NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY ANDY TYLER & MARK ROURKE
Exercise Ocean Sky October 16th – 29th 2021
Once again Gando air base on Gran Canaria reverberated to the sounds of fast jets as the annual DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) exercise Ocean Sky opened on October 19th 2021. Pixelsnipers were there to witness the action.
Ocean Sky 2021, provides Ejercito Del Aire (EAD – Spanish Air Force) front line fighter units with their DACT training under perfect skies over the North Atlantic. For some time now, the EDA has invited fellow NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies and this year was no different with the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) supplying four Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52 Fighting Falcons from 343 Mira.
Exercise Ocean Sky originated back in 2004 as primarily a Spanish Airforce internal DACT integration exercise, and has progressed into a NATO inclusive, diverse format. MACOM (Spanish Air Force Air Combat Command), which is responsible for all Spanish Airforce units, including Air Surveillance and control, planned a varied mission objective for the 2021 exercise, under the authority of Spanish Air Force Chief of Staff (JEMA-OSE) General Javier Salto Martinez-Avial.
Squadrons performed Defensive Counter Air (DCA), Combat Air Patrol (CAP), Offensive Counter Air (OCA), Composite Air Operations (COMAO), and High Value Air Assets (HVAA) protection.
Missions were flown in areas south of Gran Canaria, utilising the quieter airspace on a twice daily mission schedule.
EDA participating front line combat squadrons involved were Ala 11 equipped with Eurofighter 2000 Typhoon (EF-2000) from Sevilla Moron, Ala 12 McDonnell Douglas EF-18M Hornets from Madrid Torrejon, Ala 14 EF-2000 from Los Llanos Albacete, and Ala 15 EF-18M Hornets from Zaragoza. Gando based Escadron 462 F/A -18A+ Hornets completed the host nation fighter participation. The Hellenic Air Force 343 Mira from Chania/Ioannis Daskalogiannis Souda participated with three F-16C, and a single D variant aircraft.
A recent press release announced a number of upgrades to the Eurofighter fleets across its users.
The most significant upgrade will see Tifon, as it’s known in the EDA, equipped with the European Common Radar System (ECRS) Mk2, which is largely based upon the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) system.
The upgrade will enable Typhoon to have Electronic Warfare capability, as well as providing operators with a system capable of tracking multiple targets, both in the air and on the ground.
The Spanish Typhoon fleet of 77 airframes are scheduled to begin upgrades in 2022.
Currently is in the process of equipping its tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons with the BVAAM (Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile) with Meteor MBDA produced weapon.
Supporting Ocean Sky were other training missions taking part nearby. Air to Air refuelling was a multi nation effort, and provided this essential factor as part of its own multi nation exercise. EART (European Air Refuelling Training) ran from the 15th – 29th October. Aircraft forward located at the nearby island of Lanzarote and included the following participants. An Airbus A330 MRTT (Mutli Role Tanker Transport) MMU (Multinational A330 MRRT) unit from Eindhoven Air Base Netherlands, another A330 MRTT from the Armee de l’Aire (French Air Force) from Istres, and an Airbus A400M from Ala 31 of the Spanish Air Force based at Zaragoza.
NATO provided an E-3A Sentry AWACS (Airborne Warning & Control System) from home base Geilenkerchen Germany, which forward located to Gando, to enable a strategic base to oversee the missions from.
Search and Rescue (SAR) capability was provided by Escadron 802 of Ala 46 utilizing CASA Cn-235M-MPA and Eurocopter AS.332B Super Puma. The Super Pumas of Escadron 802 are recently delivered new build H-125.
Pixlesnipers was able to interview EDA Typhoon pilot Captain Antonio Quijano of Ala 11, 111st Squadron based at Moron. Captain Quijano has been a member of the EDA since 2009, and has piloted the Typhoon for the past 7 years, accumulating around 1100 flight hours. His callsign is ‘Toni’. Ocean Sky 2021 was the Captain’s 5th time of flying missions in the exercise.
When asked about how Ocean Sky can assist his experience for real life missions, Captain Quijano explained, “(I have participated in) Baltic Air Policing rotational mission on 3 occasions to enforce territorial allied airspace of the countries (NATO air defence QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) to guard the air space of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and I benefit from the confidence gained in exercises such as Ocean Sky.” In addition, the Captain has also attended the Red Flag exercise, at Nellis Airforce Base in Nevada, USA. Toni stated the mission differences between Red Flag and Ocean Sky exercises, “Air to Ground missions was the single reason for attending Red Flag, with Ocean Sky being an air to air exercise, with a small element involving maritime attack” The captain emphasised those points stating very different benefits from both exercises.