Off Corsica, combat boats have replaced luxury yachts: 6,000 soldiers from six allied countries are training for war until the beginning of December in a full-scale naval battle in the western Mediterranean.
The Polaris 21 exercise, organized by the Navy, “aims to integrate today’s international environment which is marked by state tensions”, especially along the Syrian coasts in the eastern Mediterranean or in the northeast. of Europe, on the side of Belarus, in order to “prepare the Navy as well as the air and land forces for high intensity engagements”, explains Rear Admiral Emmanuel Slaars from the Tonnerre amphibious helicopter carrier of the French Navy from where he commands operations.
After decades of involvement in so-called asymmetric conflicts in the face of volatile and agile jihadist units, Western countries are now also preparing for the return of clashes between states with fights between comparable forces at multiple levels – military, diplomatic, spatial, commercial, cyber, informational …-.
In this exercise, the challenge is to “synchronize” interventions “under the sea, on the surface, in the air”, while integrating “interactions with the space environment” which intervenes “in the field of intelligence” as well as interference from cyberspace with, for example, information or false allegations likely to support or hinder military action, continues Emmanuel Slaars. For the occasion, a “fake Twitter system” was thus created.
The forces engaged in Polaris 21 must also take into consideration “mandates given by the UN Security Council”.
– Deterrent capacity –
These maneuvers, which began on November 18 and will end on December 3, involve significant military resources from six allied countries, France, Great Britain, United States, Spain, Italy, Greece: 25 ships and 65 planes divided into two camps clash in the western Mediterranean, from the French coasts to the south of Sardinia (Italy) and the Balearic coasts (Spain) to the west. Two boats are also present on the Atlantic Ocean.
Several flagships of the French armed forces are participating in Polaris 21: the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier with its 20 Rafale fighter jets and its two E-2C Hawkeye aerial surveillance aircraft, a nuclear attack submarine or the Tonnerre.
There are also 13 frigates including five foreigners, six patrol boats and three supply vessels to restore “realistically” the conditions of the fight even if, in this case, death does not lurk.
In the headquarters area of the Tonnerre helicopter carrier, the concentration can be read on the faces of the officers with their eyes riveted on maps, radars or other “defense secret” documents.
The “red” force of which it is part, represents an army of a fictitious country called “Mercury”. Facing it, a “blue” force, united around Charles-de-Gaulle, embodies an inter-allied coalition led by France.
Since midnight, “red” troops have left Tonnerre north of Bastia aboard amphibious boats to join incognito, along the coasts, the city of Porto-Vecchio, in the south of Corsica, where they gave the ‘assault at 6:00 a.m.
Objective: to place “a ground-to-air defense battery” in order to complicate “the maneuver of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Strait of Bonifacio”, explains the “red” commander of Tonnerre, Guillaume Tandonnet.
“We have boats of the blue force which turn around us and which try to test us or even sink us so necessarily there is a certain tension”, he explains although this tension is obviously different than during a real conflict.
If it allows to sharpen the operational capacities of the armies, the Polaris 21 exercise also aims to “demonstrate that France and its allies are particularly attached to maintaining the freedom of navigation in the Mediterranean”, underlines Rear Admiral Slaars . One way of showing the general public and potential adversaries “the deterrent capacity of the French Navy,” told AFP an officer participating in the exercise.