The BA 118 from Mont-de-Marsan is deploying four Rafale aircraft and 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 wing will take advantage of its presence in Lithuania to also carry out operational missions on the eastern flank of NATO, which it has been carrying out since the start of the war in Ukraine.
The intensity of BA 118 missions to Eastern European countries has increased significantly since February 24.
Thursday evening, 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 is a question of reviewing everything one last time, from the flight plan to the weather forecast to the technical data of the landing strip.
This morning @20minutes is at air base 118 in Mont-de-Marsan to follow the departure of four Rafales to Lithuania where they will carry out several air policing missions in the Baltic countries, for the benefit of NATO pic.twitter .com/0gyLRRbA1m
— 20minutesbordeaux (@20minutesbord) November 25, 2022
Access to this content has been blocked to respect your choice of consent
By clicking on "
", you accept the deposit of cookies by external services and will thus have access to the content of our partners
And to better remunerate 20 Minutes, do not hesitate to accept all cookies, even for one day only, via our "I accept for today" button in the banner below.
More information on the Cookie Management Policy page.
The next morning, Friday, they only have a few minutes to get together before getting equipped and joining their aircraft, stored under hangars at the other end of the gigantic air base.
“We will just have to do a weather update because the wind forecast can change, which can change the oil 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 from Mont-de-Marsan sent to the spot.
Takeoff is announced Friday at 8:30 a.m. sharp.
The flight is scheduled to last three hours, at an altitude of approximately 13,000 meters.
Each plane leaves with 5,300 liters of fuel, plus three "cans" of 1,250 liters hung under the device.
Despite this, refueling is scheduled over France, before going to Germany, the autonomy of a Rafale ranging from 1h15 to 2h45 maximum, depending on altitude and type of flight.
Assistance to NATO countries
“20 Minutes” was able to attend the final preparations, Thursday and Friday, of the “enhanced Air Policing (eAP)” mission that the BA 118 from Mont-de-Marsan will carry out 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 both NATO and the European Union", continues Lieutenant-Colonel 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 fighter resources as we had.
The French Rafales will primarily carry out “air police” missions.
That is to say, armed with air-to-air missiles of the MICA type, they will be responsible for ensuring the integrity of the airspace of the three Baltic countries.
“We will be on alert every day, 24 hours a day, to be able to take off quickly in the event of a threat arriving from outside,” announces Commander Vincent, pilot and chief of operations of fighter squadron 3/ 30 Lorraine, part of the 30th Fighter Wing.
Planes “immediately on alert” from February 24
The mission in itself has "nothing exceptional" insists Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin, commander of BA 118. "France has been participating in the protection of NATO's eastern flank for fifteen years" , abounds 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 increased significantly since the start of the year.
“Since February 24, we have been carrying out enhanced vigilance activities (eVA) missions, protection and surveillance missions, which have had a great impact on us” recognizes Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin.
"We immediately had planes on alert which went to patrol the eastern border of NATO", 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,” says the base commander.
Commander Vincent took part in the very first "reinsurance" mission of the eastern countries of the BA 118, starting on 24 February.
“Marsan was immediately put on alert to be able to leave in less than six hours and respond to the need for reassurance that there was over Poland, he says.
We will also take advantage of our presence in Lithuania to also take slots for this mission above Poland and Romania, which we have been doing from France up to here.
The four Rafales specifically equipped
The possibility of an “incident” in NATO airspace was obviously taken into account.
"But it's part of our job to anticipate," insists Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan.
All our training, throughout the year, is precisely designed to anticipate any type of incident.
“The Russians were already testing the operational air services of the NATO countries before the war,” recalls Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin.
It has already happened to have to accompany these planes.
This identification and support mission, if necessary, is not something exceptional either, and our crews are particularly well trained for this.
The four Rafales leave specifically equipped to carry out operational permanence (PO), with MICA missiles therefore, but also radar, an identification friend or foe system (IFF, which identifies aircraft remotely), and a self-protection system from the plane.
“We are going to deploy to a place where there was nothing for the Rafales”
The pilots of the 30th fighter squadron arrived Friday in Lithuania, joined on the spot a level of staff sent from Thursday in A400M.
Leaving on November 16 by rail, the "heavy", comprising 60 tonnes of equipment distributed in about fifty containers, is expected on its side for December 5.
On arrival, the French system will be made up of more than a hundred personnel, including around 80 mechanics.
"We deploy a mini-squadron, like a mini-airbase", summarizes Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan.
“We are going to deploy to 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 BA 118, i.e. 39 Rafales. , five Mirage 2000-D, two alpha jets, and which has a total of 800 mechanics.
We went to do site reconnaissance in October, now we have to bring everything to the 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.
With the Volfa military exercise, France "is preparing for high intensity" with seven allies
War in Ukraine: French Rafales provide air policing in Poland
War in Ukraine
European Union (EU)