Images have been released of the latest Exercise Point Blank 19-2 – taking place from RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk. The event normally involves upwards of 40 aircraft, including United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) F-15Cs and F-15Es from Lakenheath, RAF Typhoons from RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, and French Air Force Rafales. The latest iteration also includes USAF F-35As. The service has deployed a squadron of the Lightning IIs to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, from the 388th Fighter Wing (FW) and the Air Force Reserve 419th FW, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to participate in exercises and conduct training with other Europe-based aircraft as part of a Theater Security Package (TSP).
The 48th FW has run the Point Blank series since 2016 and it now includes all-important integration of fourth- and fifth-generation assets, helping to raise its profile. Indeed, it’s now being billed as a low-cost alternative to the Red Flag exercises that take place in Nevada and Alaska.
According to the USAF, the objective of the exercise is to “prepare coalition warfighters for a highly contested fight against near-peer adversaries by providing a multi-dimensional battlespace to conduct advanced training in support of US, UK and French national interests.”
As well as providing a chance to strengthen the trilateral partnership between the air arms of the US, UK and France, Point Blank addresses a very real need identified within the US Air Force’s combat force. The exercise’s strategic plan notes that a combination of non-stop operational deployments and budget constraints “have eroded readiness, capacity, and capability for a full-spectrum fight”. The result is that, as of 2016, less than 50% of the USAF’s frontline fleet was ready to respond against a near-peer adversary.
With the cost of sending a UK-based F-15E squadron to Nellis Air Force Base for Red Flag around $4m, Point Blank provides a much cheaper option that’s on USAFE’s doorstep. Beginning as a grass-roots officers’ initiative, Point Blank quickly won enthusiastic support. Since 2016 there have been more than 20 exercises and in excess of 400 aircraft have taken part – including fifth-generation USAF F-22A and F-35A jets returning from deployments in the Middle East or visiting Europe as TSPs. Just as importantly, there’s now a regular exchange of tactics and experience between the USAF and its European allies.