Joint Exercise “Chesapeake 2018”

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In December of 2015 the American and French militaries began discussions on the possibility of deploying Marine Nationale (French Navy) Dassault Rafale M fighters and a Northrup Grumman E-2C Hawkeye from a United States Navy Nimitz-class carrier.

The planned deployment would coincide with the multi-year, mid-life retrofit of the French Naval aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The purpose of the deployment is to maintain the skills of the French sailors and the high level of interoperability between our two nations’ navies.

The joint exercise with the United States and French Navies is designated ‘Chesapeake 2018’. The name Chesapeake is a direct reference to the Battle of Chesapeake Bay also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes where the French Navy and American Colonist scored a tactical win over the Royal Navy. This win directly lead to the American colonist victory at Yorktown and the independence of the thirteen colonies.

This past week those plans transitioned from the planning phase to the operational phase with approximately 350 support personnel arriving at Naval Station (NS) Norfolk Chambers Field in Norfolk Virginia. The stateside deployment will be from April 4th and end on May 25, 2018.

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The deployment and support aircraft of both the French Air Force and Navy consisted of one Dassault Falcon F-50M for water rescue, one Airbus A400M Atlas for logistical support, one Northrup Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, one French Air Force Airbus A340-212, two Boeing C-135FR Stratolifters for Aerial refueling and logistics and twelve Dassault Rafale M fighter aircraft.

On Thursday April 5th the Rafale’s began their arrival from a southern route through the Azore Islands in two cells of three with a mid-field break for landing over Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The stratolifters broke off from the Rafales near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and landed at NS Norfolk Chambers Field. The E-2C and A400M traversed a northern route through Iceland arriving later in the week. The Stratolifters made a return flight across the Atlantic to drag the remaining six Rafales on Sunday April 8th to NAS Oceana.

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After a month of tactical training with increasing complexity at Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF) Fentress in Chesapeake, Virginia, the French Air Wing will be deployed aboard the Nimitz-class carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) with the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) for two weeks in May. The French Air Wing consists of the twelve Rafales of squadrons 11F, 12F and 17F of Naval Air Station (NAS) Landivisiau in Brittany, France and one E-2C Hawkeye of squadron 4F of NAS Lann-Bihoue’ also in Brittany, France. Together the American and French Air Wings will conduct carrier qualifications and advanced tactical training to include live fire drills. Operation ‘Chesapeake 2018′ will mark the first time French Rafales will be launched from a U.S. Navy carrier with live ordinance on their hard points that came directly from U.S. ammunition stock.

In addition to celebrating this new level of cooperation between the two navy’s, Hawkeye squadron 4F is celebrating their centennial as a squadron in 2018, the oldest squadron in the French Navy. In celebration, the deployed Hawkeye is adorned with a special tail flash in a French-American color scheme.

Bonne chance to all our naval aviators!

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