I would like to thank to the following for their assistance in making this article possible –
Media Operations at RAF High Wycombe and RAF Waddington, and in particular, Wg Cdr Dylan Eklund
fuel from the Voyager during our mission, with all of the aircraft hooking up with the tanker on two separate occasions. Operating as Lynx 21 Flight, the aircraft were joined by two flights of RAF Typhoons from 3 Squadron, operating as Chaos and Nightmare. It had been planned that four aircraft from 1 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth would join us, but due to weather at their home base their mission was scrubbed.
Lynx 21 = F/A-18C #HN-422
Lynx 22 = F/A-18C #HN-411
Lynx 23 = F/A-18C #HN-406
Lynx 24 = F/A-18C #HN-424
Chaos 11 = Typhoon FGR4 #ZK350
Chaos 12 = Typhoon FGR4 #ZK347
Nightmare 11 = Typhoon FGR4 #ZK334
Nightmare 12 = Typhoon FGR4 #ZK357
Unlike the other participants, the six Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) Typhoons from 2 Wing, deployed to RAF Coningsby, arriving on 27 February.
© Colin Bristow
As is the norm, Cobra Warrior was also supported by USAFE units from RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. Most certainly F-15E Strike Eagles from the 492nd Fighter Squadron such as those in the photos above participated, as it was reported on the unit's official Facebook page. A number of media outlets also stated that the 495th Fighter Squadron participated with their F-35s. However, we think that was not the case, as nothing was mentioned on their social media pages and the unit had been participating in the 'Automatic Lightning' exercise at Skrydstrup Air Base in Denmark up until 17th March.
One of two single-seat Mirage 2000I at Cobra Warrior, #KF118 is captured on approach to Waddington's Runway 20
Captain Glassen ‘Scat’ (Director Operations 349 Squadron Belgium Air Component) told us “We are also really excited to participate in this mission. We came with six F-16s and about
Offensive Counter-Air (DCA and OCA) operations, counter-land operations with the RAF Regiment, whilst the smaller waves see tactical air combat training and tactical air combat training in low-altitude flying training areas across the United Kingdom. During the exercise, a variety of aircraft played the 'Red-Air' role, such as the Finnish Air Force F/A-18C Hornet seen in the photo above, right.
missions together, fly the missions together, which is unusual for us to have such a huge airspace, as we don’t have that in Belgium. We were going to participate last year, but COVID caused it to get cancelled, so we are really excited to participate. The detachment was supported by Airbus A400Ms from 20 Squadron/15 Wing at Melsbroek - the example in the photos below wearing 'Luxembourg Armed Forces' titles.
The Saudi Arabian Typhoons were supported by C-130 Hercules transports, and A330-MRTT aerial refuelling aircraft like that seen in the image here
Wing Commander Chris Whitechurch told us “Cobra Warrior itself provides us a timeframe for which we are practicing warfighting, and that’s happening out over the North Sea. Each day we’ve got about 40 aircraft participating in this exercise, the goodies (Blue Forces) and the baddies (Red Forces) – simulating an operation against an adversary, where in a campaign we have picked eight time-slots within that campaign itself. What we do, is at the start of the campaign, and as we progress, we go into a defensive posture, protecting homeland, and/or protecting ‘Blue’ assets, all the way to surface attack, to dynamic targeting, and also personnel recovery. We’ve also got all of the partner nations fulfilling leadership roles within the mission planning and execution.”
© UK MoD
Major Qaisi, Royal Saudi Air Force Director (pictured right) told the press who gathered at the Cobra Warrior Media Day, “It is a great opportunity flying in different weather, totally different weather from Saudi Arabia. It’s our second deployment with the Typhoon to the United Kingdom, the first time was in 2015. Our plans for last year (to Cobra Warrior) were cancelled, and so we are glad to be here." The six British Aerospace Typhoons were all from 2 Wing based at King Fahd Air Base/Taif, with one wearing 3 Squadron markings, three with 10 Squadron markings, and two adorned with 80 Squadron markings.
Cobra Warrior is the most important exercise that the RAF runs in the United Kingdom, and provides the Royal Air Force with the opportunity to work with key NATO and partner nation allies in a simulated, contested and degraded operational environment. It is only by doing this that aircrew can learn and maintain the highly complex skills that are required to conduct such operations now and in the future as part of a coalition, whilst allowing the overseas participants to work alongside their RAF counterparts in undertaking multiple training missions with various objectives - in turn, providing a valuable opportunity to develop joint tactics, techniques, and procedures.
The Indian Air Force contingent left Jamnagar Air Force Station (AFS) on 26 February, made up of one Ilyushin Il-78MKI from 78 Squadron, two Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from 81 Squadron, and five Dassault Mirage 2000I from 40 Wing (1 Sqn ‘Tigers’, 7 Sqn ‘Battle Axes’ and 9 Sqn ‘Wolfpack’). Together with 145 personnel, the aircraft routed via King Khalid Air Base in Saudi Arabia, and Andravida air base in Greece.
Wing Commander Chris Whitechurch, Officer in Charge, Operations, RAF Waddington (photo, left) told us, “We host two Cobra Warriors each year, alongside all the other activity we do, like supporting the ISTAR force and being home to the Red Arrows. It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase what the Royal Air Force can do in terms of synchronizing all the activity. For Cobra Warrior, we ramp things up a little so that we can support the exercise. It’s great to welcome international partners here, and definitely adds a different perspective and a real buzz around the station. What Cobra Warrior provides us is what we call collective training. What nations will do is train their crews to become tactical experts on their individual platforms. What an exercise such as Cobra Warrior does is bring all those platforms together, both UK and partner nations, and just allows us to train and integrate together so that we can prove and test that we can adjust and enhance our interoperability.”
For the RAF, another key aspect of the exercise is that it gives the opportunity to complete the training within the Mission Employment Phase for future RAF Weapons Instructors. The level of training combined with the variety of training partners helping to achieve the required standards within the Weapons School criteria. The opportunity to train alongside Allies is invaluable, understanding each other, how they plan, how they operate, across a multitude of different scenarios is key to maximising potential. Training Exercises such as Cobra Warrior present a fantastic opportunity, with participants taking away many important lessons that will ensure they are as prepared as possible for whatever the future holds. The large multinational waves include both Defensive and
Having flown direct from Saudi Arabia, the Typhoons refuelled in flight from two Airbus A330-MRTT aircraft based at Al Kharj/Prince Sultan Air Base with 24 Squadron - with a number of C-130 Hercules aircraft bringing in additional support equipment and personnel.
Nightmare 11 and 12, a pair of 3 Squadron RAF Typhoons from RAF Coningsby, are captured by the author whilst operating as part of the Red-Air contingent off the coast of Scotland on 14 March
Although not regular attendees at previous Cobra Warriors, it was also not the Belgian Air Component's 'first rodeo' at the exercise, and they brought along six Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons from 349 Squadron/10 Wing, based at Kleine-Brogel air base.
During the last decade, Finland has gradually increased the number of international exercises it participates in, seeing cooperation with the Swedish Air Force and Baltic Air Policing detachments intensify. With defence cooperation between Finland and the United Kingdom deepening recently, Cobra Warrior provided the Finnish F/A-18 pilots with the opportunity to plan large-force multinational air operations. In addition to the F/A-18 detachment operating out of RAF Waddington, the exercise also involved Finnish fighter controllers at the Control and Reporting Centre at RAF Boulmer.
COBRA WARRIOR 23-1, United Kingdom, 6-24 March 2023
© UK MoD
The air and maintenance crews experienced all the vagaries of the British weather during Cobra Warrior, which was especially hard for the ground crews, who often had to work outside in cold, wet and even snowy conditions. The three images here depict a two-seat Mirage 2000TI taxying out for a mission, another seen returning to RAF Waddington, and the crew heading back for a de-brief after a mission, whilst the groundies ensure the jet is safely 'put to bed'. Of the five Indian Mirage aircraft at Cobra Warrior, three were two-seat 2000TI versions, and two were single-seat 2000I's. None of the aircraft wore squadron markings as it is believed that 40 Wing pool their aircraft.
© UK MoD
In terms of weather conditions, Cobra Warrior experienced all four seasons on offer over the three-week period of the exercise, with large amounts of rain, high winds, and even heavy snowfall besetting the event. Nevertheless, the exercise saw missions flown on all the planned days except one, the aircrew and maintenance personnel working through the challenging conditions to get the aircraft airborne and the missions completed.
(Cont'd from above) Apart from the participants you see out here, we also have the U.S, the U.K, and there are a lot of players in the background participating and making the missions possible. So, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to be a part of this and to learn.” Asked about the pilots participating in the exercise, he told Jetwash Aviation Photos, “The contingent here is based from all three squadrons (from 40 Wing) in India, so that everybody gets an equal chance, primarily to people who have not had the experience of operating in a multinational environment.
In the image left, an Ilyushin Il-78MKI can be seen departing RAF Mildenhall to hook up with the Mirages - the aircraft providing in-flight refuelling for the long journey home.
The fast-jets 0perating as both Blue-Air and Red-Air were supported on a daily basis by RAF A330 Voyagers conducting air-to-air tanking operations from RAF Brize Norton. Additionally, US Air Forces Europe (USAFE) Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers from RAF Mildenhall, and French Air Force air-to-air refuelling assets operating from French bases assisted in keeping the fighters topped up. In addition, UK Joint Helicopter Command aircraft temporarily based at RAF Leeming participated in the exercise, with the RAF’s Air Mobility Force also joining in the exercise - deploying elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade during an associated ground mission that formed part of the overall exercise scenario.
been deployed to the UK. It’s great to be here, and we are looking forward to the ‘Cobra Warrior’ ways, and also the training on the CT missions. We’ve brought a lot of guys who haven’t been on international exercises before, so it will be a great opportunity for those guys to fly with and against different aircraft, so a great experience for us."
90 personnel, which includes 30 pilots. This exercise helps us to learn and fly with other nations, and we coordinate and plan the
Lieutenant Colonel Eetu Rikkinen ‘Midget’ (Squadron Commander 31 Fighter Squadron) told us about the Finnish deployment to Cobra Warrior. “We came here with six F-18s from 31st Fighter Squadron. As far as I know this is the first time the F-18s have
A Finnish Air Force F/A-18C Hornet captured over the North Sea whilst acting as part of the 'Red Air' force on 14 March 2023. Using the callsign Lynx 21, the aircraft was the lead in a 4-ship flight operating against the Blue forces that day
all the aircraft conducting operations as 'Red-Air' on that particular day (Throughout Cobra Warrior, the Finnish, Indian and Saudi fighter aircraft took it in turns to operate as both Red and Blue forces). A total of four Finnish Air Force Hornets from HävLLv 31 (31st Fighter Squadron) took on
Exercise Cobra Warrior is the largest air exercise run by the Royal Air Force. Designed to train participants in high-intensity, large-force tactical air war fighting operations, Cobra Warrior took place 6 - 24 March, with over 70 aircraft taking part, all controlled by directing staff at RAF Waddington. Taking part for the first time alongside the Royal Air Force and regular participants such as the United States Air Force and other NATO allies, were contingents from the Finnish, Indian and Royal Saudi Air Forces.
The Finnish Air Force participated in Cobra Warrior for the first time in 2023, and at the onset of this year's exercise, Brigadier General Timo Herranen, Chief of Staff, Air Force Command Finland, told the media, “We will take part in the Cobra Warrior exercise because the Royal Air Force is an important partner for us bilaterally, in the framework of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) cooperation, and as a future NATO ally. From the perspective of the Finnish Air Force, developing interoperability with the United Kingdom and the other nations from the UK-led JEF (Joint Expeditionary Force) also supports cooperation within NATO.”
On week two of the exercise, I was invited to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, to observe and photograph an air-to-air refuelling mission from one of the resident Airbus A330-MRTT Voyager aircraft. An early start to the day saw us depart Runway 25 at 08.57 local time on Voyager KC.2 ZZ330, with a 101 Squadron crew manning the aircraft, and operating with the callsign Madras 76.
Initially tracking in a northwesterly direction over Worcester, we then turned northeast through the Lichfield Corridor, out over RAF Waddington, and headed up to the northeast coast of Scotland between Aberdeen and Dundee to hook up with the fighters.
Operating between FL190 (19000ft) and Fl 230 (23000ft), Madras 76 flew a racetrack pattern which saw both RAF Typhoons from RAF Coningsby, and Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Hornets taking on fuel -
The Indian Air Force Team Leader, Group Captain M Gangola, told us “The Indian Air Force has come some 4,500 miles from India, we are participating in the exercise with five Mirage 2000, and the induction
happened with two C-17s and one Il-78 tanker. The Indian Air Force has been participating across the globe, and it’s been a long time since we’ve been to the UK, the last time an Indian contingent was here was in 2015 for exercise Indra Dhanush. Presently we have one contingent in UAE (United Arab Emirates), and also a small team in Japan. It’s been a bit of a break for us after COVID, and really fantastic for us to be back in the UK participating in a truly multinational exercise.