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Tigers of the Night

NTM2021 Patch
NTM2020 logo with mask

After last year’s NATO Tiger Meet had to be cancelled due the COVID-19 pandemic, this year brought another edition of the high value exercise on Beja Air Base / Portugal. The famous Tiger Meet celebrates this year its 60th birthday and came up with some innovations.

Beja Air Base, Portugal – In the middle of the fresh spring green of the south Portuguese region Alentejo, the 15000 inhabitants counting town of Beja is rising on a small hill. This local metropole with its medieval city center, located just 150 kilometers southeast of the Portuguese capital Lisbon caught quite some public attention in the beginning of May, when the NATO Tiger Meet exercise was started on the close by air base. Already planned for May 2020, this annual high-value exercise had to be postponed until this spring due to CO-VID-19. For a long time, the hosts of the Esquadra 301 were concerned about whether the exer-cise could take place or not. In some moments it seemed quite questionable, especially given the high COVID-19 incidence numbers in Portugal at the beginning of the year.

301 Jaguares F-16 in 'Jaguar' Style Night Ops during NTM2021 (photo by Katsuhiko Tokunaga)
Takeoff for a night mission just after sunset
UM NTM2021 Esq301 group photo (Photo By Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
Hosting Esquadra 301 “Jaguares” and the Portuguese Air Force did all to Organize NATO Tiger Meet 2021 despite the pandemic.

"We made it possible" - Major Emidio Fernandez, squadron commander of the organizing Esquadra 301 from Monte Real, says: "It would have been easy to cancel the exercise, but we did everything we could to carry out the exercise under COVID-19 restrictions and still make it safe for the participants". Colonel Carlos Lourenço of the Portuguese Air Command in Lisbon sees it in a similar way. As a representative of the higher command authorities of the Portuguese Air Force and responsible for conducting the exercise in place at Beja Air Base, he has the following comment: "Our goal with the NATO Tiger Meet 2021 was to show that despite the pandemic, a safe exercise is possible together with excellent operational training. The multinational exercise "Real Thaw", which was successfully carried out at the end of March at Beja Air Base helped us a lot with the go-nogo decision. It was something like a rehearsal for the NATO Tiger Meet," he says, adding: "Apart from having a special health concept for the exercise, we also included new branches, such as cyber warfare and space warning. We also focused on digitization and a mainly contactless exercise."On top of a permanent mask obligation and other hygiene measures, COVID-19 tests were routinely performed with the participants during the exercise and shortly before returning home.

UM NTM2021 Flag ceremony (Photo By Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
NTM participants at flag raising during opening ceremony
UM NTM2021 Flag ceremony 301Sqn F-16 (Photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
F-16 Jets from Esquadra 301 overflying the Flag Ceremony

Best conditions – For the exercise itself, the Beja Air Base was perfect. Originally built and used by the German Luftwaffe between the 1960s and 1990s, the airfield can accommodate up to 120 aircraft. The huge parking area in front of the four large aircraft hangars arranged in a striking semi-circle was the center of activity between the flight periods. For high-value training in the entire range of Composite Air Operations (COMAO), a 200 x 400 nautical mile reserved airspace over the Atlantic and southern Portugal offered best training options at almost all altitude levels. Whereas the fast jets mainly operated over the Atlantic Ocean, heli-ops with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) and Special Forces took place in designated areas over land.

KT NTM2021 301Sqn F-16 A2A 4-ship (Photo By Katsuhiko Tokunage / NTA)
4-Ship Formation Esquadra 301 Jaguares

Late dropouts - Despite several cancellations by Tiger squadrons, some 50 aircraft from 14 flying squadrons initially came together to train in COMAOs. The first week of the exercise then had an unpleasant surprise for the 900 participants at Beja Air Base. The Dutch detachment of the 313 Squadron from Volkel had some COVID-19 cases shortly after arrival, despite careful testing in advance. After mass testing and prophylactic quarantine in the middle of the first week of the exercise, it was decided to send the Dutch contingent back home. "As a result, 10 F-16 jets dropped out for the exercise scenario. We had to compensate for this during the exercise”, explains Marcel S. from the civilian company CAE from Stolberg near Aachen/Germany. As a former Tornado air crew of the Luftwaffe and weapons instructor he looks back on a lot of exercise experience. For the second time CAE successfully supported a large-scale air force exercise with their expertise in terms of exercise flow and scenario control. For the hosts of the Esquadra301, it was a valuable support in carrying out and monitoring the exercise.

UM NTM2021 313Sqn Pilot with face-mask
Sad moment for a 313 SQN pilot when flying back home.
Briefing with face-masks (photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
Not only masks in flight, but also during mission planning

Innovation night flying – For the first time in the sixty-year history of the NATO Tiger Meet, tactical night missions were included in the planning. "In the first week of the exercise the night flying schedule shifted the entire daily routine" reports Senior Captain Nico S., who has been flying with the Esquadra 301 on F-16 jets as a Belgian exchange pilot since 2018. It's not his first Tiger Meet he's taking part in. Already with a well-known tiger squadron, the 31 Squadron of the Belgian Air Force from Kleine Brogel, he has often participated in this special high-value exercise. From his point of view, the NATO Tiger Meet has adapted to new operational requirements with the integration of night operations. New threats and scenarios are taken into account. Other branches of the armed forces, such as the Army with JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) and SOF (Special Operation Forces), as well as the Navy, Cyber Warfare and Space Warning were involved in the exercise scenarios. The focus was put on the integration of many different weapon systems. In large COMAOs with more than 40 aircraft the missions were flown once a day followed up by extensive debriefings. A second flight period with smaller formations, the so-called "Shadow Waves", focused on specific training requirements of the individual squadrons. In addition, the so-called "Panther Waves" were added for the first time with night operations. "At night, everything looks different. Flying at night with NVG (Night Vision Goggles) must be practiced carefully", says Senior Captain Nico S. For him, the integration of night missions is an essential addition to the range of operations of the high-value exercise NATO Tiger Meet.

Ready for takeoff just prior sunset (photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
Ready for takeoff just prior sunset
Eurofighter from 12 Gruppo on takeoff with engine outlets glowing in the dusk. (Photo by Katsuhiko Tokunage / NTA)
Eurofighter from 12 Gruppo on takeoff with engine outlets glowing in the dusk.

Tailored to individual training needs – One of the biggest detachments of this year’s Tiger Meet was 6 ELT from Poland. With 10 F-16 they showed up at Beja to take best advantage of the various training possibilities for their pilots and groundcrews. Their detachment commander, Lieutenant Colonel Arkadiusz Pietrzak, former 6 ELT squadron commander and now operations group commander of the 31st Tactical Air Base at Poznan is highly satisfied with the outcome of the exercise: „We brought many young pilots to this exercise, so that they could gain experience in a multinational environment. We were able to adjust the exercise play with our training needs and produced a considerable number of new mission commanders during the NTM“ he explains and adds: "Night sorties, which are rarely found in European exercises, were a big surplus for us. We are very happy to be part of the NATO Tiger Community. It gives us an excellent possibility to maintain a high quality of operational training and support brotherhood between the different squadrons."

Polish F-16C with tiger scheme returning from mission (Photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
Polish F-16C with tiger scheme returning from mission
Staggered formation of Portuguese F-16's from Esquadro 301 (Photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
Staggered formation of Portuguese F-16's from Esquadro 301

Tiger Spirit - The normal social surplus of a NATO Tiger Meet with contacts to other squadrons and special events like International Night with food and drinks from all over the world or the sportive Tiger Games on the weekends could not be enjoyed this year. COVID-19 did not allow the social events at all. But nevertheless, the famous tiger spirit could still be felt clearly during the exercise. Some squadrons had put lot of effort in their tiger dresses and aircraft paintings. Hosting Esquadra 301 won the award for the “Best Tiger Scheme” for its painted F-16 and added the award “Best Flying Unit” to it. The famous “Silver Tiger Award” went to 12 Gruppo / Italian Air Force for best overall performance and was accompanied by the “Best Tigerdress Award”. The tiger advisors special award, the “Special Tiger Spirit Award” was given to Katsuhiko Tokunaga for his dedication to the NATO Tiger Community. Since 2011 the world known aerial photographer supports the NTA not only with his magnificent air-to-air pictures, but also with his assistance to produce the annual tiger meet book.

12° Gruppo ITAF Proud winners of the Silver Tiger Trophy (Photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
12° Gruppo ITAF Proud winners of the Silver Tiger Trophy
World-famous aerial photographer Katsuhiko Tokunaga receiving the Special tiger spirit Award (Photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
World-famous aerial photographer Kats Tokunaga receiving the Special tiger spirit Award

VIPs visiting – Major General Karsten Stoye, Chief of Staff of the NATO Allied Air Command from Ramstein, was one of the VIPs to visit Beja. During two exercise days at Beja Air Base, he gained a few impressions and has the following assessment: "NATO is very glad to have an exercise in Europe like the NATO Tiger Meet. It underlines its high level of operational readiness and shows its flag with different weapon platforms from many partner states". Major General Stoye also highly appreciates the efforts of the Portuguese Air Force for the fact that the exercise was conducted in an extremely professional manner, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides these positive points, he also has a sad remark: "At this NATO Tiger Meet we miss a person in our rows, who has accompanied this exercise for decades as a senior advisor and good spirit. Don Verhees, retired COLONEL of the US Air Force, ex-Phantom Aircrew and Vietnam veteran has taken off for his "last flight" in March. We will not forget him and preserve his legacy with the NATO Tigers."

Tigri Bianchi from 12° Gruppo ITAF saluting Col ret. Don Verhees (Photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
Tigri Bianchi from 12° Gruppo ITAF saluting Col ret. Don Verhees
RIP - Col ret. USAF  Don Verhees (photo by Ulrich Metternich / NTA)
RIP - Col ret. USAF  Don Verhees

60 years of NATO Tigers – This year, the NATO Tigers can look back with pride on their story of success since 1961. For this reason, the 31 Squadron of the Belgian Air Force, one of the founding squadrons of the NATO Tiger Association, is organizing an anniversary event coming September, which is embedded in a week-long flying exercise that will be executed at Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium. This additional NATO Tiger Meet takes place under the name XTM21 (extra NTM) and will be accompanied by the neighboring Sanicole Air Show on the first weekend of September. It is hoped that by then there will be no major restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic anymore. The 335 Squadron of the Hellenic Air Force from Araxos hopes so for the coming year as well. In May 2022, the squadron will host the next regular NATO Tiger Meet for the first time on Greek soil.

Ulrich Metternich, Oberstleutnant d.R. NTA Staff for NTA – Cologne, 31. May 2021

Participants NATO Tiger Meet 2021

Tiger Units Numbers Aircraft / Ship Homebase Remarks
301 Esq / PoAF 6 F-16A/B MLU Montijo  
335 Mira / HAF 4 F-16C/D Block 52+ Araxos  
12° Gruppo / ItAF 5 EF-2000 "Typhoon" Gioia del Colle  
21° Gruppo / ItAF 1 HH-101A "Caesar" Grazzanise  
  1 Bell-Agusta AB-212 Grazzanise  
6 ELT / PolAF 10 F-16C/D Block 52+ Poznań-Krzenisy  
Staffel 11 / SwAF 4 F/A-18C Meiringen  
313 Sqn / RNlAF (10) F-16A/B MLU Volkel Termination due to Covid-19


External Units Numbers Aircraft / Ship Homebase Remarks
552 Esq / PoAF 2 AW-119 "Koala" Beja  
601 Esq / PoAF 1 P-3C Orion Beja  
751 Esq / PoAF 1 AW-101 "Merlin" Sintra  
AVDef / Civil 1 Falcon DA-20 Saint-Gilles (France) only 1st week
Allied Air Command     Ramstein (Germany) Cyber-branch
US Space Force     Colorado (USA) Space Warning
CAE     Stolberg (Germany) Mission & exercise Support
JTAC     Portugal, Denmark, Netherlands Forward Air Controller
Special Forces CTOE (PoArmy)     Lamege (Portugal)  
EDCA 0/36 "Berry" / FAF 1 Boeing E-3F Avord (France) out of Avord
1 Sqn / NATO 1 Boeing E-3A Geilenkirchen (Germany) out of Geilenkirchen
CTF-67 / US NAvy 1 P-8A Poseidon Sigonella AB (Italy) Out of Sigonella
502 Esq / PoAF 1 Casa C-295 Out of Montijo
Marinha Portuguesa 2 Frigate Lissabon  
  1 Submarine trident class Lissabon  
  1 Patrol boat Lissabon  
  1 Amphib. boat Lissabon  
Marine Militare 1 Frigate Italy  



Award Unit / Person Remarks
Silver Tiger 12° Gruppo - ItAF  
Best Flying Squadron
  1. 301 Esquadra - PoAF
  2. 6 ELT - PolAF
  3. Staffel 11 - SwAF
Best Aircraft Painting
  1. 301 Esquadra - PoAF
  2. 12 Gruppo - ItAF
  3. Staffel 11 - SwAF
Best Tiger Dress
  1. 12° Gruppo - ItAF
  2. 301 Esquadra - PoAF
  3. 6 ELT - PolAF
Special Tiger Spirit Award Katsuhiko Tokunaga - Aerial Photographer Supports the NTA since 2011 with Aerial Photography
Best Tiger Sketch   N/A
Tiger Games   N/A