Qatar Emiri Air Force Rafales integrated with US Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers for the first time ever during a week-long air-to-air refueling exercise at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
Exercise Sky Shield brought together members of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and the QEAF to meet three objectives.
The first objective called for the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron to refuel the Rafales in Qatari airspace.
“We have never done this before,” said exercise director US Air Force Capt. James McCarthy. “The Qataris received their Rafales earlier this year and have been eager to collaborate with US forces and our coalition partners to refine their joint combat capability.”
As the 379th AEW weapons and tactics officer, McCarthy is responsible for the integration of Al Udeid air assets such as the E-8 JSTARS, the RC-135 V/W Rivet Joint and the KC-135 throughout the region.
The second objective tested the participants’ ability to engage over the Link-16 communication network. It is a military tactical data link network used by NATO and authorized nations to share their tactical pictures in near-real time.
“We have planned to use Link-16 to pass ground points and send free text messages to the Rafale aircraft and to allow communication to flow between the Rafales and the KC-135s,” said McCarthy. “We rely heavily on the Link for situational awareness. Having the Rafale pilots become proficient in using it would be crucial for any future conflict.”
The third capstone objective challenged the QEAF pilots to perform a defensive counter-air combat patrol (DCA CAP) from the two wings of the KC-135. This means they would provide surrounding formation security while the 340th EARS team refueled their fellow Rafales.
“The fact that the Qatari Rafale is defending a US high value asset in the form of a tanker is most definitely historic,” said McCarthy. “It demonstrates the importance of our partnership and our reliance on one another to defend the Gulf against potential threats.”
The Qatar Air Defense Liaison Team senior duty officer for US Air Forces Central, US Air Force Maj. Eric Vanley, facilitated planning between US and Qatari Air Forces for the exercise.
“US personnel across AFCENT and Al Udeid engage with Qataris across a range of capabilities and requirements on a daily basis,” he said. “Our strong bilateral relationship has been tested and demonstrated many times before.”
“Our F-15s flew in formation over Doha with the QEAF Rafales, which set the stage for this exercise,” he said.