Fighters begin their reconnaissance flights from Gran Canaria. Eurofighter and Spanish F-18, USAF F-15 Eagle alongside the Turkish 151 SQN F-16.

You may have noticed a lot of warplanes over Gran Canaria over the last week with more expected over coming days.  Nothing to worry about, it is just a bunch of US F15 and Turkish F16 fighter jets engaging in the skies over the east Atlantic pursued by Spanish F18s and Eurofighters, just your normal everyday NATO Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training (DACT) manoeuvres ongoing in the skies above The Canary Islands, literally trying to slip under the radar while they fly simulation sortees of increasing difficulty to the top secret military no fly zone 150km or so due south of Gran Canaria.

The long awaited Ocean Sky 2019 DACT exercise is taking place over the Canary Islands archipelago until October 30, 2019.

Spanish Hornet showing off its false canopy painted on the underside of the aircraft. The purpose of which is to disorientate an opponent in close-up dogfighting

Led by the resident McDonnell-Douglas FA-18A fighter jets, belonging to the Ejército Del Aire (Spanish Air Force), flying from their main NATO base at Gando (the restricted area around the little peninsula beside the main Gran Canaria airport) located to the east of the two main runways at the LPA international airport, opposite the civilian passenger terminal. The base features ten Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) on the southern end of the eastern runway of the Base Aérea de Gando, in which several mission ready fighters are housed ready for operations down the west coast of Africa

The annual NATO DACT operations gives air crews from member states the opportunity to fly air superiority sorties against the Spanish Hornets and Typhoons to validate their TTPS (Tactics and Technics Procedures).

Official annual DACT exercises have been happening over Gran Canaria since 2004, and with last year’s announcement of US participation the event was renamed Operation Ocean Sky.  It offers an unparalleled opportunity for cross-fertilization between countries, allowing NATO allies to pit their skills and techniques against each other to learn and understand more about their combined capabilities and to test new types of hardware in a full operational environment.

The Gando & Las Palmas de Gran Canaria based Mando Aereo de Canarias MACAN are the only regional air command in Spain working alongside MAGEN General Command and the MACOM Combat Air Command. Every year they host a range of NATO member state fighter crews and support operations to test the metal of some of the best available pilots and military hardware in the skies over this European Atlantic outpost off the North West coast of Africa.

Plenty of ‘jelly-air’ as a Hornet blasts out of Gando

The McDonnell-Douglas EF-18M Hornet dates back to 1986, and provides the backbone of the Ejército del Aire, with some 60+ aircraft still in service. The recently introduced Thales Scorpion full-colour, Helmet-Mounted-Cueing-System, combined with its impressive weapons fit, the EF-18M is likely to be around for many years to come. These hunter Hornets are utilised in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles, ready to be deployed out of Gando at a moments notice, and running daily missions to ensure the security of the skies over and around the archipelago.

Providing Search & Rescue (SAR) duties during DACT is the resident 802 Escuadron, part of Ala.46. Formed in 1955, the unit works in conjunction with the El Centro Co-ordinador (RCC) and the Salvamento Maritimo (Coast Guard) in providing SAR for the Canary Islands and the surrounding area. Operating a fleet of two, Casa 235MPs and two, Aerospatiale AS.332 Super Pumas, both used during the exercises. With the Casa 235  airborne along with the fighter elements; to be on constant ‘guard’, whilst the Super Puma remains on readiness at Gando, prepared to launch at short notice.

The air defence of the Canary Islands archipelago, like that of the rest of the Spanish territory, is the responsibility of NATO (Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty) with national forces at its disposal.

Exercising these capabilities, Combat Air Command (MACOM) deploy hunting units from Gando air base (Gran Canaria) and auxiliary units from the Lanzarote Military Aerodrome. The hunting units are supported by the famous NATO AWACS platform (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) which is the first to take off and the last to arrive back after each days exercises.

The purpose of the exercise is to train and test the capabilities of the Command and Control structure of the Combat Air Command in an air superiority campaign, which helps them to increase their level of preparation for air-to-air combat among Air Force fighter units as tested alongside invited foreign units. Novelties of this year’s Ocean Sky DACT include the participation of the 493 U.S. Air Force Squadron, based out of RAF Lakenheath in the UK and equipped with F-15C aircraft and 151 Turkish Air Force Squadron equipped with F-16 aircraft.

An F-15C Eagle assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron launches for a sortie in support of the Spanish-led air-to-air combat training exercise, OCEAN SKY 19 at Gando Air Base Oct. 22, 2019. Exercises like OCEAN SKY remain a symbol of the shared commitment between Spain, the U.S. and NATO to maintaining the continued security of Europe. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

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