Coalition ISR Aircraft Supporting Iraq Ops

DG (02JUN15) Al Dhafra UAE ATL-2

DG (02JUN15) Al Dhafra UAE ATL-2. Click here for a broader look at the airbase.

The recent imagery update available in Google Earth from June shows a French Navy Atlantique 2 (ATL-2) maritime patrol aircraft parked on the French ramp at Al Dhafra Airbase, UAE.

France deployed the aircraft late last year to support strike and reconnaissance operations over Iraq. It acts as a forward air controller, a mission that it previously performed in Operation Harmattan in Libya (2011) and more recently in Operation Serval in Mali (2013).

Its role is to identify enemy targets and send back coordinates for coalition strike aircraft. And as we’ve seen with some of the videos released by the French Ministry of Defense, it often hangs around to capture video for battle damage assessments. [1]

The Atlantique 2 is operated by two different French Navy patrol squadrons, the 21F and 23F. This one reportedly belongs to the 23F based out of the Lorient-Lann-Bihoue civil-military airport in Brittany.

It’s currently unknown whether this is one of the lucky 15 planned for upgrades slated to start in 2016. Upgrades include a new radar, EO/IR turret, IFF and digital acoustic system. With updates, the French Navy expects to keep the aircraft in the air into the 2030s. [2]

Beyond the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance role, the platform can also deploy the Exocet AM-39 anti-ship missile and the GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided bomb for land targets.

France has 22 x ATL-2s in its current fleet.

DG (12APR15) RAAF Wedgetail Al Dhafra UAE

DG (12APR15) RAAF Wedgetail Al Dhafra UAE

Other ISR aircraft not typically observed at the airbase includes Australia’s E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C. It’s easily identified by the large Mesa radar located on the dorsal fin of the fuselage.

While often forward deployed at Minhad airbase, the imagery above captured the Wedgetail parked at Al Dhafra in April — not far from 6 x RAAF F/A-18 Super Hornets which have been at the airbase since October. [3]

Like France, Australia deployed the Wedgetail late last year to take part in Iraqi operations, its first combat debut. It most famously completed a 17h mission after air-to-air refueling, breaking a world record for a 737-700 airframe. [4]

Along with Boeing E-3 Sentries (flying from Al Dhafra & Cyprus), the Wedgetail directs the airspace for coalition aircraft, otherwise known as the battlespace management mission. Similar to the Atlantique 2, it conducts surveillance missions, searches for enemy targets and sends coordinates out to strike aircraft.

It’s operated by RAAF 2 squadron based out of Williamtown, New South Wales, and belongs to the same airbase the RAAF expects to house the maintenance facilities for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II.

Australia has six of the aircraft in total all assigned to RAAF 2, a squadron stood up in 2000. Before acquiring the platform, the RAAF did not have an AEW&C capability which it sees an integral component in transforming the RAAF into a fifth-generation-enabled air force.

Prior to deployment in the UAE, the aircraft directed the airspace in search for Malaysia flight 370 which crashed off the Australian coast last year.

[1] France also carries out strikes with its flight of Rafale fighters also deployed at Al Dhafra
[2] Upgraded aircraft will be delivered to the French navy in a batch of three per year beginning in 2019.
[3] Combined with RAAF KC-30A and C-17s, the Wedgetail and Hornets complete the RAAF strike force.
[4] Australia’s KC-30A multi-role tanker has also been observed at Al Dhafra.

This entry was posted in English, General Knowledge, Intelligence, Iraq.

2 Responses to Coalition ISR Aircraft Supporting Iraq Ops

  1. By the way… According to the French Ministry of Defense the Atlantique 2 is stationed at Al Dhafra Airbase since beginning of September 2014.

  2. Q&A on Twitter
    (summarised and edited)

    Q1: I think these planes mentioned in the article are helping Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen. Don’t you agree? (The questioner had no facts, which would support his assumptions — as is often the case…)
    A: No, we don’t. First, there is the notice of the French Ministry of Defense, which states that the 23F French Navy patrol squadrons is tasked with missions in coordination with the coalition against the terror organisation “Islamic State”. Second, there is no evidence, which would support the questioner’s assumptions. On the contrary, if we take the other bases and deployments in the region, as well as the international and political circumstances into consideration, then the questioner’s assumptions make no sense.

    Q1: But the notice of the French Ministry of defense could be a cover story ….
    A: Yea, maybe your life is a cover story, too … but please don’t waste our time.

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