Exercise Deployed Falcon 2009

From 8 till 10 December 2008 and from 26 till 28 January 2009, eight Lockheed Martin F-16AM and F-16BM aircraft deployed to Beauvechain Airbase under Exercise Deployed Falcon. These two deployments as well as a third one during the week of 16 March 2009 fit in a series of preparatory exercises prior to the evaluation and certification of the Belgian F-16 units committed to NATO’s Response Force (NRF) and High Readiness Force (HRF) in May 2009.




For over four decades, the European member states of NATO set up large static armed forces to counter a massive attack by the Soviet Union. Only a small part of these forces, the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Mobile Force (AMF), was rapidly deployable. AMF was created in 1960 as a small multinational force that could be sent on short notice to any part of the Allied Command Europe under threat, but mainly to the somewhat weaker south-eastern and northern flanks. Its main mission was to demonstrate the solidarity of the Alliance and its ability and determination to resist all forms of aggression against any of its members. AMF was deployed for the first time in a crisis role during the Gulf War, ensuing from the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on 2 August 1990. Eighteen Dassault Mirage VB aircraft of the then Belgian Air Force participated in the deployment of the aerial component of AMF to protect Turkey’s border with Iraq and to prevent the spread of tension and conflict into NATO territory. The Mirages left Bierset Airbase in the early morning of 6 January 1991 and were based at Turkish Air Force Base Diyarbakir for little over two months. After cessation of hostilities in Kuwait on 28 February, the aircraft returned to Bierset in two groups on 8 and 11 March 1991. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the need for large in place forces against a massive threat from the East disappeared. Less specified risks emanating from tensions outside NATO’s boundaries, however, soon became a new concern. NATO now had to cope with less traditional threats like the proliferations of weapons of mass destruction, disruption of the flow of vital resources, actions of terrorism and sabotage, etc. This meant drastic changes for the Alliance’s armed forces as their new theatres of operation were now located far away from their home bases and a large part of the troops had to become rapidly deployable. The forces had to be flexible too as they had be able to respond to a wide variety of threats.

 During the decade following the Cold War, NATO developed a new concept of graduated readiness forces and continuously adapted it to the changing strategic environment. The main characteristic for AMF – rapidly deployable and flexible multinational forces – was incorporated into the new force structure. In accordance with the new concept, Alliance forces were divided into Immediate and Rapid Reaction Forces (IRF and RRF), Main Defence Forces (MDF) and Augmentation Forces (AF). IRF and RRF were the Alliance’s units kept at the highest levels of readiness to respond quickly and flexibly to any emerging conflict. MDF represented the bulk of NATO’s force structure, charged with the immediate defence of Alliance territory. AF were made up by the operational and strategic reserves, capable of reinforcing rapidly weak spots from less threatened areas of the Alliance.

 To allow NATO forces to cooperate with non-NATO members associated with out-of-area operations, the Alliance launched the concept of a Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) in 1993, which was endorsed by the Brussels Summit of January 1994. After a number of first trials in 1997 and 1998, NATO began the full implementation of the concept in 1999 and evaluated it in 2004.


 The concept of graduated readiness forces was further refined in the early years of the 21st century. In accordance with the Washington Summit of 1999, the NATO military authorities agreed on a new NATO Force Structure (NFS) in July 2001, providing the Alliance with flexible, rapidly deployable, mobile and sustainable multinational forces. In the new structure, the availability of the different tiered forces after Notice to Move (NTM) is roughly as follows: NATO Response Force (NRF, 5 days), High Readiness Forces (HRF, 30 to 90 days) and Forces of Lower Readiness (FLR, 90 to 180 days).

 The concept of the NATO Response Force (NRF) was launched at the Prague Summit in November 2002 and approved at the NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels in June 2003. According to the concept, NRF comprises a robust rapid reaction capability, deployable in 5 days wherever it may be required and sustainable for 30 days. It was officially inaugurated on 15 October 2003 and reached initial operational capability one year later. NATO’s November 2006 Summit in Riga declared it to be at full operational capability with up to 25,000 troops. These troops form a combined and joint force package that will be tailored to each specific mission and that is based on a brigade-size land component with forced-entry capability; a naval task force including a carrier battle group, an amphibious task group and a surface action group; and an air element capable of 200 combat sorties per day. Special Forces constitute an additional component of the force and can be called upon when necessary.

 After 30 days, the NATO Response Force is relieved or reinforced by High Readiness Forces, which in their turn are relieved, reinforced or sustained by the third tier of the new force structure, the Forces of Lower Readiness.

 A tailored NATO Response Force was deployed in 2004 in support of the Olympic Games in Greece and of the elections in Afghanistan. In 2005, it brought humanitarian relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the USA and of the earthquake disaster in Pakistan.

 Units participating in NRF are drawn from the entire NATO Command and Force Structure and are assigned on a rotational basis with formal stand-by periods lasting six months. Such an assignment is preceded by a six-month training programme, including evaluation and certification. An NRF certification is valid for three years. The Belgian Air Combat Force was certified NRF for the first time in April/May 2006 under Exercise Deployed Falcon 2006. A second evaluation will take place in May 2009 under Exercise Deployed Falcon 2009.

F-16AM FA-119 Beauvechain


 Although the military are reluctant to disclose numbers of aircraft committed to NATO, politicians are less reserved and recently revealed that Belgium assigned six F-16s to the NATO Response Force, 30 to the High Readiness Forces and two for permanent Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties. Aircraft and personnel originate from both the 2nd Tactical Wing in Florennes and the 10th Tactical Wing in Kleine-Brogel.

 For the preparative exercises as well as for the national and NATO evaluation, Beauvechain Airbase acts as Deployed Operating Base (DOB). A DOB is a secured forward airbase from where a deployed detachment can support tactical operations in its Area of Interest (AO) with reduced reaction time and increased time on task. Beauvechain is a former F-16 airbase and is still active as home of the Belgian Flight Academy. It is thus well equipped to receive combat aircraft. Since the Belgian Alpha Jets left for France, air traffic on and around the airbase has dropped markedly, allowing even high intensity exercises to be organised there without disturbing normal training activities too much. In times of budgetary restrictions, Beauvechain thus offers a cost-efficient and sufficiently realistic alternative to deploying to a far away airbase abroad. Exercise Deployed Falcon entails the movement of 8 F-16AM and F-16BM combat jets, 20 pilots of all four Belgian F-16 squadrons and around 600 support personnel. These numbers allow to man two shifts of around 250 operational personnel per twenty-four hours period, which is much more than the 100 personnel supporting the four F-16s deployed to Afghanistan at present. As the 2nd Tactical Wing is the lead unit for the Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL), about two-thirds of the personnel originate from Florennes. The other third are from Kleine-Brogel and other supporting units. In 2006, it was the other way round. The number of aircraft deployed in 2009 is only half that of 2006, mainly because of the commitments of the F-16 fleet in Afghanistan. The numerous missions to Afghanistan, Chad, Congo, Kosovo and Lebanon also make that most of the proper support equipment is already deployed abroad. As a consequence, the men and women in Beauvechain are out of sheer necessity housed in Cold War era tents, which made living conditions very harsh, especially in January considering the below zero temperatures, even during the day. Notwithstanding that, morale remained high.

The main areas of the DOB that will be evaluated by NATO are the Deployed Operating Centre (DOC), the Tactical Area Of Responsibility (TAOR) and the Rest and Relief area (R&R). The DOC is the Command, Control and Communications centre (C3) of the DOB from where the Air Combat Force commander directs the entire deployment and all its missions. The TAOR is the part of the airbase assigned by the “host nation” to the deployed forces to conduct their operations from. It roughly corresponds with the area that No. 349 Squadron used to occupy at the airbase before it was closed as a combat aircraft base. During the exercises, all aircraft are parked, maintained and armed in this zone and it is secured by the detachment’s own Force Protection (FP). The R&R area is situated south of the runway and is fully made up of deployable infrastructure because the detachment has to prove that it is able to deploy and operate fully autonomously.

F-16AM FA-126 Beauvechain

 The 2nd Tactical Wing of Florennes is the lead unit of Exercise Deployed Falcon 2009 and is supported by the 10th Tactical Wing of Kleine-Brogel.


 The deployment and the operations from the DOB are all evaluated against NATO’s Allied Command Operations Forces Standards Volumes III (Standards for Air Forces) and VI (SHAPE Tactical Evaluation Manual). NATO will evaluate whether Belgium respects its declarations to NATO as regards deployable aircraft, equipment and personnel and whether it operates according to NATO standards applying for such missions.

 The exercises of December 2008 and January 2009 are training sessions only. Whether the Air Combat Force has reached the required level of proficiency by then will be assessed nationally in March 2009. The final evaluation by NATO is scheduled for May 2009. During that evaluation, around 150 NATO experts will scrutinise personnel, equipment, plans and procedures in the field of operations, logistics and force protection. The team will verify whether the committed force is timely available and deployable, whether its command and control are up to standards and can effectively engage the opposing forces and whether its sustainability and survivability meet the preconceived standards.

 The TACEVAL team will evaluate the three different roles the Belgian F-16s are committed for: air defence, ground attack and recce. Therefore, six of the eight F-16s deployed are in all-weather air defence and fighter-bomber configuration, while the two remaining are equipped for the reconnaissance role. Starting points for the evaluation of the detachment are 24/7 operations in the role of NRF and HRF in peacetime, limited conflict and war.

 It is not only the deployed Air Combat Force that will be subjected to a thorough evaluation, but also the pair of QRA aircraft that are on 24/7 air policing duty at Florennes and Kleine-Brogel Airbases. Finally, the capabilities of the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) in Glons as fighter controller and air surveillance operator will be assessed by NATO too.

 F-16BM FB-21 Beauvechain

Twin-seat aircraft like the FB-21 are used by evaluators to assess the pilots’ performances from mission planning till debriefing.


 It is clear that such a NATO evaluation represents a major effort for the Belgian Air Component in general and the F-16 squadrons and the different supporting units in particular.


Preparing, deploying and autonomously employing and sustaining such a detachment is a major logistical effort, which explains why around half of the personnel are functional specialists in this domain. Survivability too is a critical element, especially because the force not only has to cope with conventional attacks by the opposing forces, but also with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. It will be a tough task for the Force Protection (FP) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). Finally, pilots and command and control personnel, who are at the top end of the chain, will have to prove that they can bring all the given support to a good end during their air combat missions.

Lieutenant-Colonel Pascal “Scalle” July

 Lieutenant-Colonel Pascal “Scalle” July of the Directorate Plans, Analysis and Evaluations of COMOPSAIR’s Headquarters at Evere, explains that NRF/HRF committed assets will be evaluated by NATO in five areas: (1) standardisation of plans, procedures and equipment, (2) interoperability with other standardised forces, (3) readiness to deploy, (4) sustainability to operate 24/7 and over a given period of time and (5) survivability, even under Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) conditions.

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Text and pictures by

 Jos Schoofs (February 2009)



Last updated 19/02/09 18:31   Daniel Brackx