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  • Writer's pictureMike Lintott-Danks

Exercise Cobra Warrior 2022

Exercise Cobra Warrior is the RAF’s capstone tactical training event. It is designed to conclude the training of the Qualified Weapons Instructor, Qualified Multi-engined Tactics Instructor, Qualified Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and Qualified Space Instructor.

The aim of Exercise Cobra Warrior, which runs from the 5th – 23rd September, is to develop the tactical skills of the participating aircrew and supporting elements within a Composite Air Operation (COMAO) environment. The exercise provides valuable opportunities for all participating Force elements to practice and develop tactics, techniques and procedures in complex scenarios against a near peer adversary. The exercise is delivered by the Air and Space Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington.

The exercise utilises numerous bases across the UK with RAF, Army, United States Air Force, Luftwaffe, Aeronautica Militare (AMI) and NATO involvement. The exercise is run biannually with a variety of coalition representation.

The support for the international participants taking part in Cobra Warrior started to arrive at RAF Waddington in the week before the Exercise start, included Luftwaffe Lockheed-Martin C-130J and Airbus A400m and Aeronautica Militare Lockheed–Martin KC-130J and C-130J-30 and a Boeing KC-767.

In addition to the Luftwaffe and Aeronautica Militare aircraft at RAF Waddington, the United States Air Force (USAF) Lockheed-Martin F-16CM’s from the 555th ‘Triple Nickle’ Squadron, normally based in Aviano Italy, flew from RAF Lakenheath for the duration of the exercise. They were joined by the 48th Fighter Wing squadrons flying their Boeing F-15E Strike Eagles and the Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning IIs. The Aviano based Sikorsky HH-60Gs from the 56th Rescue Squadron also returned to the UK to participate in the exercise and were based at RAF Leeming.

In addition to the Luftwaffe Tornados and Aeronautica Militare EF2000 Typhoons based at RAF Waddington there was also an NATO E-3A and for the first time the Aeronautica Militare Gulfstream G550 Conformal Airbourne Early Warning, Command and Control, aircraft.

The squadrons participating in Cobra Warrior were: -

Aeronautica Militare EF2000 Typhoon

36 Stormo based at Gio De Colle

4 Stormo based at Grosetto

51 Stormo based at Istrana

37 Stormo based at Trapani

Aeronautica Militare G550 CAEW

14 Stormo based at Practica di Mare

Luftwaffe Tornados

Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 based at Schleswig – Jagel


1 and 3 sqn Typhoons based at RAF Coningsby

617 Squadron F-35Bs based at RAF Marham

Wing Commander Phillip Abbott the Officer Commanding 92 Squadron, that runs the exercise with the RAF’s Air and Space Warfare Centre said, “Exercise Cobra Warrior is the most important exercise that the RAF runs here in the UK and provides us with the opportunity to work with key NATO allies in a simulated contested and degraded operational environment that synchronises multi-domain effects. It is only by doing this that our aviators are able to learn and maintain the highly complex skills that are required to conduct such operations now and in the future s part of a coalition.”

There was an opportunity to complete interviews with the Commanders from the visiting forces and the Deputy Commandant of the Air Space and Warfare Centre.

Group Captain Andy Burton – Deputy Commandant of the Air Space and Wafare Centre

The exercise is taking place in a large air space up in the North Sea on the border between Scotland and England. There are large packages of aircraft supported by ground elements with Blue Force trying to fight their way towards an objective whilst the Red Force is trying to defend their positions. There isn’t just Red Air involved but also Red ground threats which is where the Electronic Warfare training area at Spadedam is coming into use.

Participants will switch between being Red and Blue air throughout the exercise with the Forces being 50 Blue Force aircraft vs 25 Red Force aircraft with the support of the Red ground threats in the form of simulated Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems. This is where the Luftwaffe Tornado ECR is really important as this electronic warfare aircraft is a capability that is not within the RAFs arsenal.

"Inter-operability is absolutely vital to us. If we don't do this training, we lose the ability to operate together. Things in the military never happen by accident. We train as we may need to fight in future."

Lieutenant Colonel Stefan Kollner – Detachment Commander for the Luftwaffe

The main role for the Tornado ECR is electronic warfare during the Cobra Warrior Exercise. This involves Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) including the SAM systems.

“(The Tornado) can detect those systems and then launch our missiles on those systems so that the system is not a threat anymore for any other aircraft that are participating in the CAMAO during the exercise”

The tornado looks old on the outside but on the inside it is basically a brand-new aircraft including the connectivity using LINK-16 which is giving us so much situational awareness and greater capabilities to work together with our allies.

“The squadron was based in Jordon providing tactical air reconnaissance over Iraq so we have a lot of experienced crews here using this combat experience to help support the young crews to be ready for any situation that they may come across and this is why CW is essential as well.”

“We are very pleased to participate again in this very demanding and well organise international exercise. It will be a chance to fly with a selection of the best Weapon Instructors from the participating countries, sharing our experiences which will mutually increase our capabilities.”

Major Marco Setini – Detachment Commander for the Aeronautica Militare

“Cobra Warrior is one of the best exercise around in Europe and even the world.”

“It’s a good exercise to test our Weapons Instructors and compare and learn from the (NATO) partner nations. We are maximising the use of the Typhoon in both the Air to Air and Air to Ground roles.”

“British and Italian Typhoons working together with the Italian Typhoons attacking the target and the RAF typhoons were protecting them from A2A targets. Role will be swapped in future missions.”

How will what the crews learn at Cobra Warrior be implemented when they get back to their Squadrons?

“Some crews are here to complete weapon instructor course and there are a couple of students who will fly every mission together with RAF students and these crews will bring the lessons learnt on the exercise home that can be used in the future across the squadron.”

“The Italian Air Force is very glad to once again take part in Exercise Cobra Warrior as a competition of our Weapons Instructor syllabus. This is the first time we are participating with such a big component. This fact testifies how important CW is to us. We are happy to train in such a challenging international exercise, that allows military personnel to exchange techniques and to improve procedures through cooperation in this multinational environment”

Spotlight on the G550 CAEW

This was the first time the G550 CAEW had participated in the Cobra Warrior exercise and flew on every mission day.

The CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft is a multi-sensor system with air surveillance, command, control and communications functions, instrumental to air supremacy and support to ground forces. It is based on the Gulfstream G550 commercial platform, subsequently modified in part by the manufacturer itself (Type A modification), and in part by the Company Elta Systems Ltd in Ashdod, Israel, with the preparation and assembly of mission systems (Type B modification). The result is a platform with aerodynamic performance substantially comparable to the civil carrier (hence the definition of " conformal"), with a very low drag index (aerodynamic drag index) despite the structural changes. The ability to stay on the target is a function of the mission parameters, with absolutely significant maximum operating quotas and transfer speeds. The avionics suite latest generation Honeywell Primus Epic Avionics, integrated with the information of the AEW system, allows the flight crew (2 pilots) a high SA (Situational Awareness) in real time, at 360 ° and at long distance. The mission system is composed of:

  • a phased array radar;

  • a 360º Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system;

  • a modern and state of the art electronic support system;

  • an advanced communications system.

The information obtained from the individual sensors is analysed and "merged" automatically, allowing a rapid and accurate acquisition and identification of objectives, target acquisition and target information - at the centre of the Early Warning function itself - with the added advantage of greater radar coverage thanks to the airborne sensor. The RASP (Recognized Air Surface Picture) obtained by the system and validated by the mission operators, is displayed through the 6 on-board stations and can be disseminated in a safe and timely manner to the ground command centres thanks to a powerful datalink system.

The mission system also has the ability to conduct Maritime Patrol and Battlefield Management missions, thanks to the compatibility with the Rover systems of the personnel employed on land or on the surface of the sea (also through the transmission of video images useful for the interpretation of environment in which you are operating).

The AEW-BM & C (Airborne Early Warning, Battlefield Management & Communication) capability provided by the CAEW aircraft represents an indispensable tool to ensure adequate extension of the national airspace surveillance capacity (Homeland Defence / Security), including management of the non-threat represented by the so-called "RENEGADE" and to safeguard the full capacity to support military theatre operations.

Thank you to the RAF and Flight Lt Swift for the invitation to the media day and to Group Captain Andy Burton, Lieutenant Colonel Stefan Kollner and Major Marco Setini for speaking to Airspeed Media regarding exercise Cobra Warrior.

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