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Building a partnership

21 April 2016

From earning each other’s parachute wings to complex brigade-level exercises, British and French airborne forces have developed a close partnership that is ready to deploy on operations anywhere in the world at short notice.

16 Air Assault Brigade (16 Air Asslt Bde) and 11e Brigade Parachutiste (11e BP) both provide their armies’ very high readiness airborne forces, a shared role and ethos that meant they were a natural starting place to develop interoperability between the British and French militaries following the 2010 Lancaster House Treaties. The process started while 16 Air Asslt Bde was deployed in Afghanistan on Op HERRICK 13, with early planning becoming joint training on the Brigade’s return in spring 2011.

Bonds of friendship were formed between the two brigades’ units, fostering Anglo-French co-operation across the order of battle. The sappers of 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment built bridges with the sapeurs of 17e Regiment du Genie Parachutiste, while the 105mm Light Guns of 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery fired alongside the 120mm mortars of 35e Regiment d’Artillerie Parachutiste. It is on the foundations built by these relationships that a credible capability has been built.

Joint training in the UK saw French troops experience the harsh environments of Otterburn and Castlemartin, while British troops have trained with their French counterparts in Toulouse, Corsica and CENZUB near Rheims, the largest urban warfare training facility in Europe.

From the command and control perspective, exchange officers were swapped between Headquarters 16 Air Asslt Bde in Colchester and Etat-Major de la 11e BP in Toulouse and joint planning exercises were carried out.

To enable a balance of training opportunity, a lead nation concept was developed whereby the lead nation would command the operation and provide 70 per cent of headquarters staff, with the other partner contributing the remaining 30 per cent. For operations, both Headquarters would contibute to the manning, with national interests influencing which Commander assumes command and control.

A significant way point was Exercise Joint Warrior 13 in 2013. A 1,600-strong joint force built around 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment and 1er Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes was deployed to south west Scotland by parachute, aviation assault and airlanding. The successful exercise saw the partnership validated as ready to deploy on operations and it has since been tested under both British and French leadership.

11e BP commanded Exercise Tears of the Sun 2 in south west France in June 2014, with 16 Air Asslt Bde leading Exercise Eagle Amarante in East Anglia in October 2015. Both exercises saw two battlegroups – one British and one French – working together to plan and execute complex airborne, aviation strike and aviation assault missions up to and including Brigade level.

While units continue to train together, the next run-out for the full combined force is Exercise Swift response in June 2016, the largest airborne exercise in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Within the US Army Europe-led exercise and under command of the US 82nd Airborne Division, British and French paratroopers will jump as part of a Joint Theatre Entry operation into southern Germany with Commander 11e BP at the helm. This promises to provide a great opportunity along a pathway to further deepen links and capabilities of this very high readiness UK-French airborne force.

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