More than 2,000 vehicles, including 400 combat vehicles, around 100 drones, 50 aircraft, 40 helicopters, 30 buildings, etc. Exercise Orion 23, whose second phase is coming to an end in the next few days, but which will still last several months on French territory, is a “Joint and combined exercise unprecedented for several years”, recalls Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin, commander of BA 118 of Mont-de-Marsan (Landes). This multi-media and multi-field exercise “allows us to bring together land, air and maritime forces, and to work in the cyber and space environment”.
In a scenario where a main force, Mercury, comes to support an armed militia, Tantalus, to destabilize a country, Arnland, the BA 118 plays the role of “projected air base which comes to support Arnland with air assets. The exercises are currently being played mainly in the Mediterranean area, and will move to the North-East of France in the fourth phase of Orion.
“Work theEntry Force »
How to coordinate so many means, in particular air? How is a mission prepared? 20 minutes went to the BA 118 at Mont-de-Marsan on Monday to watch the final preparations for an exercise. Commander Stan, Rafale pilot, and chief of operations at the 2/30 Normandie-Niemen fighter regiment, gives his final instructions to Captain Guillaume before the next day’s mission, which will consist of bringing together to the south of Toulon more about ten aircraft, including five fighter planes from Mont-de-Marsan, bombers and an Awacs detection and control plane, to “drive out enemies from the sky, strike enemy areas dedicated to space, and allow our bombers from entering the area. »
While all of Orion’s Air Force operations are established from the Air Operations Planning and Conduct Center (Capco) in Lyon, “this operation is coordinated from Nancy, while I coordinate from my next to the different planes that are going to hunt the enemies, explains Commander Stan. My goal is therefore to establish a plan to “treat” the enemies by taking the least possible risk, to coordinate us to respect a strike established at a certain time by the General Staff, this to ensure that our ” strykers” can “deliver” their ammunition in good conditions. The final objective of this exercise is to work the entry first, theEntry Force, in coordination with maritime and land assets. »
This is on paper. “We obviously don’t know everything about the scenario, continues the fighter pilot, and experts from the white cell will create problems for us during the conduct of the mission, it is up to us to adapt to them. »
Large-scale role-playing games
These experts can be civilian or military. And above all, they have the ability to virtually add aircraft, even missiles. Installed at the Expert Center for Collaborative Combat (Cecc), also at BA 118 in Mont-de-Marsan, they are surrounded by servers and screens which give them the exact position of all aircraft, civil and military, on a territory given. An operating room that we are not allowed to photograph or film. All connected devices must remain outdoors.
“We follow all the missions from this room, and it is from there that we will inject elements into the scenario, so that the crews are constrained beyond what we can actually implement”, explains the captain Corentin, chief of operations at Cecc. In these sorts of role-playing games on a very large scale, the experts can thus simulate a fight with ten against fifteen planes, “when in reality we only have six in the air”, they can fire a missile from a ship “for fakes, but our aircrews will see it entering their area on their screen. »
“We are here to bring a level of realism and complexity expected by our units, that is the added value of the Cecc”, summarizes Captain Corentin. “The goal of these scenarios is to make us manage many stakeholders, while having efficiency in a very limited time,” adds Commander Stan. Basically, putting them under maximum stress.
“The war in Ukraine made us modify the scenario on the margins”
“Orion’s objective is to make a zero state of our capacities on a high intensity scenario, that is to say within the framework of a symmetrical confrontation, because we have been intervening for about twenty years. on external counter-terrorism operations [notamment Chammal], qualified as asymmetrical”, summarizes Colonel Jean-Michel Herpin. “All our armies are prepared for this high intensity, but we had not yet done a common exercise in an encompassing scenario. »
Orion had been decided on in 2020. “The war in Ukraine made us modify the scenario marginally, but did not have a major influence on the conduct of this exercise”, assures the commander of BA 118. “The scenarios that we play are quite close to what could break out one day in reality, whether in relation to the weapons systems or the opposing threat, adds Commander Stan. But the most important thing in all of this is the debriefing phase, to draw lessons from these missions. We will wonder why we lost a plane at such a place, why we did not manage to shoot at such a time? There are always things that can be improved, in communication and efficiency. »