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  • Writer's pictureMike Lintott-Danks

Ocean Sky 2023 - Gando, Gran Canaria

From the 16th – 27th October exercise Ocean Sky was held at Gando AB, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. Ocean Sky is an INVTEX – LIVEX (Invitation to an Exercise – Live Exercise) exercise that takes place annually. Its purpose is to train the participants in Air to Air missions which created a highly demanding operational environment, contributing to the promotion of the level of operational readiness, combat capability, and cooperation of the participants in a multilateral and allied context. The participants completed missions including:

·        Offensive Counter Air (OCA),

·        Defensive Counter Air (DCA),

·        High-Value Airborne Asset Attack/Protect (HVAA Attack/Protect) missions,

·        Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

The air defence of the Canary archipelago, like that of the rest of the Spanish territory, is the responsibility of NATO with the national means placed at its disposal. The Ocean Sky 23 exercise increases the level of preparation for air-to-air combat of fighter units and will contribute to improving the security and defence of Spanish airspace.

This exercise is an opportunity for Spanish and foreign military units to train together and improve their interoperability, which is essential in real conflict situations. As in previous years, Ocean Sky 23 is expected to be a success, and to contribute to strengthening the military capacity of Spain and its international allies.

Participants included:-

  • Spanish Air Force EF-18s from Ala 12, Torrejon, Ala 15, Zaragoza and Ala 46, Gando, and EF2000 Typhoons from Ala 14, Albacete.

  • Hellenic Air Force F-16s from 341 Mira, Almiros

  • Turkish Air Force F-16s from 152 Filo, Incirlik

  • Portuguese Air Force F-16s from Esq 301, Monte Real

Hellenic Air Force

341 Mira was the second squadron – after 347 Mira – to introduce the block 50 version of the Fighting Falcon into the Hellenic force. Based at Néa Anghialos it is tasked with the traditional roles of air defence and attack. Since the block 50 version has the capability of performing suppression of air defence missions, the Air Force decided to add this mission to the squadron’s profile.

This made 341 Mira the only Greek F-16 unit capable of performing such SEAD missions. Specialized equipment - like AGM-88 'HARM' missiles - was bought to support this mission. Since Néa Anghialos hosts three F-16 units with one of them having the older block 30’s on strength, it gives 341 Mira the possibility to focus on its SEAD mission more intense.

The Air Force depicted that this SEAD mission was very important for the overall force that since 2005 also 343 Mira is tasked with SEAD duties, somewhat relieving the pressure on 341 Mira.

Hellenic Air Force website

Turkish Air Force

152 Filo converted to the F-16 in 1999. It was one of the last Turkish squadron to convert to the Fighting Falcon. It was activated as a dual squadron together with 151 Filo, sharing the same block type and mission profile. Previous orders in the Turkish Air Force had comprised both block 30 and block 40 airframes. With the Peace Onyx III order, the newer block 50’s were ordered so the Turkish Air Force could have the availability of radar suppressing missiles.

With the introduction of the block 50 F-16, the main task of the squadron became SEAD. Since 152 Filo is the only of three squadrons within the Turkish Air Force (the other two being 151 and 191 Filos) to perform these kind of missions, these assets are a cornerstone of the Turkish air force.

For a number of years, all F-16s squadrons within the Turkish Air Force are multi-role. This means they can handle all missions, but are specialized in one. With the CCIP program – which will start in 2009 – the aircraft will get an upgrade which will prolong their service life and introduce a completely new cockpit and advanced electronics. For 152 Filo this won’t change much to its current setup since their block 50s were already delivered with colour displays and advanced electronics. But this upgrade will enhance the aircraft even further to carry new kind of weapons and introduce new technologies which weren’t available at the time when the contract for these fighters was signed.

Turkish Air Force website


Portuguese Air Force

The Portuguese Air Force participates in NATO exercise Ocean Sky 2023 with its modernized fighter jets F-16 Fighting Falcon operated by 2 Squadrons and the brand-new KC-390, operated by Squadron 506 Rhinos.

The Ocean Sky 23 exercise is focused on aerial combat missions that brings together Portuguese F-16M, Spanish EF-18 and Typhoon, as well as Greek and Turkish F-16C.

The Portuguese Air Force just bought brand-new Mid Life Update (MLU) upgrades for its Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon aircraft that became operational on June 26th, 2003. The MLU configuration comprises new equipment, upgraded radar and operating software, and an internal missile warning system, in line with NATO standards that increase the aircraft’s operational capabilities. The new configuration provides the F-16AM Fighting Falcon aircraft with additional capabilities for the detection of aerial and ground targets at long distances, for operations in any weather conditions both day and night, for the electronic identification of other aircraft, and for the integration into battlefield management networks.

Portuguese company OGMA carried out extensive work for the F16 upgrades in collaboration with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. for air combat fleet interoperability with other European participating Air Forces.

Portugal’s F16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets with MLU upgrades have increased capabilities for both defensive and offensive aerial combat in combination with operations against surface targets, and are operated by two squadrons, namely the Squadron 201 Falcons and Squadron 301 Jaguars.

Portugal Defence news

Photo from Tiger Meet 2023

Running in conjunction with Ocean Sky was the European Air Refuelling Training (EART 23).

European Air Refuelling Training

The 9th European Air Refuelling Training (EART 23) ended on 27th October after 11 days of trials led by Spanish Air Force at Lanzarote Air Base in the Canary Islands.

EART 23 is run in combination with the Spanish fighter exercise Ocean Sky 23 operating from Gando Air Base in Gran Canaria, Spain. Tanker aircraft, crews and mentors from France, Italy and Spain have been taking part in the annual event.

The exercise underscores interoperability among global tanker and fighter aircraft communities.

French Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Viltart, head of European Air Transport Command Training and Exercise Branch, said: ‘EART 23 focuses on dissimilar multi-tanker formation and tanker-to-tanker rendezvous procedures.

‘The 23 edition emphasises High Value Airborne Assets defence through threat reactions and retrograde procedures, and underscores interoperability among global tanker and jet communities.’

Three NATO Allies participate in EART: France with an Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), Italy with a Boeing KC-767A and Spain with an Airbus A400M. The international and multi-aircraft type exercise allows the practice of common air-to-air refuelling tactics, techniques and procedures in a multinational environment.

While the tankers are stationed at Lanzarote Air Base during EART 2023, the base does not have any permanently based military aircraft. It is used by air force troops and an EVA 22 air defence radar which covers the eastern Canary Islands and maritime area up to the Sahara. The military aircraft covering Spain’s Canary Islands are usually stationed at Gando Air Base, Gran Canaria.

Final figures have not been released on this event. During EART 22 around 300 participants executed 30 sorties with three tankers, accumulating more than 95 flying hours and achieving 166 training objectives.

History of the 46th Wing

The history of the 46th Wing dates back to January 9, 1928, the date of establishment in the Sahara of the 1st Spanish Military Squadron, deployed between Cape Juby and Villa Cisneros. Later this Unit was reorganized in 1935 and was renamed '1st Desert Squadron' and, at the beginning of the 1940s, '11th Squadron'. On February 3, 1939, the 1st Detachment of the Spanish Military Aviation arrived in Gando, becoming the Atlantic Forces on September 1 of that same year. It was the first official representation of the Air Force in the Canary Islands.

On October 17, 1940, as a result of a new organization of the Air Force, the 112 Group was integrated, together with the 54th Hydro Squadron based in Las Palmas, a Unit that, on May 30, 1941, would form together with the 29th Getafe Expeditionary Group, the Mixed Regiment No. 4, origin of the current 46th Wing.

Being the main Unit located at the Gando Air Base (Gran Canaria), the 46th Wing is currently composed of the 462nd Fighter and Attack Squadron, equipped with F-18 aircraft.

The 46th Wing is the heir to all the units that have operated from the Gando area since 1940, the main ones being Group 29 with Fiat CR-32, the Mixed Regiment No. 4 with Fiat CR-32, Junkers 52 and Dornier Wall , the Mixed Wing no. , F-5, Mirage F-1 and C-212 Aviocar.

The 46th Wing participated directly in the Saharan conflicts of 1957 and 1975. Today it constitutes the first means of air defense and logistical support in the Canary Islands, maintaining close collaboration in joint operations and exercises with units of the Army and the Navy.

The first history of the 462 Squadron dates back to August 1940 with the arrival in Gando of the 29 Expeditionary Hunting Group, equipped with 24 Fiat CR-32 aircraft, from the 21st Fighter Regiment of Getafe. The Ifni-Sahara War was the scene of action where the 462 Squadron has written the most glorious pages of its history. Over the course of 18 years (1957-1975), the various units deployed by the Air Force in the Sahara lived an intense period, in constant surveillance and patrol missions over the desert territory.

In 1975, the 464 Squadron was activated in order to have a combat aircraft with operational possibilities in the Canary Islands at all times; This becomes, definitively, the 462 Squadron coinciding with the arrival in Gando of the Mirage F-1 in 1982. In 1999 the F-1 is replaced by the F-18.

Currently, the 462nd Fighter Squadron is equipped with the C-15 (F-18 Hornet) aircraft.

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