Since the beginning of April 2013, both Coningsby and Marham have been working together to set up a joint Expeditionary Air Wing. Personnel from both stations have been progressing their way through a series of Exercises, culminating in Exercise CAPABLE EAGLE held at RAF Leeming from the 5th to the 18th of October.

The purpose of the Exercise was for the Marham-Coningsby EAW to achieve validation prior to taking over from the Leuchars-Lossiemouth EAW on the 1st of November this year.  To add authenticity to the validation, CAPABLE EAGLE was run in support of Exercise JOINT WARRIOR which, in turn, formed part of the work up of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force.

The EAW were tasked with setting up a Deployed Operating Base (DOB) from RAF Leeming in support of 1 (Fighter) Typhoon Sqn from RAF Leuchars and a French  L’Armee de L’Air Mirage 2000-N. More than 600 UK airmen and women plus 100 French personnel were involved in the Exercise – one of the biggest training events in Europe.

The EAW sent an Advance Party to Leeming on 17 Sep who, with expert help from the Royal Engineers, erected a tented city which was to be home for over 600 for the duration of the Exercise. Each tent was reasonably homely; equipped with one light, a multi-socket and a heating system, which was invaluable for drying out wet kit as well as keeping warm.

Catering was provided by the excellent 3 Mobile Catering Squadron, who extended their already impressive repertoire to include croissants and pastries to cater for the tastes of our French counterparts. Needless to say, they were greatly appreciated by all concerned and the standard of the food throughout was consistently outstanding.

The first week in support of JOINT WARRIOR gave the EAW staff time to get their procedures in place, convert empty shells of buildings into  functional work spaces and sort out all the inevitable teething problems that accompany the setting up of a new IT and secure telephone system.  The IT suite provided the benefit of allowing access to live messaging systems which amongst many other things, allowed Air Tasking Orders to be shared by all exercise participants, display the information as a 24hr flying programme. This was a blessing for the planning staff, saving them a lot of work in providing all participants a clear representation of who was airborne, when their tanking slots were and when they are due back at the airfield. Other messaging systems proved invaluable in keeping in touch with higher command and providing situational awareness of what was happening across the JOINT WARRIOR exercise as a whole. The EAW communications contingent alongside their counterparts at the RAF’s 90 Signals Unit ensured connectivity was maintained throughout, continually providing service with a smile under some very testing conditions.

The first week also enabled the UK EAW staff to get to know their French counterparts. It’s amazing how much school French one can recall when needed. The universal language of sweets and chocolate should not be underestimated when cementing international relations.

The second week saw the start of the validation phase of CAPABLE EAGLE, bringing with it all the testing scenarios one would expect.  All rapidly became closely acquainted with the floor of the HQ, due to the regularity of simulated rocket attacks. 8 Force Protection Wing, along with the Role 1 Medical facility, were kept busy dealing with casualties from these attacks along with the incredible number of simulated Road Traffic Collisions that occurred within such a small DOB.

47 Sqn, a UK C-130 unit joined the Deployment on the second week. Two of their missions included deploying paratroopers to Spadeadam and extracting a group of civilians from an oil refinery in Stornaway, that was about to be over-run by the enemy. The EAW were tasked to provide food, shelter and medical support for the refugees on their return.

The 15th of October saw a visit by Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford and the French Air Force Chief, Gen Denis Mercier who were keen to see all the aspects of the EAW being put through their paces.

There were many elements involved in the making of the 600 strong team that deployed to Leeming. These including heavy transport units, bomb disposal teams, imagery analysts, medics, RAF Regiment and police to name a few.  Had the ‘Host Nation’ been less benign, the numbers would have been swelled by Air Traffic and Fire-fighters in addition.   It is essential that each individual element of the deployment pulls together as a team, in order to achieve a successful outcome.  Testament to the professionalism of all involved, Exercise CAPABLE EAGLE was a resounding success. Over the course of the two weeks, over 180 missions were flown, meeting or exceeding all of the objectives in support of a major exercise.

On the last evening a joint celebration was held and the French did excel in providing some excellent wine, cheese, meat and bread. The Brits, in turn, introduced the French to the delights of John Smiths.  At the end of the evening the French sang  a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise.  Of course, once the Six Nations Rugby starts it will be drowned out by Swing Low Sweet Chariot.  There are some old rivalries thatwill never die!