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"We can't do it on our own"
From October 15th until October 25th, the bi-annual exercise VOLCANEX was held at the former airfield of Vouziers-Sechault in France. This former airbase is located some 50 east of the city of Reims, in the department Ardennes. This exercise is organized by the European Air Group (EAG) to train the extraction/evacuation of civilians from during a crises. The French Air Force (Armee de l'Air) used this VOLCANEX exercise to glue 2 additional exercises AIREX and BAPEX onto the VOLCANEX exercise.

All photo's:
G.J.A. van Boven
© Sentry Aviation News

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BA Vouziers

In the 1950s, several Dispersed Operating Bases were created by the USAFE in North-East France, Vouziers-Sechault was a standard base with a 2.5 km runway, hangars and dispersals. No squadrons were based here, it was only to be used in case of war. After a short use by the Canadian Air Force, in 1969 the base was decommissioned and it became a runway-repair training ground for the French Air Force (Génie de l'Air). 1 kilometer of runway remained for training and exercise purposes.


The European Air Group is a joint effort of the air forces of United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. The aim of the EAG is to improve operational capacity of items of the participating air forces. This resulted in the EATC (European Air Transport Command), whereby nearly all transport aircraft of the EAG countries are planned and controlled from 1 central location at Eindhoven airbase (NL). Another initiative is the annual Combined Joint Personnel Recovery Standardization Course (CJPRSC) , that was held in 2012 at Holzdorf airbase in Germany. VOLCANEX is another initiative of the EAG. The EAG headquarter is located at RAF High Wycombe in Great-Britain.


The aim of the VOLCANEX exercise is to brings together the air forces of nine countries around a common goal that lead units dedicated to the protection forces to operate in an international context. French, German, British, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians and Swedes evolve together in order to implement standardized procedures, particularly in terms of evacuations. Besides the 7 EAG members, the Norwegian and Swedish air forces participated. A DOB airbase needs to be established in unfriendly environment and civilians will be evacuated from that airbase by air. During the first week of the exercise, the focus lay on establishing an operational airbase in enemy territory that could handle transport aircraft. A Combined Air Terminal Operation (CATO), a field-hospital unit, an evacuation center, an airfield protection unit, an airfield support unit and a mobile control tower were set-up to handle the transport aircraft and helicopters. Protection forces would protect the airbase on the ground, while the jets of the AIREX exercise would protect the airbase from enemy fighters. During the second week, the actual recovery and transportation of the civilian took place. From many locations in the neighborhood, the civilians were collected and transported by the groundforces to the Vouziers airbase. After a personality check and a medical check, the civilians were evacuated by air in a C-130 or C-160. Some 1300 soldiers from 9 counties participated in the combined VOLCANEX/AIREX/BAPEX exercise and they were based at or near DOB Vouziers The next VOLCANEX will be in 2014 in the United Kingdom.


This exercise with real flying activities is designed to train the staff of the French Air Force to conduct air operations with national and international aircraft. The Air Staff, the operational flying units and the ground-to-air defense units, prepared for a rapid deployment of the command structures into a Joint Force Air Component Command (JFACC) based at Vouziers airbase. Housed into several mobile tents in an old hangar, the JFACC planned, directed and coordinated the air component of this international operation. Besides 32 French national participants, there were Tornado's from Germany and Great-Britain, Italian and German Eurofighters, F-16s from Belgium and Spanish EF-18s. With air-to-air refueling from French C-135F's, French C-160 and German A310 MRTT. The JFACC at BA Vouziers should be able to handle 80-100 daily missions (level 1 of 3). Integral part of the AIREX exercise was the presence of the new French Ground-to-Air missile system 'MAMBA". For the first time, the MAMBA system was used to protect the DOB Vouziers against enemy fighters. Consisting of an ARABEL radar system and the ASTER missiles flying with a top speed of Mach 4.5, with a range of 80 kilometers, up to 20 kilometers height; the MAMBA system performed well during the exercise.


BAPEX is a logistical exercise that takes place every 3 years, to train the French Air Force in deploying a Deployed Operational Base abroad. The aim is to minimize the reaction time between the a political decision for a DOB and the actual operational capability on site. During the first week of the exercise, the DOB was set-up with the capability to handle 4-6 transport aircraft.

Media Day

On Thursday October 25th, a Media Day was combined with a Distinguished Visitors Day. During the Media Day, there were demonstrations of
runway repair, performed by the Génie de l'Air
evacuation of civilians in a French C-160 Transall
convoy protection; while a convoy of civilians was being attacked, ground forces and special forces 'fast-roping' downwards from a Caracal, secured the convoy from the enemy attackers

Participating aircraft and helicopters

C-130 Hercules from Belgium and Royal Air Force
C-160 Transall from Germany and France
CN-235 from Spain and France
EC725 Caracal from France.

Most heard statement was that the European military forces are hampered by budget cuts these days and operations need to be done in cooperation with other countries. No country can perform long lasting military operations on it's own anymore. Countries do not have the resources anymore to perform a complete VOLCANEX-like operation abroad for a long time. More international cooperation and more national specialization are the answers; and VOLCANEX is the perfect training ground for this.


General Thierry Caspar-Fille-Lambie, Commander of Air Defence and Air Operations (COMDAOA) (Armee de l'Air) [on photo]:
"It was one year, which resulted in a level of complexity ever. The DOB, which has never been used internationally at this level, underwent the actual tempo of air operations and regular attacks. Lessons learned from last years Operation Harmattan have been the theme of this year."

General Villaroya (Spanish Air Force), member of EAG [on photo]:
"There is a real interoperability between nations. We were able to examine, test, evaluate and adapt the projects of the EAG, merging our expertise. "

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Strobl, Detachment Commander German Transall:
"We were in part responsible for medical evacuations. It is very rewarding to work in collaboration with other nations. This exercise will remain a great experience. "
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