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Arctic Tigers

Bob Archer reports from the 2007 Tiger Meet, held nearer the North Pole than usual!

Norway is an enchanting land of fjords, mountains and friendly people, and from 24 September to 1 October, the venue of the 2007 Tiger Meet. Billed appropriately as 'Arctic Tiger 2007', this was the first occasion that the NATO Tiger Association flying event has taken place in Scandinavia. The age old problem of shrinking budgets, combined with ongoing commitments in the Middle East, have taken a punishing toll on the availability of assets for large scale, multi-national exercises. However, the annual NATO Tiger Meet has a widespread membership, which has helped to reduce this effect to a degree. These difficulties aside, participating aircraft, and support transports brought more than 1,100 personnel assigned to twenty-one flying squadrons from twelve different nations to Orland Military Air Station, near Trondheim, during the days preceding the start of the flying phase.

Tiger Meat

Having been selected to host the 2007 meeting, senior personnel at Orland began the planning process in October 2006, immediately following the successful Tiger gathering at Albacete, Spain. Invitations explaining the aims and objectives, tailored to the geographical environment and the Norwegian weather conditions, were sent out in October to all members, both full and probationary. Fairly quickly, acceptances arrived, resulting in the exercise growing to become the second largest in Europe this year. Planning for the Tiger Meet had to take place at the same time as the larger Tactical Fighter Meet, now titled Exercise 'Bold Avenger', which was also staged at Orland just three weeks before Arctic Tiger event. The air base is fairly unique in the northern European hemisphere as it has in place purpose-built facilities capable of accommodating more than one thousand people on base, hence the choice to stage these NATO war games.

Exercise scenario

The exercise scenario was based upon the familiar humanitarian theme involving a dispute escalating into warfare between three fictitious nations (which, in this case, were named Valhal, Loke and Fenris). Following a United Nations resolution, a coalition of NATO forces was sent to bring peace and stability to the region. The focus was on the role provided by the helicopter force integrated with the multi-role, fixed-wing fighter and support assets operating within a high threat environment...

The first day of operations was devoted to the rescue of United Nations hostages. Ground forces were flown by helicopter to conduct the rescue, while air assets carried out close air support. Day two focussed upon medical evacuation of both military and civilian casualties, while the third day concentrated upon combat search and rescue to successfully retrieve downed aircrew. The penultimate day was dedicated to direct assault, while the fifth and final day involved full scale tactical operations to impose the peacekeeping mandate.

All flying operations were overseen by a NATO Boeing E-3A Sentry, which monitored and updated the participants with the ever-changing scenario. The helicopter force was composed for five Norwegian Bell 412s, two RAF Westland Puma HC1s, and a Fleet Air Arm Westland Merlin HM1 for assault airlift. These were supported by a pair of Czech Mil Mi-24V Hinds, which collectively departed Orland to operate from a forward location. Each daily flying programme was formed into a NATO air tasking order, identifying each squadron's specific role. All nine flying programmes were planned and organised by a different squadron, thereby maximising the training benefit of a complex Combined Air Operation (COMAO).

Each day began with a mass briefing for all participants, explaining at some length the full plan for both the morning and afternoon sorties. The briefing contained the full scope of each sortie, expected weather conditions, and alternate airfields, before each flight convened to hold their individual briefs. Understandably NATO is a huge organisation, with many different nationalities, operating an equally diverse range of equipment. Therefore the need to train together regularly is the most effective method to ensure the members operate cohesively. Furthermore, France and Switzerland are not NATO members, and can function outside of the recognised frame work to a degree. Therefore the mass and individual briefings were a learning curve for some of the participants.

Mission packages were composed to practice conventional ground attack, including close air support, as well as air superiority. No weapons were carried, as all engagements and aerial attacks were simulated. The morning launch numbered between forty to fifty participants, while those taking place in the afternoon were slightly less. On average approximately two hours elapsed from the first fixed-wing launch until the final recovery. However the concluding mission included an aerial refuelling element provided by a Boeing KC-135R of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing operating from RAF Mildenhall.

Flying colours

The Tiger Meet has established a tradition for flamboyant colour schemes, with the 2007 event certainly upholding this important practice. Eighteen aircraft and helicopters were decorated, ranging from a small-scale grey tiger motif, to a number with extensive, all-over colourful schemes. The French normally apply the most original artwork, with four aircraft displaying extremely interesting colour schemes at Arctic Tiger 2007. The Mirage 2000C and Rafale were quite impressive, but it was the pair of Aeronavale Super Etendards that were the real stars. Both were painted gloss white overall, with black tiger stripes applied - and both were prepared just for the weekend activities, as the squadron was unable to participate for the full period! Turkey also took the arctic theme to heart, applying uniformed tigers on the tails of two F-16s, happily throwing snow balls. Most other participating nations decorated the tail of at least one aircraft. In addition, the 25th anniversary NATO E-3A added yet more colour to the meeting.

The 2007 event was very successful, offering many of the participants a flying environment quite different from that normally encountered. The vast area available for flight operations over central Norway, and across the North Sea enabled flying activities to take place almost immediately after take-off. The weather was always going to be a major factor, although even this cooperated for the most part, with just the two Wednesday missions taking place in biting wind with horizontal rain! The remaining flying periods enjoyed unseasonably good weather, enabling visual-flight-rules conditions to prevail.

Arctic Tiger 2007 was the first event hosted by the Norwegians, and enjoyed strong participation from many other Air Force squadrons. In total there were fifty-six fighter aircraft (F-16, SF/FA-18, Rafale, Mirage F1, Mirage 2000, A-7), eleven helicopters (Bell 412, Puma, Sea King, Merlin, Mi-24), two medium transports (Mystere 20 ECM and C-130H) and two large aircraft (E-3), which collectively flew more than five hundred sorties. The Norwegians proved their resourcefulness, when on more than one occasion an aircraft burst a tyre on landing, blocking the single runway. To ensure a safe recovery of the remaining fighters, air traffic control simply utilised the parallel taxiway.

The base arranged a small open day on Saturday, 29 September, with all the tiger special schemes on public view. Due to the remoteness of Orland, the organisers hoped for between one and two thousand visitors - in reality probably ten times that number attended, underlying the popularity of their Air Force to this charming race.

Sunday was dedicated to the traditional tiger games, but with the emphasis on a Nordic theme. The social side of each Tiger Meet is almost as important as the serious business of flying, with each participating nation offering something special for the evening entertainment. A host of awards were on offer to further the camaraderie and deep-rooted traditions of the Association. Amongst the more important of these were the Silver Tiger Trophy, awarded to 31 Smaldeel, Belgian Air Force, and Best Flying award, jointly won by 31 Smaldeel, and hosts 338 SKv. The best tiger design paint scheme was adjudged to be the F-18C Hornet of Staffel 11, Swiss Air Force.

Looking to the future, the Tiger Association is actively discussing expansion with some of the new NATO members. Amongst those with a tiger heritage being courted are the Gripen squadrons in the Czech Republic (211.tl) and Hungary (1.VSz), and 3.elt, the new F-16C unit in Poland. The Association chose JbG-32 at Lechfeld, Germany to host the 2008 event. While initially agreeing to the proposal, the unit has encountered problems, which it is attempting to overcome. Should these become insurmountable, then a revised venue will be selected.

The author would like to thank Norwegian personnel Major Marianne 'Mary' Knutsen, Major Oivind Walthe, Capt Morten Rosenlund and their colleagues for their magnificent and unstinting help with the preparation of this report.

 

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