Exercise Point Blank kicked off this week at RAF Lakenheath, UK — offering the world it’s first glimpse of America’s fastest fighter, the UK’s most advanced fighter, and France’s workhorse platform all flying side by side in joint operations. These drills are aimed specifically at preparing for a near-peer or peer level conflict with the likes of Russia, with all three nations working not only to increase interoperability between fourth and fifth generation fighters, but between the different national air forces as well.

“This particular exercise is different to any ones that we’ve done previously because of the threats that are out there. It’s the first time we’ve done a peer exercise and that we’ve worked alongside French and US partners,” Wing Commander John “Butch” Butcher, the officer commanding 617 squadron, said.

For the UK, this training was particularly valuable, as the RAF continues to develop procedures to integrate the F-35E, the nation’s first fifth-generation fighter, into a force comprised primarily of fourth-generation aircraft like the American F-15 and the French Rafale, both squarely considered to be parts of the fourth generation of fighters.

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, a Royal Air Force Voyager from RAF Brize Norton and a RAF F-35B Lightning II from RAF Marham fly in formation during Point Blank 18-3, Nov. 27, 2018. (DoD)

While Point Blank is an annual exercise, this year’s is the largest that’s ever been conducted, with nearly double the aircraft of last year’s training cycle participating in Point Blank ’18. This year also marks the first time French forces have participated in the drill, echoing a similar level of cooperation between US, UK, and French governments from earlier this year when the three nations joined forces to conduct “punitive” missile strikes against Syrian targets implicated in the use of chemical weapons against civilians in the nation’s ongoing civil war.

“We can see the environment is changing, we can see the challenge that Russia is giving to the international rules-based order so we are the insurance policy and we are recognizing that through the scenario that we’ve got, the non-permissive environment, and our ability to operate with our allies, the French and the Americans, is paramount. It really is a case of us staying ready so that we can be used if we’re needed. It’s a great insurance policy.” Air Commodore Jez Attridge, RAF Joint Force Air Component Commander, explained in an official Royal Air Force release.

Watch the footage, captured from inside the cockpit of one of the F-15E, of these jets training alongside one another for the first time:

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Feature image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense