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Rafale jet fighters prepare to scramble for war games over France’s skies

Rafale jets based in the United Arab Emirates, where French aerial war games are also undertaken.
Rafale jets based in the United Arab Emirates, where French aerial war games are also undertaken. AFP PHOTO / ECPAD
Text by: David Coffey with RFI
4 min

Four times a year, France’s Air and Space Force organise a mock attack on an enemy objective that it must destroy with a nuclear strike. And this new round of war games, nicknamed “Poker”, will be taking place on 15 September across French airspace.

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Up until 2014, the use of “Poker” to describe the simulation was somewhat taboo within the French Air Force.

But everyone knew that "Poker" was the name of a mock nuclear air raid carried out over French territory that include air-to-air refuelling of fighters, low altitude penetration by fighter bombers and the simulated shooting down of a missile (once the nuclear charge has been deactivated).

"This is a classic mission," said General Patrick Charaix, commander of the Strategic Air Force, which is responsible for the aerial contingent of France’s nuclear deterrent. "Ground tracking at very low altitude and very high speed to cross defence systems."

This evening’s war games are very different, however, to how the United States tests its defence response. 

“They chose the high altitude raid,” said Charaix. “With stealth aircraft and a massive deployment of electronic warfare planes. They’re less discreet ... Tonight, the raid includes about 15 planes. But Poker can also comprise of missions with up to 50 devices if you include those who play the role of the defenders."

On Tuesday, as reported in the French press and confirmed by the Ministry of the Armed Forces, a "Poker game” will take place over France.

The main players at the table: Rafale jets, Awacs E3-F aerial surveillance command posts and in-flight refuelling planes.

Rendez-vous in the skies over Brittany

The attack, search and support planes will gather off the coast of Brest in Finistère, with the fleet then crossing the Bay of Biscay, passing over Biarritz towards Corsica, before turning left and heading towards their target north of the Massif Central mountain range.

During this raid, anti-aircraft defence systems will be tracing and tracking the sky to hunt down the attackers.

Although this evening’s exercises are only a test, in the event of a real crisis and a direct threat to France, it would be up to the Rafale jets to lead a warning strike.

That warning strike would be the president's decision to use an atomic weapon, something that French pilots would not consider to be trivial.

Tensions in the Med

Poker takes place in France comes as Greece's prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, outlined plans to upgrade his country's defence capabilities at the weekend, amid heightened tensions with Turkey over rights to resources in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Speaking on Saturday, Mitsotakis said Athens would procure 18 new French-made Rafale fighter planes to replace its ageing Mirage 2000 fighters.

France has welcomed the Rafale acquisition, the first by a European country.

Although NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have deployed naval and air force units to assert their competing claims over energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish survey vessels and drill ships continue to prospect for gas in waters where Greece and the European island nation of Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights. 

 

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