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French, British and US fighter jets train together

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A US Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighter performs a demonstration flight during the inaugural Trilateral Exercise with Britain's Royal Air Force and the French Air Force in Hampton, Virginia/AFP

A US Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighter performs a demonstration flight during the inaugural Trilateral Exercise with Britain’s Royal Air Force and the French Air Force in Hampton, Virginia/AFP

HAMPTON, United States, Dec 17 – American F-22s, British Typhoons and French Rafales – three of the world’s most sophisticated fighter jets – roar through the skies over Virginia in the eastern United States in a show of aerial might.

They are a world away from the deserts of northern Syria and Iraq, where all three militaries are part of a US-led coalition bombing the Islamic State group.

But it is not the fight against the jihadists, who have no air capabilities, that prompted this trilateral training mission.

Instead, the Western allies are focusing on more traditional aerial threats, as well as air-defense systems that are being increasingly deployed around the world.

“Today there are roughly 10 integrated air-defense systems in the world that you would have a difficult time operating in or around,” said General Mark Welsh, the chief of staff of the US Air Force.

“By 10 years from now, they will be 25 or so.”

For about two weeks this month, the planes are training together against a mock enemy, represented by fleets of US F-15s and T-38 training jets.

“It’s fabulous,” said Marco, a Rafale pilot who is not allowed to provide his full name. The Rafale — the name means gust of wind — is the French military’s signature fighter.

“For us French, it’s the first time we’ve really worked in integration with the F-22 Raptor,” Marco added.

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The F-22 is a feat of US technology. The sleek, stealthy craft bristles with sensors and advanced weapons systems, and the US military closely guards its secrets.

Each air force takes turns commanding the mission.

Even among these three allied nations, the air forces are careful not to reveal too much about the capabilities of their flagship planes.

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