features Baccarat 2020: Caimans, Cougars, Gazelles and Tigers in the Alps

The French military’s fourth annual Exercise Baccarat took place in the French Alps in September with more than 1,000 troops and two dozen helicopters practicing combined-arms maneuver operations in mountainous terrain.
Dan Parsons By Dan Parsons | December 11, 2020

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 30 seconds.

Photos by Dennis van der Wiel and Martijn Venix

The French military’s fourth annual Exercise Baccarat took place in the French Alps from Sept. 14 through 25, with more than 1,000 troops and two dozen helicopters practicing combined-arms maneuver operations in mountainous terrain.

Two Aérospatiale Gazelle Helicopters belonging to the French Army Light Aviation forces fly low over a field during the 2020 Exercise Baccarat.

The major air-land combat training exercise in open terrain took place in an area of 150 by 250 kilometers divided into three zones between the towns of Valence, Grenoble, Briançon and Gap.

The exercise was designed to maintain air combat capabilities of the 4th Airmobile Brigade (4th AAB) in partnership with the 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade (27th MIB) and train for high-intensity combat in mountainous environments.

More than 1,200 troops, 27 units and over 30 helicopters, including a detachment of the 4th Army Air Corps regiment with two WAH-64 Apaches (three were planned) participated in the exercise.

The presence of a substantial opposing force brought added realism to the exercise. The exercise was an opportunity to control the command post of the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment (5 CHR) and to train the entire chain of command with its communications tools in a digital format.

The 2020 iteration of the exercise was split into two phases. The first, from Sept. 14 to 18, was devoted to setting up various command posts of the combined arms tactical groups, technical and reconnaissance flights in the mountains and live fire on the fields of Suippes and Canjuers. 

The second phase, called the tactical phase or live exercise, took place from Sept. 19 to 24. During this phase, the helicopter operations ranged from commando infil/exfiltration to airborne assault, seizure of mountain passes and tracking down terrorism suspects in built-up areas.

A pair of Airbus Tiger attack helicopters participate in Exercise Baccarat in September in the French Alps.

ALAT set up a particularly realistic and ambitious scenario made difficult by a demanding mountain environment and involving a conventional enemy particularly well equipped and capable of waging high-intensity, modern war. In this scenario, the 4th BAC and allies had to face an opposing force that was equivalent to them in terms of preparation, armament and determination.

Several French Army Light Aviation (ALAT) units participated in Baccarat, including the 1st Combat Helicopter Regiment (CHR) with Aérospatiale SA341 Gazelles, NH90 and Airbus Tiger attack helicopters. The 3rd CHR, the “Regiment of the Night,” brought seven Gazelles, and the 5th CHR took part with Gazelles, NH90s, Airbus AS532 (now H215M) Cougars and Tigers.

During the multi-day exercise, helicopter operations ranged from commando infil/exfiltration to airborne assault, seizure of mountain passes and tracking down terrorism suspects.

Absent from the 2020 edition of the exercise was the FAMET (Fuerza Aeromóviles del Ejército de Tierra), the Spanish version of French Army Light Aviation (ALAT), which did not send a contingent for Baccarat because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In previous iterations of the exercise, the Spanish have contributed CH-47 Chinook, Tiger and NH90 helicopters. 

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