Baccarat 2021: Valley Deep - Mountain High

Text and photography by Bjorn van der Flier and Roelof-Jan Gort of
Hosted by the 4th Air Combat Brigade (BAC), the 5th annual edition of Baccarat took place the end of October 2021.
Armee de Terre Tiger
The two-week exercise was split in two; the first week was devoted to preparation, firing and reconnaissance of the terrain, while the second week was the synthesis of the air-land maneuvering. A total of 1,300 soldiers and 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. The exercise actually started weeks earlier with Mistral class amphibious ships, with an exercise called Cormoran ’21. There, a scenario was created where ground and air assets operated day and night from the ships to stop a virtual enemy and to come ashore and push back the enemy into the mainland.

Baccarat 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’s 1st Combat Helicopter Regiment (1 RHC) from Phalsbourg, the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment (5 RHC) from Pau and a detachment of 50 people and four helicopters from the Spanish FAMETs and also a detachment of the US Army.
French NH90
The stage for this year’s war was set in the arid and wild environment of Aveyron, Lozère and Cantal, where a playing field was set out in a rectangular box of about 80 km by 120 km. The size of the playing field was immense and challenging, as was the weather, which could change from a sunny on one day to cloudy on another, making flight operations range from 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.
A soldier overlooks the captured troops while they are transported to another location
The base at La Cavelerie was in a provisional field base set up, as it would be in a real combat situation. 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, such as progression, losses, spare parts, serviceability and ammunition. Not only the friendly troops were monitored, but 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. The second screen was a communication screen, where all communications between friendly forces was shown. Every recipient had the same line of information and could read all messages, which looked like a large live chatroom. Friendly forces also included virtual troops of several friendly nations such as Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and the USA. Representative of those nations followed the normal battle strategies and communications as those countries’ army would do. In doing so it created a larger, more realistic and versatile alliance. Another key point during Baccarat 2021, was that they were simulating facing hostile natives when advancing farther inland.
The loadmaster of the NH90 oversees the starting procedure
Helicopters were based at a provisionally set up airfield in the same way as at La Cavelerie, and it also simulated it to represent a real-time overseas deployment, such as Mali for example. Although the Airdrome of Millau-de Larzac was equipped with its own facilities, such as a control tower, the Armée de Terre brought everything it would need in a time of war. This included a control tower and controllers, meteorological service and housing. Besides controlling the helicopters and local traffic, other traffic in the surrounding area had to be monitored as the region was also utilized by the Armée de L`Air’s jets.

The Airfield hosted several types of helicopters: 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 Baccarat, and this was to the delight of the commander of the detachment, Captain Ignacio of the BHELA 1 at Ciudad Real, operating the EC665 Tiger. The detachment was supplemented with a BHELMA IV Super Puma from Sevilla and BHELEME II AS532 Cougar, which is normally based Valencia. Ignacio said, “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 are the gun and cockpit”. The FAMET is keen on joining 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, as it currently has in Mali, and 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 with them so we can integrate even more in our cooperation in the future”, Captain Ignacio continued.
AS-532UL Cougar ET-601 of the Spanish Army
Baccarat is hosted by the 4th BAC under command of Brigadier General Barbry, who gave us final insight in how Baccarat gives the Armée de Terre more experience and striking power to improve and maintain air superiority, using the some of the most modern military helicopters. In 2021 the general and his staff decided to approach Baccarat on a whole new level, and to go one step beyond previous editions by starting a complete exercise from sea and taking it to land. Although two different names, namely Cormoran and Baccarat, they are essentially the same exercise with the same enemy. According to the 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 continued, “I am happy to finish the exercise. 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 current global operations, the Brig General turned it around and mentioned that it was because the fights they were fighting in Mali or Afghanistan, that they could 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 added. He even hopes to bring Baccarat 2022 to another level and to include more partners, to offer more opportunities. “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”.
Two pilots of the EC-665 Tiger HAD helicopter of the Spanish Army