield at 10:00, in a very impressive but noisy loose combat formation. This was to be followed in quick succession by another then another. Each wave took up position at the FARP (Flight Arming and Refuel Pan), just North of the actual airfield prior to landing for overnight parking. This pattern was subsequently repeated over the next six hours until all aircraft had arrived. It was later revealed that the whole brigade had initially flown to Compagnie near Paris, the previous evening. Colonel Pierre Kohn, The French Military Attaché to the UK, arrived in his personal Fennec to explain that this type of exercise had been taking place in France every year since 1985, and was basically used to prove the effectiveness of French Forces in a mass insurgency rapid reaction operation. The exercise was originally due to take place off the French coast with the brigade deploying over water to French Naval assets in the English channel, however last minute technical difficulties prevented this from taking place, so the over water aspect of the exercise was hastily rescheduled to take place at Netheravon.
Units were drawn from the 4th Airmobile brigade, which consists of two regiment bases at Pau and Etain. However, due to interoperability of both the Puma and Gazelle, many aircraft are rotated between units and in this instance additional aircraft from other units also took place in the exercise.
Colonel Kohn went onto explain that having measured the effectiveness of deploying in theatre, the invasion force would be moving on the next day to ranges in the Cherbourg area of Northern France, in order to work alongside land-based units of the French Army and of course with close air support elements of the French Air Force.
There is little doubt that most observers were mightily impressed with the way that the exercise was executed. By 18:00 over eighty aircraft were parked in neat rows on the Wiltshire countryside, a sight that many would not have believed possible. There is little doubt that of all the nations in Europe, France in particular still has both the capability and resolve to take the lead where other countries may be left wanting.
I feel that many enthusiasts would also confirm a special word of thanks should be given to members of the British Army. They must have been somewhat bemused to suddenly find the whole event being observed "at close quarters" by many hundreds of enthusiasts, who suddenly "pitched up" without warning within 100 yards of the FARP. Nobody strayed any closer than they needed to however, and as a result the whole event was self-policed without any requirement for the security forces to intervene.