Rafale vs. JF-17: clash expected in Saudi Spears of Victory drills

Recently, British Eurofighter Typhoons, among various other aircraft, have touched down in Saudi Arabia to participate in the much-anticipated “Spears of Victory” exercise held at King Abdulaziz Air Base. 

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The deployed fighter jets, belonging to the XI [Fighter] Squadron, consider RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire as their home base. This station is one of two crucial RAF Quick Reaction Alert [QRA] bases responsible for safeguarding UK skies. 

For the Royal Air Force, participating in this multinational event is seen as a golden opportunity for its force enablers to work closely with strategic partners in the region. 

Spears of Victory

The “Spears of Victory” exercise kicked off on February 6. Hosted by Saudi Arabia, this multinational aerial training event will run until February 18. 

The exercise attracted military professionals from various arms of Saudi Arabia’s forces and contingent members from Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, France, Greece, Pakistan, and the United States. 

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A critical training initiative

UK’s Detachment Commander, Squadron Leader Hodgkinson, praised the event, saying, “Spears of Victory 24 provides a critical training initiative for our force enablers to collaborate with strategic partners in the region, demonstrating the prowess of our highly skilled pilots and Typhoon Force engineers. Our shared goal is uncompromising excellence in air dominance, hence demonstrating our unwavering commitment to stability in the broader Middle East region.” 

The primary focus areas of the exercise involve defensive counter-air, offensive counter-air operations, and air interdiction exercises featuring live adversaries and simulations. 

The Royal Air Force emphasized in a statement, “Our aim is to test the pilots’ responses across a variety of challenging airborne scenarios.” 

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Complexity to the exercise

Besides deploying a myriad of fast jets, the exercise reaps benefit from varied support provided by transport, tanker, and airborne early warning systems aircraft; this lineup is accentuated by helicopters that facilitate daily training simulations. 

Furthermore, key aspects such as command and control, mission planning, and integration training form the core of the exercise, ensuring a comprehensive training experience for all attendees. Significantly, the inclusion of real and simulated air defenses adds more complexity to the exercise, with nations taking turns acting as ‘aggressors’ throughout the event. 

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The primary objective of “Spears of Victory” is to enhance the tactical understanding of all participating nations. Through cooperative actions, the exercise aims to improve the capabilities of participants in jointly planning and executing complex missions in contested airspace scenarios. 

While this year the United States Detachment refrains from aerial maneuvers, they have deployed a diverse National Guard unit to assist with crucial ground support tasks such as fire safety, security, and logistics, which are vital for the smooth conduct of the exercise.

Other fighters

Now in its fourth rendition, the exercise is strategically located in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia. This location provides an ideal setting for enhancing cooperation among the participating Air Forces, particularly given the shared aerial defense challenges they face. 

In this impressive brigade, you’ll find the Royal Air Force [RAF] Typhoons. They are joined by the Royal Saudi Air Force, equipped with their own Typhoons, Tornados, and F-15s. Bahrain, Greece, and the UAE have also enlisted their F-16s, while Qatar is deploying its F-15 jets for this exercise. 

Including their Rafale fighters, a detachment from the French Air and Space Force lends further vigor to the exercise. The Royal Air Force of Oman is also taking part, deploying its Typhoons. Additionally, the Pakistan Air Force makes a compelling contribution, adding their JF-17s to this multinational venture.

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JF-17 and Rafale cross path 

This might be one of the few occurrences where JF-17s and Rafales actually cross paths. Interestingly, India and Pakistan, long-standing rivals, utilize these fighters within their respective forces: IAF [Rafale] and PAF [JF-17s]. Both parties will be keen to gauge their relative performances. 

Per the Pakistan Air Force, their team is set to “demonstrate its enhanced combat capabilities at the exercise, featuring JF-17 Thunder fighter jets, supported by dedicated air and ground crew.” 

“The PAF’s participation showcases their commitment to both local and international cooperation, underlining their proficiency and readiness to operate under diverse and challenging conditions.” 

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PAF challenges

With the employment of a revised training paradigm and strategic implementation of niche technologies, the PAF underscores its commitment to addressing contemporary strategic challenges and maintaining operational readiness. 

“Such endeavors have not only bolstered operational readiness but also highlighted PAF’s steadfastness in maintaining superior operational excellence and adaptability in response to emerging threats,” further remarked the PAF. 

More than just strengthening military ties, this exercise operates as a platform for refining the integrated application of combat and combat support elements. Furthermore, it serves as a testing ground for developing strategies designed to tackle modern-day threats.

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