Military Capabilities

New capabilities demonstrated at ‘Point Blank’ exercise

11 December 2018

RAF F-35B, USAF F-15E, and French Air Force Rafale combat aircraft form up behind a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker during Exercise ‘Point Blank’. Source: US Air Force

The trilateral Exercise 'Point Blank', co-hosted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Air Force (USAF) and completed in late November, was a milestone in offensive combat air training.

Not only was it the first time the French Air Force (FAF) had participated, it was also the first time that fifth-generation combat aircraft had been integrated with fourth-generation fighters.

It was also the first time that a multinational air package of this sort had been pitted against a near-peer adversary armed with land-based and airborne threats in a training scenario.

For over an hour, RAF F-35B Lightning II and Typhoon combat aircraft, FAF Rafales, and USAF F-15E Strike Eagles attacked simulated targets along the coast of the North Sea while fending off aggressor aircraft, simulated surface missile threats, and concerted jamming.

The inclusion of the French was prompted by the cruise-missile attacks on Syrian chemical installations in April, which were jointly conducted by the three countries. Lessons learned from this raid encouraged the heads of the Trilateral Strategic Initiative (TSI), which was launched in 2011, to integrate the Rafale into the latest 'Point Blank' exercise.

"Obviously, within the real environment we have operated as a trilateral team already," Air Commodore Jez Attridge, the RAF's Joint Force Air Component Commander, told media at RAF Lakenheath. "This is about changing the threat to see how we deal with it."

Point Blank feeds into the three TSI development strands that are being pursued next year: command and control resilience, artificial intelligence (AI) in information sharing, and future basing.

AI-based information analysis, which is currently being pioneered by the US Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team under Project Maven, runs algorithms through data to speed up its processing, exploitation, and dissemination.

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