The wing of a French Rafale Marine crests the horizon, on glidescope to be the first French navy (Marine Nationale) fighter jet to touch down as part of an historic combined flight operation aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
The George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (GHWBCSG) and French Carrier Air Wing (Groupe Aerien Embarque) departed Norfolk May 7 to begin combined exercise Chesapeake 2018.
Marine Nationale sailors embarked Bush to conduct carrier qualifications (CQ). A CQ is a series of arrested landings and take-offs from an aircraft carrier done regularly by squadrons to maintain their naval aviation proficiency. Groupe Aerien Embarque consists of one E-2C Hawkeye, 12 Rafale Marine multi-role combat aircraft, and 27 pilots looking to keep their skills sharp.
“In preparation for the underway portion of this exercise the Rafales and Carrier Air Wing (CAG) 8 aircraft worked side-by-side out of [Naval Air Station] Oceana doing tactical missions,” said Capt. Sean R. Bailey, commanding officer of GHWB, “… Now that we [have] them out here, the first step is to get everyone carrier qualified … and once we do that we’ll progress into the tactical missions. Instead of long periods where we have the flight deck open, we’ll progress to cyclic flight operations.”
The French navy has one aircraft carrier, Charles De Gaulle (R 91). It is the only other short form take-off nuclear carrier outside of the U.S. Navy, and it is undergoing a maintenance period, presenting a unique training opportunity. Approximately 3,700 U.S. Navy Sailors and 301 French sailors are able to maintain, launch and recover aircraft to strengthen interoperability between U.S. and French naval forces during Chesapeake 2018.
“We’re busy; we’ve got a flight deck full of aircraft,” said Bailey, “A big key piece of this exercise is not only to get [French aviators] carrier qualified … Once they’re fully qualified, that allows us to move into some more operational training, integrate them with our CAG-8 aircraft, and they can practice some higher end training and missions beyond the basics of taking off and landing.
Chesapeake 2018 is named for the historic Battle of Chesapeake during the Revolutionary War during which French naval ships cut off British supply lines to Gen. Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia. The French navy’s victory stranded Cornwallis’ army, and less than eight weeks later he surrendered to Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army.
GHWBCSG is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting carrier air wing exercises with the French navy to strengthen partnerships and deepen interoperability between the two nations’ naval forces. Interoperability allows combined forces to coherently and effectively achieve military objectives. By working together with allies and partners, we amass the greatest possible strength for the long-term advancement of our interests, maintaining favorable balance of power that deter aggression and support the stability that generates economic growth.