Cobra Warrior 23-1

- Images and videos from RAF Waddington to get you close to the action packed exercise

The greatest air exercise conducted by the Royal Air Force, Cobra Warrior, is conducted biannually. The purpose of the exercise is to prepare participants for high-intensity large-force tactical air warfighting operations. Almost 70 aircraft participated in the exercise, which was handled by the directing staff at RAF Waddington and ran from March 2nd through 24th.

This year, contingents from the Finnish, Indian, and Royal Saudi Air Forces participated for the first time. While the Indian Air Force operated five Mirage 2000 aircraft out of RAF Waddington, the Saudis flew six Typhoons from RAF Coningsby along the RAF Typhoon force.

The F-16s of the Belgian Air Force and the F-18 Hornets of the Finnish Air Force were also stationed at RAF Waddington. The Finnish involvement is part of a larger training exercise for the Joint Expeditionary Force, or JEF Warrior, which is headed by the UK.  U.S. Air Force F-15E Eagles and F-35A’s took part from their home base RAF Lakenheath. The RAF, the French Air Force, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force provided support by sending air-to-air fuelling tankers over the North Sea from their home bases off the coast of Northumberland and a NATO Boeing E-3A from Geilenkirchen air base in Germany.

In addition, RAF Leeming hosted Joint Helicopter Command aircraft that took part in the exercise. Elements of the 16 Air Assault Brigade were deployed by the RAF’s Air Mobility Force during a related land mission that was a component of the exercise’s overall scenario.

The Battlespace Management Force from RAF Boulmer in Northumberland and the A4 Force from RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire, which provided engineering and logistical support, were additional RAF assets. Draken International, flying its Aero L-159E “Honey Badgers” from Teesside Airport, provided Civilian contracted Red Air, while the new regional ATC hub at RAF Coningsby handled all aviation traffic away from Waddington.

Horizon was invited to the Media Day held on the 9th of March in the first week of the exercise, sadly due to the inclement weather during the media day there was no flying.

“We are looking forward to delivering Exercise Cobra Warrior 23-1. 92 Sqn have developed a challenging Air-led multi-domain exercise focussed on pitting our NATO, JEF and International partners against a capable peer adversary within a contested degraded and operationally limited threat environment.”

Officer Commanding 92 Squadron, Squadron Leader John McFadden

During the visit inside the base apart from visiting the flight lines of the three detachments based at RAF Waddington hence the Finnish, Indian and Belgian, we also were briefed by Group Captain Jim Calvert MA RAF, Group Captain Operations & Training Division and Wing Commander William Whitechurch, Officer in Charge Operations.

Group Captain Calvert is the exercise director for Cobra Warrior 23-1.  Each country has its collective training, it’s what nations will train their crews to be tactical experts on their aircraft, what cobra warrior does is bring all those platforms together and allow them to train and integrate together to be able to enhance the interoperability between the countries participating. 

The three weeks of the exercise provide eight (8) vulnerability periods in a couple of hours each day with 40 aircraft participating, with the Blue Air and Red Air simulating an operation against a made-up adversary, and in the campaign, they have eight different scenarios, defensively, surface attack, dynamic targeting and also personnel recovery are part of the tasks.

“It’s the mission commander, anyone of the six participating nations is in charge of coming up with the tactic, they then formulate that tactic and all partner nations together are involved in the plan and come up with the plan collectively looking to exploit all the particular capabilities that everyone brings to the party, and that’s the learning really, the execution is the fun bit but it is in planning where we learn so much”

Group Captain Jim Calvert MA RAF
RAF Group Captain Jim Calvert MA RAF.  Photo: Paul Spiteri Lucas
RAF Group Captain Jim Calvert MA RAF.
Photo: Kevin Wills

Wing Commander Whitechurch explained that as RAF Waddington is the host of such an exercise and apart from continuing its normal duties with regards to the Squadrons based and now also it’s the home for the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team the Red Arrows, they take care of all the logistical needs for such exercise.  Engineering Support, Refuelling, the airfield itself and also Air Traffic Control, the great opportunities for their junior staff are very beneficial for them as it gives them the feeling to work in such an exercise with a higher tempo for them to learn from.

RAF Wing Commander William Whitechurch.  Photo: Paul Spiteri Lucas
RAF Wing Commander William Whitechurch. Photo: Kevin Wills

“It’s great to welcome International partners here and definitely adds a different perspective and a real buzz around the station particularly for our junior personnel that may be straight out of training they’ve only just joined the RAF”

Wing Commander William Whitechurch

After this, we were also briefed by the detachment’s commanders or their representatives of the foreign units present, Indian, Belgian, Finnish and Saudi. 

Indian Air Force

The Indian AF Group Captain Gangola, the detachment commander at Cobra Warrior said that the Indian contingent arrived in the UK after a very long way, 4,500 miles from India supported by two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and an Ilyushin IL-78 Tanker, with stops in Saudi Arabia and Greece.  They have five Mirage 2000 aircraft deployed to the UK and it is a great opportunity to be on this multinational exercise, and it is a fantastic opportunity to be part of it and learn from this exercise.  This is the first time the Indian AF is taking part in the exercise. The aircrew is coming from all three Squadrons under the command of 1 Wing.

Belgian Air Component

The Belgian AF Captain Glassen, Director of Operations with 349 Squadron said that they are also excited to be on this exercise and they flew over with around 90 personnel and six F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. This exercise will really help them to learn and give them the possibility to fly with other nations. It is also a good opportunity to plan, coordinate and also fly the mission together with their partners. The UK is also an unusual place for their pilots to fly since it has a very big air space, they are also taking the advantage of working in such large airspace even in the CT “Continuous Training” missions each nation can hold beside the exercise missions. One of our UK contributors, Tom Gibbons photographed four Belgian F-16s at LFA 17, Cumbria.

Finnish Air Force

The Finnish AF flew to RAF Waddington with six F-18 Hornets from the 31st and 11th fighter Squadrons, Lieutenant Colonel Rikkinen the 31st Squadron Commander said. Like the Indian AF, this is the first time for them to take part in Cobra Warrior and also the first for a Finnish deployment in the UK. The Finnish AF brought a lot of their aircrew that previously have never been on international exercises before partly because of COVID so this is a great opportunity for them to get in touch with other nations and work with and ‘against’ different aircraft.

The Royal Saudi Air Force

The Royal Saudi Air Force deployed to RAF Coningsby with six Typhoon aircraft utilising support from the A330MRTT aircraft the air force operates. It’s a great opportunity for them to fly in completely different weather from the one they are used to in Saudi Arabia and it’s a great way to gain experience flying in such circumstances. They are also very happy to be taking part in the exercise to share and learn from different experiences said Major Qaisi, Director of operations RSAF.

RAF Waddington should host Exercise Cobra Warrior 23/2 in September; however, the dates and participating nations have not yet been revealed.