French Navy Kicks Off Force-on-Force Drills in Mediterranean with Partner Nations, NATO

November 19, 2021 2:01 PM
French Defense Ministry Photo

KUALA LUMPUR – The French Navy started a major force-on-force operational readiness exercise called POLARIS 21 on Thursday in the western Mediterranean.

Polaris 21, which comes from the French name for the exercise — Préparation Opérationnelle en Lutte Aéromaritime, Résilience, Innovation et Supériorité — also includes a segment on the Atlantic coast of mainland France. The French Army and Navy and partner nations Greece, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and a NATO element are participating in the drills.

POLARIS 21 is an operational preparation and multi-domain exercise for a high intensity engagement, which is fully in line with the strategic vision of the chief of the armed forces and the Mercator Acceleration 21 plan of French Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Pierre Vandier, according to a French Defense Ministry news release. The exercise will also focus on information and space capabilities.

While the French armed forces retain the capacity to act on their own, the normal framework for their engagement is that of collective action through the strengthening of operational partnerships with many countries, the release said. As such, POLARIS 21 will mobilize all the components of the French Navy, land and air assets of the French Army and the French Air Force, as well as ships and aircraft from partner nations.

POLARIS 21 will involve 23 ships, one submarine, 65 aircraft and 6,000 personnel. The exercise scenario aims to test the multiple capabilities of an air-sea force made up of the French carrier battle group organized around aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) facing an opposition force gathered around LHD Tonnerre (L9014), which represents the fictitious country Mercure. The Charles de Gaulle group is the Blue Force, while Tonnerre is the Red Force. The opposition force will be reinforced by an air and land element for contesting air-sea space. The exercise will also complete the preparations of the Charles De Gaulle carrier group for its next operational deployment set to begin in February 2022.

POLARIS 21 will began with a warm-up phase on Nov. 18 that will go through Nov. 25. The live exercise phase between the opposing forces will take place from Nov. 25 to Dec. 3.

Units taking part in the exercise are:

Task Force 473 – Blue Force

Carrier Group: Carrier Charles De Gaulle (R91) with an embarked air wing of 20 Rafales (Flottilles 12F and 17F), 2 E2-C Hawkeye Airborne Warning and Control System (Flottille 4F), 1 NH90 Caiman helicopter (Flottille 31F) and 2 Dauphine helicopters (Flottille 35F). American destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78), French frigates FS Alsace (D656) and FS Provence (D652), Greek frigate HS Adrias (F459), Italian frigate ITS Carlo Bergamini (F590), Spanish frigate ESPS Méndez Núñez (F-104) and support from a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

Surface Action Group: French frigate FS Aquitaine (D650) in the Atlantic and frigate FS Aconit (F713) in the Mediterranean.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft: Atlantique 2 Maritime Patrol Aircraft operating from Lann-Bihoué Naval Air Base, France.

Replenishment Support: French replenishment ship FS Marne (A630) and Spanish replenishment ship ESPS Cantabria (A15).

Naval Special Action Capability: French Support Ship FS Loire (A602).

Mine Warfare Group: French Minehunters FS Orion (M645) and FS Lyre (M648), with and explosive ordnance disposal group.

Task Force 472 – Red Force (Mercure)

Amphibious Group: LHD Tonnere (L9014) with an embarked tactical group of the13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion (13e DBLE), French destroyer FS Forbin (D620), U.K. destroyer HMS Dragon (D35) and French frigate FS Auvergne (D654).

Surface Action Group: Destroyer FS Latouche-Tréville (D615) in the Atlantic, while Offshore Patrol Vessels FS Commandant Birot (F796) and FS Commandant Ducuing (F795) will both operate in the Mediterranean.

Maritime Patrol: Atlantique 2 operating from Sigonella NATO Air Base in Italy.

Replenishment: U.S replenishment ship USNS John Lenthall (T-AO-189).

Mine Warfare: Minesweeper FS Achéron (A613).

Ground-Based Air Defense: French Air Force Mamba mobile surface-to-air missile battery with Giraffe mobile radar, French Army Mistral Man-portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) of the 54th Artillery Regiment.

Air Capability: French Navy Rafales (Flottille 11F) operating from De Hyères Naval Air Base, France, French Air Force Rafales, Dassault Mirage 2000 aircraft and Alpha Jets.

In addition, a French Navy submarine and a NATO E-3F AWACS will operate with both forces alternately during the exercise.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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