Swedish sorties over France
Sébastien Buyck looks at the recent deployment of Swedish Air Force Gripens to France. Pictures by the author and Joris van Boven
In the last week of March 2007, six JAS-39C/D Gripens flew missions with French Air Force from Base Aérienne 112 Reims in the north-east of France. The purpose of this squadron exchange was to train Swedish pilots for new missions to them, recce and air-to-air refuelling.
The Swedish team was from Ronneby Air Base, in the south of Sweden. The pilots mostly came from 171 Squadron, one the two Swedish Air Force squadrons to be deployed to a foreign country if the need arises. After the Swedish integration in the European Union in 1995, the Swedish Government decided it needed the capability to be able to send a military force to help other European countries, ending a long period of neutrality and self-protection missions.
Swedish politicians wanted to show that Sweden is no longer an isolated state, but to keep with its peaceful tradition opted for a recce squadron so no Swedish fighters would have to drop bombs. AJSF 37 Viggens from F21 used to have this capability in the Swedish Air Force, but today the Viggens have all been retired and the Gripen has taken over. F17, based in Ronneby, was selected for the recce role - this unit has the new C-model version of the Gripen but until now has used them in the air-to-air role.
So, a big challenge for its pilots is to gain skill with recce missions - this is why they were at Reims, home of the French Recce units EC 1/33 'Belfort' and 2/33 'Savoie', EC 1/33 being the host unit for the exchange.
Now that Sweden is an EU state, things are moving quickly. For the Swedish Air Force, it's efficient to have a country-to-country agreement - it has tight budget restrictions and the visit to France will be one of a few exercises outside Sweden this year. In May 2006, EC 1/33 sent some pilots to Ronneby to establish a way of working between the two countries. One year before that, French and Swedish units participated in the Finnish exercise 'Adex 05' and on this occasion, Swedish Gripen jockeys discovered the Mirage 2000-5 and considered it as the best encounter they ever have met.
The Swedish team arrived a few days before the official start of the exercise. On Friday 23 March, they went to St Dizier to have a briefing about the Rafale. Lt Colonel Duvivier, 1/33 'Belfort' Commanding Officer, worked for a few years on the Rafale programme, so it was easy for him to organise a visit for the Swedish contingent.
First flights in the exercise began on Monday 26 March with the 'famday' (familiarisation day) and as the week ran, missions got bigger and bigger. Three waves were scheduled per day, with four Gripens in each wave. Gripens and Mirage F1CRs flew together, in various kind of missions - all missions were briefed, organised and debriefed from the EC 1/33 ops room.
The aircraft and groundcrew were over the other side of the base, in front of the ex-EC 3/33 'Lorraine' buildings. The Swedish pilots wanted to understand how to plan a difficult mission with a long-range recce pod such as the 'Presto' used by the French Air Force - the Swedish Air Force has obtained a couple of pods but they are still in the development process and as a consequence the Gripens only flew with external tanks in France. Gripens sometimes acted as recce assets but they also tried to intercept or protect Mirage F1CRs during some missions. In all, twenty-eight Swedish pilots made the trip to France - two JAS 39 Gripen Ds were used for back-seat experience sorties. On Tuesday 27 March an ECM (Electronic Counter Measure) mission was undertaken to the Polygone range in Germany.
Even though most of the Ronneby pilots are air-to-air minded, they learned much during their stay at Reims and will surely use their new recce pod with efficiency. Both sides were delighted with this exchange: French pilots had the opportunity to discover a new aircraft, and Swedish pilots have now a good understanding of the long-range recce mission.
The author would like to thank all the Press Office staff in Reims for their kind welcome.