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Stronger Together: French Air Force combines with CAOC to enhance airpower

By Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs

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To conduct the synchronization of air assets across more than 4 million miles of U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, a dynamic force comprised of men and women scattered throughout multiple divisions and cells is needed. It is within the Combined Air Operations Center walls, here, where these sections transform into a harmonic and well-oiled machine that sees the output of kinetic and non-kinetic air warfare come together every day, every hour.

To make this happen, it is not just the joint service members of the U.S. military. It takes a coalition team, currently comprised of 18 nations, that has come together with the common goal of promoting peace in the region, and when all else fails, coordinating and delivering war-winning airpower.

Part of this coalition team is a detachment of the French Air Force that consists of approximately 25 members who are integrated throughout the CAOC’s different sections, assisting in the coordination and deliverance of coalition airpower in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve.

“France has been providing different type of assets since the beginning  of Operation Inherent Resolve such as fighters, tankers, airborne warning and control system, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in order to conduct various missions within the coalition,” said French Air Force Col. Bernard, the French senior national representative to the CAOC. “We are here in the CAOC to ensure the optimization and coordination of their use, employment, as well as the national control to ensure that they are employed in the frame set by our French military command.”

For more than a decade, leaders in France have made it a priority to deploy service members to the CAOC and other locations across the region in support of different operations. In years past, French forces have supported Operation Freedom's Sentinel, Resolute Support mission, and different train and advise missions. The nation’s current engagement, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, is an ongoing coalition effort to work by, with and through regional partners to militarily defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly known as Daesh in the region, in order to enable whole-of-coalition governmental actions to increase regional stability.

“It’s not one country fighting against ISIS, it’s all the countries fighting, so it gives more legitimacy to the coalition itself and provides more means and assets to conduct the missions,” Bernard said. “We bring part of the assets as well as the spirit of the coalition.”   

Working hand in hand with the coalition partners is the 609th Air Operations Center, the U.S. Air Force’s component to the CAOC.

“Team France has been an incredible partner throughout all of Operation Inherent Resolve, but our relationship with France in the CAOC extends beyond just OIR,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Frederick Coleman, 609th AOC commander. “We share an air defense mission - they bring unique capabilities that we otherwise wouldn't have. They have been with us in Afghanistan almost since the beginning.  And I expect that we'll be partners in all things for generations to come.”

Once air tasking orders are generated and coordinated from the CAOC, French service members at the tactical level throughout the region receive and execute the orders using the French Rafale fighter aircraft. This can be in the form of close air support to troops on the ground, lethal and non-lethal air support, and alert support for any event that may arise in real time.

“We are doing the same missions as the other fighters: the F-15, F-16 and F-35,” Bernard  said. “Like the other fighters, the Rafale is a multi-role aircraft able to conduct simultaneous close air support, defense counter air or tactical reconnaissance, or switch rapidly from one of these missions to the other in the area of operations as needed by the coalition.”

One recent example of the capabilities of the coalition team is an operation that was conducted on the early morning of May 10. After an air refueling carried out by a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender, two French Rafale jets dropped munition which destroyed a building used by Daesh fighters as a beddown location, west of Kirkuk Province, Iraq, in an area identified as a sanctuary for the terrorist group. This mission directly contributed to reducing the military potential of the terrorist organization in order to prevent any resurgence on its part. The French Rafale’s continued their daily missions to support Iraqi forces and also to carry out reconnaissance and air superiority missions over Iraq and Syria.

As the senior leader for French forces within the CAOC, Bernard credits the coalition service members within the facility and said he remains amazed by how the facility generates and delivers airpower throughout the region.

“I think it’s impressive to see directly and from inside how the CAOC provides and delivers airpower, and the organization and the processes that allow that. It’s huge and impressive,” Bernard said. “It’s very interesting also, to see how to make a coalition work with so many nations.”

After years of forged bonds between service members hailing from all parts of the globe, a deeper sense of partnership is developed beyond the nation and service name on the uniform they wear.

“Here in the CAOC, the French are not just our allies and partners, they're also our friends,” Coleman said. “They bring with them a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and capability.”