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Exercise Maple Flag 2012

A French C160 follows a C-130 during Ex MAPLE FLAG

Exercise Maple Flag 2012
By FGOFF Alexander Tredrea, Co-pilot, No. 40 Squadron

MAPLE FLAG is an annual exercise organised by the Royal Canadian Air Force to create the intensity of ten days of war, where junior crews can gain tactical experience in a high threat environment. Participants integrate with various assets such as C2/AWACs [see glossary] and fast jets which provide air-to-air and low level strike capabilities. Helicopters also operate near your drop targets recovering loads, while tankers fly thousands of orbits to keep your Offensive Counter Air on station.

Inevitably, enemy surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites are located around drop zones. They require particular attention in the planning stage in order to plan for suppression of the air defences. Requests to destroy or jam the SAM sites are just one of the many new considerations required when planning a large package mission, with up to 50 aircraft flying per wave.

Many nations attend MAPLE FLAG each year and this year contingents from the UK, USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Germany participated, while the main part of the exercise force package was provided by the French Air Force, including Mirage 2000D strike aircraft, C-160 transports and E-3 Sentry AWACS.

The exercise is a great opportunity to practice low level flying down to 150ft AGL, air drop, parachute operations and tactical arrivals and departures to short fields.

As well as the air forces, there are also ground forces and special operations teams in the exercise. The Germans deployed a Special Forces unit that we parachuted and conducted infiltration/exfiltration with, at airfields in the ‘war zone’. One such scenario simulated a ‘troops in combat’ pickup with wounded personnel. They had fun putting an I.V. into the wounded on the bumpy low level flight back to base (the co-pilot was flying!)

The exercise develops over two weeks and has a complex intelligence scenario with fictitious countries at war. A civilian company flying Alpha Jets and a RCAF squadron of CF-18 Hornets act as ‘Red Air’ aggressors. They use tactics and weaponry resembling an adversary flying simulated MiGs and Flankers while the Blue faction is made up by the visiting nations

We had two crews, each flying one mission every day. The exercise ramps up towards the end and the scenarios get more difficult in both the planning phase and in flight. More SAM sites are added; Red air becomes more aggressive and employs advanced tactics such as communication jamming and later model missiles.

Getting to operate in such close quarters to other transports crews, including British Special Forces squadrons, a Brazilian C-130 and French C160s was a great experience. You learn fast and feed off each other to find better ways to get the job done.

Each mission had an overall ‘Package Commander’ who liaised with the lead for each asset group—OCA Commander, Transport Commander, etc. I got the opportunity and associated steep learning curve as a co-pilot to act as the Transport Commander and was in charge of all the transport aircraft, helicopters and tankers for the mission.

Trying to fit everyone’s routes and timing together to make the drop zones in the drop windows, avoid the SAM sites and provide retrograde plans for the tankers, was challenging and a lot of fun. I then liaised with the other commanders to make sure everyone’s plans came together for the overall mission. After all that was done I had to see that it was translated it to French, Portuguese (for the Brazilians) and German—which was no mean feat!

MAPLE FLAG is an extremely busy yet rewarding exercise where you learn an immense amount. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there and, along with everyone else, can’t wait for the next exercise to further improve how we operate our upgraded Hercules.

AGL     Above ground level
AWACS   Airborne Warning and Control
C2  Command & Control
C160  Transall, French twin-engine tactical transport
IV  Intra-venous (drip)
LEP  Life Extension Programme (for RNZAF C-130s)
OCA    Offensive counter air
SAM  Surface-to-air missiles

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