REPORTAGE “20 Minutes” followed the preparation of the new mission of the BA118 of Mont-de-Marsan, which deploys four Rafale and a hundred personnel in Lithuania for four months
Departure of one of the four pilots of the 30th fighter squadron of Mont-de-Marsan, for a mission in Lithuania. — Thibaud MORITZ
- The Mont-de-Marsan BA 118 is deploying four Rafale aircraft and around a hundred personnel to Siaulai in Lithuania for a period of four months , as part of the air policing mission of the Baltic States, for the benefit of NATO.
- The 30th Fighter Squadron will take advantage of its presence in Lithuania to also carry out operational missions on NATO's eastern flank, which it has been carrying out since the start of the war in Ukraine.
- The intensity of BA 118 missions to eastern countries, has increased significantly since February 24.
Thursday evening, at a few hours before the start, the four pilots in charge of ferrying the Rafales between the base of Mont-de-Marsan (Landes) and that of Siaulai in Lithuania, meet for their last big “brief ». It’s time to review everything one last time, from the flight plan to the flight plan. the weather to the technical data of the airstrip.
Ce matin @20minutes est à base aérienne 118 de Mont-de-Marsan pour suivre le départ de quatre Rafale vers la Lituanie où ils vont aller effectuer plusieurs missions de police du ciel dans les pays baltes, au profit de l’OTAN pic.twitter.com/0gyLRRbA1m
— 20minutesbordeaux (@20minutesbord) November 25, 2022
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The next morning, Friday, they only have a few minutes to get together before gearing up and joining their aircraft, stowed under hangars outside. the other end of the gigantic air force base. “You just need to do a weather update because the wind forecast can change, which can change the fuel consumption quite a bit” explains Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan, commander of the French detachment which will be deployed. in Lithuania, and one of the six pilots of the 30th fighter squadron of Mont-de-Marsan sent there.
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan (right) during the briefing of the four fighter pilots. – Mickaël Bosredon
Take-off is announced; Friday at; 8:30 a.m. sharp. The flight is scheduled to last three hours, at an altitude of about 13,000 meters. Each plane departs with 5,300 liters of fuel, plus three “cans” of 1,250 liters hung under the device. Despite this, a refueling is programmed; over France, before passing through Germany, the autonomy of a Rafale ranging from 1h15 to 1h15. 2h45 maximum, depending on altitude and type of flight.
Assistance to NATO countries
“20 Minutes” was able to witness the final preparations, Thursday and Friday, of the “enhanced Air Policing (eAP)” that the BA 118 from Mont-de-Marsan will perform for four months in Lithuania, from December 1 to March 31, 2023, taking over from Poland. The objective of this mission is “to ensure the protection of the airspace of the three Baltic countries, which are part of from both NATO and the European Union,” continued Lt. Col. Jonathan. “This protection is carried out within the framework of the mutual assistance that NATO countries owe each other, since these are countries that do not have the same means as we had for fighters. ”
The French Rafales will carry out in priority missions of “police of the sky” That is to say that, armed with air-to-air missiles of the MICA type, they will be responsible for ensuring the integrity of the aircraft. of the airspace of the three Baltic countries. “We will be on alert every day, 24 hours a day, to be able to to take off quickly in the event of a threat from outside” announces Commander Vincent, pilot and chief of operations of the 3/30 Lorraine Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 30th Fighter Wing.
Commander Vincent, pilot and chief of operations of the 3/30 Lorraine fighter squadron – Mickaël Bosredon
Aircraft “immediately on alert” from February 24th
The mission in itself has “nothing exceptional” insists Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin, commander of BA 118. protection of NATO’s eastern flank,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan. However, the geopolitical context has not been the same since February 24 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops.
The intensity of BA 118 missions to Eastern European countries, has in fact been significantly strengthened since the beginning of the year. “Since February 24, we have been carrying out enhanced vigilance activities (eVA), protection and surveillance missions, which have had a great impact on us” recognizes Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin. “We immediately had planes on alert that went to patrol the NATO eastern border” recalls Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin, commander of the aeronautical technical support squadron (Esta) of BA 118, and “this allowed us to show that we are capable of projecting ourselves very quickly ;” welcomes the base commander.
Maximum concentration for Captain Guillaume, before taking his place in the cockpit of the Rafale. – Mickaël Bosredon
Commander Vincent participated in the to the very first mission of “reinsurance” from the eastern countries of BA 118, from February 24. “Marsan was immediately taken into custody. alert to be able to leave in less than six hours and respond to the need for reassurance that there was above Poland, he says. We will also take advantage of our presence in Lithuania to also take slots of this mission above Poland and Romania, which we have been doing from France up to here.” /p>
The four specially equipped Rafales
The possibility of an “incident” in NATO airspace, has obviously been taken into account. “But it’s part of our job to anticipate, insists Lt. Col. Jonathan. All our training, throughout the year, is precisely designed to anticipate any type of incident.” “The Russians were already testing before the war the operational air services of the NATO countries, recalls Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin. It is already arrived to have to escort these planes. This mission of identification and accompaniment if necessary, is not something exceptional either, and our crews are particularly well trained for this.”
For their missions, the Rafales are equipped with air-to-air missiles – Mickaël Bosredon
The four Rafales depart specifically equipped to carry out operational duty (PO), with MICA missiles therefore, but also radar, a friend or foe identification system (IFF, which identifies the distance aircraft), and an aircraft self-protection system.
Take-off of one of the four Rafale towards Lithuania, Friday morning at; Mont-de-Marsan – Thibaud MORITZ
“ a place where there was nothing for the Rafale”
Pilots from the 30th Fighter Wing arrived in Lithuania on Friday, joining a tier of personnel there. from Thursday in the A400M. Leaving on November 16 by rail, the “heavy”, comprising 60 tons of equipment distributed in about fifty containers, is expected on its side. for December 5th. On arrival, the French device will be composed of: more than a hundred employees, including around 80 mechanics. “You deploy a mini-squadron, like a mini air base,” summarizes Lt. Col. Jonathan.
“ a place where there is nothing for the Rafales, explains the commander of the aeronautical technical support squadron (Esta), the squadron which maintains all the planes of the BA 118, i.e. 39 Rafales, five Mirage 2000-Ds, two alpha jets, and which has a total of 800 mechanics. We went to do site reconnaissance in October, now we have to get everything on site to be able to operate the planes for four months. Because in addition to the air policing mission and operational missions throughout the area, the Rafales will also carry out training with our NATO partners.” Exercises with Poland and Germany are, among others, scheduled.