For the first time in the more than 60-year old history of this annual gathering of fighter squadrons, the NATO Tiger Meet took place on Greek soil. The organizer was the 335 Mira (squadron) of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF).
Araxos, May 20th, 2022 - Following the motto "Train as you fight", nine Tiger squadrons met in the beginning of May at the Araxos Air Base, around 40 kilometers west of Patras, the third largest city in Greece. Also, quite a number of external squadrons from the Hellenic Air Force operated from other bases, as well as special forces from Hellenic and US Army. In addition, two frigates from the Hellenic Navy were involved in the exercise scenario. In total, more than 60 aircraft participated in the Composite Air Operations (COMAO) over the Greek mainland, the Aegean and the Ionian Sea from May 9th to May 20th. Up to 80 missions were flown daily in two waves. About 600 missions could be executed, of which 10 percent were flown by external units that mostly simulated Red Air Forces (enemy air forces).
Wide spectrum of missions – Within the COMAOs all different roles and taskings were covered. Counter Air Missions (OCA/DCA), Air Interdiction (AI) and Close Air Support (CAS) were augmented by Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTACs) in the target areas to give pilots last minute updates for target acquisition. In addition, Special Forces from Hellenic Army and US Army were involved in extraction and rescue missions with combat helicopters. Furthermore Suppression / Destruction of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD/DEAD) was part of the complex scenarios. The exercise area was divided in four major complexes over the northern and eastern Aegean Sea, as well as over the Greek mainland and the Ionian Sea. The Hellenic Navy participated in the exercise with two frigates and their air defense systems.
Major Challenges – In preparing for the NATO Tiger Meet 2022, the host 335 Mira (Squadron) faced a number of challenges. After last year’s NATO Tiger Meet at Beja / Portugal could be conducted under COVID-19 restrictions, it became apparent that large-scale exercises are feasible with appropriate measures. The commanding officer of the oldest squadron of the Hellenic Air Force, the 335 Mira, Lieutenant Colonel Ntanos Ioannis describes it like this: "COVID-19 was not the limiting factor for us. This could be controlled with strict precautions. But it was the initial uncertainty after the beginning of the Ukraine war. It was not clear how many squadrons would stick to attending the NATO Tiger Meet at Araxos. After all we had only three cancellations with the 6 ELT from Poznan / Poland and the two German Air Force tiger units from Schleswig and Neuburg” he explains. With the outcome of the exercise he is very satisfied and adds: “Of course, as hosts we could not enjoy the exercise as much as the rest of the participants, but it is very rewarding to see that all units have been able to take away a high amount of operational training from this high-quality exercise. For our squadron it was an intense experience and a special honor to host the NATO Tiger Meet.”
Common Standards - Practicing operational procedures and standardization is of vital importance for the units of NATO nations and friendly countries within the framework of the "Partnership for Peace" (PfP) program. It strengthens the alliance and ensures more security and stability in Europe. With this background, the regular participation of the Swiss Air Force in major exercises in Europe has to be seen. Fliegerstaffel 11 participated in NATO Tiger Meets since the early 1980s with observers and started to send jets in the early 2000 decade. With five F/A-18C "Hornet" they were now in Greece. Commander of Fliegerstaffel 11, Major Andrin Witschi, puts it this way: “For Switzerland in the heart of Europe, it is important to maintain contact with other air forces. The exchange of experience with pilots and technicians from other nations helps us to maintain a high level of proficiency and strengthens interoperability. Even though we were only able to attend the NATO Tiger Meet at Araxos for the first week due to commitments for the World Economic Forum at Davos, everybody in the squadron was able to profit a lot of this high value training.” He firmly believes that the NATO Tiger Meet is a high-quality exercise. It was his 13th Tiger Meet at which he was also able to celebrate a very special anniversary, his 3000th flight hour with the F/A-18 "Hornet". For the future, he is confident that the introduction of the F-35 and 5th generation jets will give new impulses for the NATO Tiger Meet.
New impulses - Frigate Commander Edgard Chalret du Rieu, squadron commander of Flotille 11 of the French Aeronavale sees it in a similar way: "With our mainly maritime deployment role, it is important for us to keep in touch with air force units for new impulses in tactical training. This means we can pass on our maritime expertise and pick up ideas from the Air Force at the same time.” Stationed at Landivisiau Air Base in Britanny/Northwestern France his squadron regularly operates with their Rafale M from the aircraft carrier "Charles de Gaulle". The periods between the deployments on the aircraft carrier are used to benefit from taking part in different exercises. Flotille 11 used this year's break with five Rafale M to participate in NATO Tiger Meet 2022 and reinforced the large fleet of French Rafales. Together with the jets of the Escadron de Chasse 3/30 and the Escadron de Chasse et d' Expérimenta-tion 01/30 from Mont de Marsan, a total of 12 aircraft of this type were present at Araxos.
Traditions – LtCol Davy van Rompaey is convinced that traditions and Tiger Spirit are important elements of this high-value exercise alongside the main priority of operational focus. As squadron commander of the 31 Smaldeel (SQN) from Kleine Brogel / Belgium, which is the oldest squadron within the community of tiger squadrons, he looks back on nine Tiger Meets with three of them at Kleine Brogel: "It is important that traditions live on and that they are passed on to the young. The operational learning effects and the team building are reinforced by the social contacts within and between the different squadrons during the exercise. Last year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the NATO Tiger Association (NTA) with the Extra Tiger Meet (XTM) at Kleine Brogel in September. Due to COVID-19, only could be done with a greatly reduced number of participants. Fortunately, this year the restrictions at Araxos did not have to be that strict, so that socializing after work was possible again. The Tiger Meet is an excellent mix of operational high value training with international contacts and friendship.”
High Value Exercise - The presence of many high-ranking military and civilian representatives from various nations on the so-called "Distinguished Visitors Day" at the beginning of the second week of the exercise showed that the NATO Tiger Meet has a high ranking among the major high value exercises in Europe. The distinguished visitors were welcomed by no less than the Chief of Staff of the Greek Armed Forces, General Konstantinos Floros, who emphasized the absolute need for close cooperation between NATO partners. For next year the NATO Tiger Meet is already planned to be organized by the 12° Gruppo at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, but the Tactical Air Force Wing 51 "Immelmann" at Jagel in northern Germany is already looking forward to organizing the exercise in 2024 under the motto "The Tigers stay alert".
Ulrich Metternich, Oberstleutnant d.R.,
Brühl, German Air Force, May 31, 2022
for NATO Tiger Association