(text and pictures by Simone Marcato)









Exercise Cobra Warrior is the Royal Air Force's premier tactical training event aimed at developing the tactical skills of its aircrew and supporting elements in a Composite Air Operation. This edition took place September 1-20 and was controlled by directing staff at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, which served as the main base throughout the entire exercise. Combat Warrior 2019 saw the UK forces training alongside personnel from other countries, with a large amount of aircraft of various types involved, including American and Israeli F-15 Eagles, Typhoons from Germany, UK and Italy.
The Exercise Director, Group Captain Robert Barrett stated: "The RAF welcomes the participation of our air force colleagues and we welcome the opportunity to train alongside all the participating nations' forces on this challenging exercise."
The AirExEx rehearsed a range of complex scenarios focused on developing tactics and strategies in order to counter a near-peer adversary and included crisis and conflict situations that could be encountered in real operations.
At the Media Day, Capt. Barrett explained the exercise: "We describe the exercise as a large-force employment live exercise (LIVEX), which sees a large number of aircraft - more than 50 aircraft - involved in Composite Air Operation (COMAO) missions. These aircraft are performing different roles within the overall construct of the exercise to achieve a number of tactical objectives. What we are doing is to develop the skills of our tactical leaders and front-line crews. That includes pilots and aircrew, but we also bring in support personnel such as intelligence commanders, command and control specialists who will be involved in the training of the whole pyramid of the exercise. Cobra Warrior is the RAF's capstone tactical training exercise, designed to conclude the training of the Qualified Weapons Instructor (QWI), Qualified Multi-engine Tactics Instructor (QMETI), QWI Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (QWI-ISR) and Qualified Space Instructor (QSI) students."
Participants came from all the three UK's armed services (RAF, Royal Navy, and the British Army) as well as from the participating nations.
Capt. Barrett stated: "There are a wide number of types involved beside the fighter aircraft that are participating: There is also air-to-air refueling tanker aircraft, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft, and we have been simulating the participation of our uninhabited aircraft such as the Reaper UAV. In some COMAO missions we have also included scenarios with the participation of battlefield helicopters from both RAF and Army. I should emphasize that the foreign participants are involved throughout the exercise, so it's not just at the spearhead of the fast-jets that you are seeing, they're also involved in the intelligence briefing functions, working up the command and control plans."
He adds: "The centre of gravity for the exercise is here at RAF Waddington, where all the planning happens and all the briefing and debriefing goes on. The station has put in an enormous effort to facilitate participation by the foreign detachments as it doesn't normally host fast-jet aircraft."
"Many RAF stations across the UK are involved in the exercise, so whilst most of the activity is here, the flying exercise proper takes place out over the North Sea, off the coast of Newcastle. Most of the activity this year has been at medium-level stand fast, the helicopters working at low-level over Northumbria", he concluded.
During the three weeks the missions were flown only in the morning and only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for a total of 9 sorties. In the afternoon, in addition to the post-mission debriefing, so-called "side" missions were carried out. These missions - not connected with CW - were organized among the crews to practice in certain aspects of air warfare in order to improve the skills, especially among the younger pilots. Tuesday and Thursday were used also to plan CW missions for the following day.
Obviously, the RAF was the major player in the exercise with several bases involved and different aircraft taking part in Combat Warrior. RAF Waddington with its based Air Warfare Centre was the main base for the exercise, hosting the Italian, the Israeli, and the German contingent. Furthermore, also almost all ISTAR types of the RAF fleet home-based here took part in Combat Warrior. While No 8 squadron provides airborne early warning and control with its E-3D Sentry AEW.1, the RC-135W Airseeker, Sentinel R.1 and the Shadow R.1 provides for airborne intelligence during the COMAOs.
RAF Marham participated with its new F-35Bs, RAF Coningsby and RAF Lossiemouth with their Typhoon FGR.4s, while Voyager KC.2/KC.3 tanker aircraft operated from their home base at RAF Brize Norton. RAF Leeming, RAF Odiham, RAF Boulmer and the Electronic Warfare Tactics Range of RAF Spadeadam, were also involved in the exercise. Three more UK bases took part in the exercise because of the US participation: Operating from RAF Fairford was a single B-52H bomber (deployed for Exercise Ample Strike) while F-15s from the 48th Fighter Wing and KC-135s from 100th Air Refuelling Wing joined the exercise from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall respectively.
The Israeli Air Force attended an exercise in UK airspace with its fast jets for the first time. Seven F-15C/Ds "Baz" belonging to 106 Squadron, Tel Nof airbase, had arrived at RAF Waddington on 28 August.
During the last week of Cobra Warrior, they had been joined by a single KC-707 Re'em tanker aircraft of 120 Squadron, from Nevatim airbase. The detachment was supported by several C-130J-30s from 103 Squadron.
Brig. Gen. Ein Dar, Chief of the Air Division in the Israeli Air Force said: "This is our first time, and we are very happy to be here. It's an important drill, because we had a wonderful opportunity to take our teams and have them train in areas where they are not used to, something which is very important for war."
He adds that Israeli pilots "had the opportunity to learn from other air forces with a very high level of performance, which gives us the opportunity to send our people to see their planning process and how they train and fight in the air in order to get the highest quality training."
This exercise was considered very important for Israel also in order to strengthen diplomatic ties and this aspect was marked during the Media Day by the presence of the Israeli Ambassador to the UK.
Gen. Ein-Dar concluded: "We are having a very good relationship with the RAF and hopefully we will see the RAF in Israel in the big exercise - Blue Flag - we hold every two years. We would be more than happy to have them."
The Israeli contingent departed from RAF Waddington on Thursday 19 September.
The Aeronautica Militare Italiana sent four Typhoons accompanied by around 50 personnel led by Capt. Marco Setini, Plans&Operation Section Chief of 4 Stormo Ops Group. Although the Italian detachment was led by 4 Stormo (Grosseto air base), aircraft and personnel involved came from all units that fly the Typhoon: 4 and 36 Stormo (Gioia del Colle airbase) and 37 Stormo (Trapani airbase).
"We are honoured to participate again in this very demanding and well-organised international exercise" said Colonel Urbano Floreani, 4 Stormo Commander. "It will be a chance to fly with a selection of the best Weapons Instructors from the participating countries. Sharing our experiences will mutually increase our capabilities."
The largest foreign contingent came from the Luftwaffe. Under the command of Lt Col Bernd Pfahler ten Typhoons and about 160 people of the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 73 (TLG73) "Steinhoff" based at Laage airbase were deployed to Waddington.
Besides the fighter contingent, the Luftwaffe provided air-to-air refueling throughout the exercise with one of its Airbus A-310MRTT that was deployed at RAF Brize Norton for the exercise. "Cobra Warrior offers us the opportunity to complete training within the Mission Employment Phase for our future Weapons Instructors. The level of training combined with the variety of training partners help achieve the required standards within the Weapons School Criteria", said Lieutenant Colonel Dirk Pingel, head of Weapons Instructor Training for the German Air Force.


2019©Paolo Rollino/pierrestudio