By Pierre Tran
PARIS - The French Navy is sending 10 warships and 30 aircraft as part of France's contribution to the forthcoming NATO exercise Brilliant Mariner, intended to certify the maritime component in the NATO Response Force (NRF), Adm. Jean-Louis Kérignard said March 25.
The strong naval participation reflects France's support for the NRF effort, which Paris sees as a tool for transformation and interoperability but does not extend to deployment in Afghanistan, said Army Gen. Philippe Got.
"This is the first time the French Navy sends so many ships," Kérignard said. "There will be a high French visibility. There is a lot at stake."
Kérignard is the commander of the French maritime high readiness force, based at Toulon, and will command the overall Brilliant Mariner exercise, which includes 36 surface vessels, four submarines and 31 aircraft from 11 NATO countries. Sweden, which is not a NATO member, has been invited to take part and is sending two corvettes and a minehunter.
The French deployment includes the Charles de Gaulle carrier carrying 19 fighter aircraft - seven Rafales and 12 Super Etendards - along with two Hawkeye spy planes, the Mistral projection and command ship, and a nuclear attack submarine, the Emeraude.
The exercise will run from April 12-22 and is intended to qualify the maritime component for a six-month period of standby from July 1. The objective of the exercise will be to stabilize the situation in the fictitious region of Cesaria, with the fleet and its air arm responding to scenarios crafted to reflect current events, including piracy, ethnic cleansing and terrorist threats.
Part of the exercise will include responding to the Visby stealth corvettes operated by the Swedish Navy. Denmark will field F-16 fighters, tasked from the NATO Brilliant Ardent land exercise to be held in Germany at the same time.
The U.S. Navy is sending the frigate Boone and an Orion P-3 maritime patrol aircraft.
Germany and Denmark are hosting the exercise, which will take place in the North Sea.
The French ships will sail from Toulon to join the other elements in the operational zone. Kérignard said it would be the first time he will sail in those waters. On the way to the exercise area, the French task force will train with the Spanish Navy, which will deploy surface ships, and on the return journey the task force will train with the British Royal Navy, which is expected to sail a Type 45 Daring class destroyer.
The French support for the NRF is based on the original concept of a quick reaction force for deployment outside the European theater, Got said. That doctrine does not extend to using the force to meet operational requirements in the Afghan theater, as the United States and Britain would like to see. Other European nations in the Alliance share the French position, which is that the reaction force is on standby to meet emerging crises, he said.