NATO TIGER MEET 2022
After all, it’s hard to be humble!
Report and photos by George Karavantos
May 25, 2022
For the first time in the history of Tiger Meet, Greece became the host of this unique event. NTM 2022 took place from 9th until 20th of May, at Araxos AB, the home of the 335 Sq, the “Aegean Tigers”! George Karavantos reports…
Despite the worrying times that Europe (along with the whole world) is facing due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, NATO Tiger Meet 2022 did take place in May. Tiger Meet is an annual exercise which takes place at different bases in Europe involving a large number of aircraft from various tiger squadrons of NATO. This year’s host was for the first time the Hellenic Air Force tiger squadron, 335 and the event took place at Araxos AB in Peloponnesus.
More than 60 fighter jets, helicopters, Airborne Early Warning aircraft and 1,000 personnel from allied air forces from across Europe worked together for two weeks. Araxos AB, near Patra city, is home to the 116 Combat Wing which consists of two squadrons (335 and 336) both equipped with the latest and more advanced F-16s in Greece and in Europe, the Block 52+ Advanced.
“It is an honour for 335 Squadron to host the NATO Tiger Meet for the first time,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ntanos Ioannis, Commanding Officer of the 335 Sq. “Conducting high intensity, joint training with colleagues from different nations is essential to sharpen our skills and build a collective understanding for the execution of air operations.”
This multinational environment provides a unique opportunity to all participants, offering high quality operational training under the concept ‘Train as you Fight’, improving tactics, techniques and procedures, and taking interoperability to the next level, while also tightening the bonds of friendship and promoting the long living NATO Tiger Association’s traditions.
Greece is the perfect place for hosting such exercises since its rough terrain in combination with the Aegean Sea and the unlimited airspace over the south Ionian Sea, offer a great landscape for mission planners and crews to simulate different kinds of scenarios. Also, there are no densely populated areas and no competing air traffic to compromise the realism and the quality of training. Another encouraging factor is the excellent weather of Greece which offers the ability to fly and train at all altitudes.
These factors offer the participants a unique opportunity to practice flying in excellent weather and in mountainous terrain in a vast area. The main operational missions of NTM22 utilized helicopters, transport aircraft and fighters in a high threat environment while conducting missions like SEAD, Recce, Refuelling, COMAO and CSAR.
This year’s flying participants were:
- F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon from 31 Smd (BAF) at Kleine Brogel AB , BEL
- Rafale M from 11F (FN) at BAN Landivisiau , FRA
- Rafale B/C from ECE 1/30 (FAF) at BA 118 Mont-de-Marsan , FRA
- F/A-18C/D Hornet from Staffel 11 (ChAF) at Meiringen AB , CHE
- EF-2000 Eurofighter from 12° Gruppo (ItAF) at Gioia Del Colle AB , ITA
- EF-18+ Hornet from ALA 15 (SpAF) at BA Zaragoza , ESP
Along with the Greek F-16C/D Fighting Falcon from both squadrons at Araxos AB
There were also Mi-24 Hinds from 221 VrL (CzAF) at Náměšť AB, CZE and an E-3A Sentry which was flying from Geilenkirchen MOB.
The exchange of experiences between aircrews from different nations is not to be underestimated, with each squadron always trying to bring at least one two-seater aircraft to the Tiger Meet and trade backseat rides. These rides provide aircrews to see how different nations perform their assigned missions among units flying the same aircraft or, if the units fly different aircraft, how to better integrate during joint missions.
The typical program of the 12 days, starts with the arrival of the participants, briefings, familiarization flights and an opening ceremony were flags of all participating nations are raised. As we already mentioned, the exercise is also the right occasion to tighten social strengths between all participating units and, at the end of the first week, the Tiger Games, mainly a mix of fun and sports, are held.
Usually, during flying days, in the morning most participants fly local missions among each other, while the afternoon is reserved for the COMAOs of increasing difficulty. Composite Air Operations cover a wide spectrum of the modern air warfare, such as Defensive/Offensive Counter Air, Air Interdiction, Targeting and Suppression – Destruction of Enemy Air Defense.
Due to the growing helicopter force within the NTA members and their heavy use in today’s conflicts, they are integrated within the COMAO mission as insertion and extraction of ground forces, support of special ops, Combat Search And Rescue and so on. Among the helicopters involved in these missions there are the Italian HH-212 and HH-101 and the Czech Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters.
At the end of the second week of the exercise, there is the traditional farewell party during which various awards are handed out, with the Silver Tiger Trophy being the most important one.
Last year was the first time that the NTM carried out night and over water missions, which added a great challenge to the participants. This was also repeated this year, because the environment was similar to the one of Portugal. These missions are divided into two types: Composite Air Operations (COMAO) and Shadow/Panther missions.
The COMAO missions are usually large force air operations varying from defending their own territory to offensive operations like targeting sea & land based targets. The Shadow (daytime missions) and Panther (night) missions are smaller scale missions. Examples of these missions are Close Air Support (CAS), Vehicle Interdiction and Hostage Rescue.
The first Tiger Meet dates back to 1961, when the 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the United States Air Force in Europe, the No.74 Squadron of the Royal Air Force and EC 1/12 Squadron of the French Armée de l`Air met at Woodbridge in England. The three squadrons had something in common, a tiger’s head in their squadron crest, which stands as a symbol of strength, speed and hunting prowess. The exercise was initially involving only a few Air Force units, but over the years it has also seen participation from many other Tiger Squadrons of NATO.
Due to the success of this first meeting, it was decided that future events would be held annually. At the second Tiger Meet, the squadrons formulated three aims which still remain valid to this day:
· Improvement of solidarity between NATO members
· The creation and maintenance of team-spirit and camaraderie between the participating members
· The exchange of experiences and cooperation in line with the military goals of NATO
Since then, Tiger Meets evolved into first-class military exercises where the participants fly Composite Air Operation (COMAO) missions encompassing the entire spectrum of military operations. Alongside low altitude flying, the emphasis is also placed on air to air refuelling, air combat, the use of weapon ranges, etc.
In 2004, Greece signed the final acquisition program of F-16 fighters under Peace Xenia IV, for 30 more F-16s (with an option of 10 more). These new aircraft, all F-16 Block 52+ Advanced, were later named by the HAF as Block 52M. On 15 March 2006, the Greek government announced that it had cancelled the option of the 10 additional F-16s. These aircraft replaced the fleet of the remaining A-7 Corsair IIs, which retired from service in October 2014 and were the last aircraft that the HAF ever purchased until the recent acquisition of the French Rafales. This last batch of the most advanced F-16s in Europe were gathered in Araxos Base, equipping the 335 Sq “Tiger” alongside with the 336 Sq “Olympos” of 116 CW, the final operators of the A-7 Corsair II and the oldest and most famous squadrons in Greece.
The 335 Squadron “Tiger” is the oldest squadron of the Hellenic Air Force, as it was established when Greece was under German occupation, in October 1941 at the Palestinian airport of Akir. The squadron was initially equipped with Hurricanes. In October 1953, 335 became the first squadron that replaced the propeller aircraft with jets, the F-84G and the RT-33A types. In May 1965, it received the legendary F-104G Starfighter aircraft which kept them operational until May 1992. On April the 3rd, 1993, the squadron received the A-7E and TA-7C Corsairs. They were kept operational until 2008 when operations were temporarily suspended in preparation for the acceptance of the modern F-16s.
The 336 Squadron “Olympos” was established on February the 25th 1943 in Cairo, Egypt and it was also equipped with Hurricane aircraft. The Squadron followed the exact steps of its “sister” Squadron and in 1953, it also received the F-84G and 5 years later it transitioned to the newer F-84F. In 1965, the Squadron also received the F-104G aircraft which was flying until March the 31st 1993. The squadron received also the A-7 Corsair II and was the last one to withdraw them. Since March 2008, when the deactivation of its sister squadron took place, the 336 Sq received all the remaining Corsairs, becoming the last Corsair squadron in the world. The retiring ceremony took place on the 17th of October 2014, marking the end of another great aircraft, the Corsair II.
Special Tiger – Special Aircraft:
The aircraft which was painted for this year’s event was an F-16C Block 50 with the tail number 1045. This is actually a “hybrid” fighter because it was manufactured as a Block 50 but it has the electronics and the equipment of the Block 52+ Adv, since it was used for many years as a test bed for the application of the new electronic suit that the next F-16s Block 52+ and Block 52+ Advanced received.
This distinctive F-16 belongs nowadays to the 335Sq and it was the first aircraft of the Peace Xenia II programme when Greece acquired 40 F-16s Block 50. It was built in 1997 and served with 347Sq for a number of years. When Greece decided to procure more F-16s of the latter versions Block 52+ (under Peace Xenia III programme) and later on Block 52+ Adv (under Peace Xenia IV programme), it was selected to be used as a test bed for the equipment / electronics systems.
The aircraft was sent to United States, initially to Lockheed Martin, where it received its new electronic suit and later on to Edwards Air Force base where it stayed there for many years for testing the new equipment and also certifying the weapons that these two new versions were able to carry.
In fact this aircraft is an F-16C Block 50, equipped with the General Electric F110-GE-100, fitted with the electronics equipment of the latest Block 52+ Adv. It has also received the Litton’s ASPIS II electronic warfare suite (Advanced Self-Protection Integrated Suite) which has been internally mounted and includes the ALQ-187 I-DIAS jamming system and improved ALR-66VH (I) RWR.
The only thing that is lacking of is the ability to carry CFTs. This aircraft is the only F-16 of the HAF that it has a four digit tail number. Apart from the different engine the other external difference is that this aircraft carries the high visibility yellow warning markings and the dark blue roundels.
The only Greek Spitfire:
The one and only Greek Spitfire Mk.IXC gave its presence also at the first Greek Tiger Meet. The MJ755 is the only ex-Hellenic Air Force Spitfire in existence and had not flown over Greece since her retirement from military service on the 8th of December 1953. This legendary aircraft was on display as a gate guard and became later a part of the Hellenic War Museum in Athens, sitting on external display for several decades before her transfer to the Hellenic Air Force Museum at Dekeleia in 1995. In 2018 it was decided to make her airworthy again. The aircraft was sent to Biggin Hill where the British restorers devoted their time and expertise to make this legend fly again. Its first appearance took place during a Greek airshow, Athens Flying Week, in September 2021.