Baccarat 2021 “Valley deep – mountain high”

Baccarat 2021
"Valley deep-mountain high"

Hosted by the 4th Air Combat Brigade (4th BAC), the 5th annual edition of Baccarat took place the end of October 2021. Split into 2 weeks total, the first week was devoted to preparation, firing and reconnaissance of the terrain, while the second week will be the synthesis of the air-land maneuvering. A total of 1,300 soldiers, 15 units, 32 combat helicopters of the French Armée de Terre and the Spanish Fuerza Aeromóvilles del Ejército de Tierra (FAMET) participated in the high intensity real life-size combat simulation. An exercise which actually started weeks earlier while stationed at the Mistral class amphibious ships, with an exercise called Cormoran ’21. From the ships a scenario was created where the ground and air assets operating day and night from the ships in to stop the virtual enemy and to come ashore and push back the enemy back into mainland.

The Baccarat exercise mobilizes significant human and material resources,  including Legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment (2e REI) and the 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment (1er REG), together with assets  of the 1st Infantry Regiment (1st RI) and the 13th Engineer Regiment (13th RG), Supported by helicopters of the  Armée de Terre from the 1st Combat Helicopter Regiment (1 RHC) from Phalsbourg, the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment (5 RHC) from Pau and a detachment of 50 people and 4 helicopters from the Spanish FAMETs and as a last a detachment of the US Army. 

Stage for this year’s war, were the departments of Aveyron, Lozère and Cantal, where a playing field was set out in a rectangle box of about 80km by 120km. The departments were chosen by the fact that it has an arid and wild environment. The size of the playing field is immense and challenging, as was the weather. The weather could change from a sunny day on one to a low cloud on the other making flight operations difficult to almost impossible. The army base of 13th DBLE (demi-brigade of the Foreign Legion), near the village of La Cavalerie, hosted the main combat base, and the Airfield of Millau-Larzac hosted most of the Armée de Terre and FAMET helicopters.

The main combat base at La Cavelerie was in a provisional field base set up, like it would be in a real combat situation in a different environment. The base consisted of several tents, and a central command tent from which all ground and air assets were monitored and coordinated for any status possible like progression, losses, spare parts, serviceability and ammunition. Not only the friendly troops were monitored, also the enemy losses and positions. The main control room was dominated by two large digital screens, one screen was a large digital map, and in case this one should fail, a normal map was kept with the same information manually. The second screen was a communication screen, where all communications between all the friendly forces were shown. Every recipient has the same line of information and could read all messages, which looked like a large live chatroom. The friendly forces also included virtual troops of several friendly nations like Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands and the USA, this was done a representative of that nation which followed the normal battle strategies and communications like that nations army would do. In doing so this creates a larger more realistic and versatile troops alliance. Another key point during Baccarat 2021 was that they were simulating facing hostile natives when advancing further inland as they were in a different country of different origins. 

The helicopters were based at a provision set-up airfield in the same way as at La Cavelerie, and it also simulated it in the same way as a real-time overseas deployment, like Mali as example. Although the Airdrome of Millau-de Larzac was equipped with its own provisions like a control tower, the Armée de Terre brought everything they would need in a wartime, this included their own control tower and controllers, meteorological service and housing. Besides controlling the helicopters and local traffic, also other traffic in the surrounding area had to be monitored as the region was also utilized by the Armée de L`Air jets.

“We are very happy to Join the French army during Baccarat, they are the best ally for us because we both have the same fleet of helicopters”

The Airfield hosted several types of helicopters of the following: NH90 Caïman, EC665 Tiger HAD, SA342M Gazelle of de Armée de Terre and EC665 Tiger HAD, AS332B1 Super Puma and AS523UL Cougar of the FAMET. It was the third time that the Spanish FAMET participated in the Baccarat exercise and this was to the delight of the commander of the Detachment Captain Ignacio of the BHELA 1 at Ciudad Real operating with the EC665 Tiger. The detachment supplemented with a BHELMA IV Super Puma from Sevilla and BHELEME II AS532 Cougar which is normally based Valencia. He starts with: “we are very happy to Join the French army during Baccarat, they are the best ally for us because we both have the same fleet of helicopters”. Both the Armée de Terre and FAMET operate the EC665, AS332 and AS532, although not present during this edition, the FAMET also operates the NH90 Caïman. “The EC665 Tigers are basically the same airframe with only a few differences for the FAMET”, as Captain Ignacio continues, “the only differences are that we have HF radios and use different Air to ground rockets. We use the Spike Missile while the French use the Hellfire, both equally capable, the rest is the same as the gun and cockpit”. The FAMET is very keen on joining the Baccarat exercises as they offer so much more than regular training, the main learning curve comes from the overseas deployment of the Armée de Terre like they currently have in Mali and with the experiences gained during these deployments offer so much information about planning and executing the missions. “Also, we can update our procedures and share ours to them so we can integrate even more in out corporation in the future”, captain Ignacio continues.

“Because high intensity war is only possible with coalition, we will not engage or perform any kind of high intensity fight alone, we need to train with our partners”

The Baccarat exercise is hosted and controlled by the 4th BAC under command of Brigadier General Barbry, who gives us a final insight how Baccarat gives the Armée de Terre more experience, striking power, to improve and remain air superiority using the some of the most modern military helicopters. From 2005 until 2018 there was a significant gap in large scale exercises like baccarat. During that period it very difficult to difficult to manage these and 2017 Baccarat was initialized by the Armée de Terre as it was seen there was such a shortfall. The reasons for this were many and  did not only come from worldwide military operations.  In 2021 the Brig General and his staff decided to approach Baccarat ’21 on a whole new level, and to go one step beyond previous editions with starting a complete exercise from sea and taking it to land. Although 2 different names, namely Cormoran and Baccarat, they are basically the same exercise and the same enemy we are fighting, according to the Brig General. “Most of the crews that started during Cormoran are still here for Baccarat, only the location of the command post, or CP has changed”, he says, “I am happy to finish the exercise,  after a couple of weeks going to bed at 01:00 and waking up at 06:00, and to give leadership to a high intensity battle is very exhausting”.  These long days come from the fact that during some parts of the operations, night missions were carried out with some 20 helicopters facing an enemy with advanced anti-aircraft weapons. When asked about the lessons learned from baccarat to implement in the current global operations, the Brig General turns it around and mentions that it is because the fights they fight in Mali or Afghanistan, they can use some parts of that experience during Baccarat, “and we are still learning, because the way the enemy fights and the more advanced weapons they use”, the General adds. The Brig General even hopes to bring the 2022 to another level and hopes to include more partners, to offer more opportunities, general says, we would like to welcome all of our partners, Spain, Germany and so on for Baccarat 2022, because high intensity war is only possible with coalition, we will not engage or perform any kind of high intensity fight alone, we need to train with our partners”.