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Escadron de Chasse 2/12; Cambrai-Epinoy, June 8, 2003

Picardie and its Mirages; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

Escadron de Chasse 02.012 is stationed at Cambrai-Epinoy in the northern part of France. This combat unit is equipped with the Dassault Mirage 2000. The main task of the squadron is the aerial defense of the northern airspace of France. The unit was already several times deployed during various conflicts in the world.

The French airbase Cambrai-Epinoy is located in northern part of France near the town of Cambrai which is 50 kilometers south of Lille. The airbase Cambrai-Epinoy is designated in France as Base Arienne 103 (BA103). Cambrai is the home of the Escadron de Chasse 12 (EC12). This unit is equipped with the Mirage 2000B and Mirage 2000C. EC12 consists of 2 squadrons, namely; EC01.012 nicknamed “Cambresis” and EC02.012 nicknamed “Picardie”. EC01.012 is the unit which regularly appears on the Tiger Meet of the NATO Tiger Association. EC02.012 is less famous but makes as many flying hours at Cambrai compared to its counterpart. EC01.012 was established in April 1954 as a modern fighter unit of the French Air Force. EC02.012 was established as the second fighter unit at Cambrai. The unit was established on May 1, 1954. The unit would pop up on paper for the first time on June 5. Part of the staff of EC01.012 was transferred to the new unit. Quickly the unit gained the nickname “Picardie” from its staff. The French unit EC02.012 was declared operational from June 15, 1954. The unit was composed of two squadrons. These two squadrons were; SPA173 L'oiseau Bleu and SPA172 Perroquet Rouge. These two squadrons were both famous units from the First World War. EC02.012 was equipped with the Dassault Ouragan and later with the Dassault Mystère IVA. The unit was deployed in the war in Algeria on November 1, 1957. After the war there was no more room for EC02.012 and the unit was finally disbanded.

After a period of 23 years, EC02.012 was re-established again on June 1, 1980. The unit was soon equipped with the Mirage F1C. The main mission of EC02.012 was defending the French airspace. The newly Mirage F1C was the first aircraft in the French orbat which was suitable for air to air refueling. This allowed the aircraft to operate all over the world. The aircraft was deployed quickly during the military operations in Chad during the operations Manta and Epervier. The French Mirages of

EC02.012 destroyed several anti-aircraft batteries during these actions on January 25, 1984. The Mirages were used at very low altitudes during this conflict. Sometimes the aircraft did not fly higher than 20 feet above the sand dunes of the Sahara desert. EC02.012 was the first Mirage F1 unit of the French Air Force during this conflict which was deployed in Africa. EC02.012 was used for the air defense of the airspace of Qatar from March 1991 to June 1991. The Mirage F1 flew missions during Operation Meteil. During this conflict the Mirages flew more than 271 hours in the airspace of Qatar. The mission was launched in 1990 and ended in September of 1991. Picardie was at that time part of the French tactical Air Force. For this task EC02.012 would be equipped with an aircraft which was suitable for this task. The unit was in September 1992 equipped with the Mirage 2000C. The capabilities of the squadron were drastically improved with the arrival of the Mirage 2000. The unit was in addition to the air defense mission also tasked with several other tasks such as electronic warfare and reconnaissance.

As of June 20, 1955, there was a major reorganization announced in the French Air Force. The level of squadron was removed in the structure making EC02.012 an isolated squadron. There was also a third escadrille added to the unit. This escadrille was designated as SPA90 and had a rooster in its emblem. The mission of EC02.012 in the new structure is to defend and monitor the national airspace in peacetime. The unit has the task of guarding the northwestern part of the French airspace together with EC01.012. The aircraft of the two squadrons are 24 hours a day stand-by to respond quickly when an unidentified aircraft is seen in French airspace. The Mirages are therefore at Cambrai 365 days a year 24 hours a day on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). When the alarm sounds, the aircraft can take-off within of 15 minutes to see what's going on. The Mirages of Cambrai can quickly identify the unknown aircraft during the interception to see if there is anything strange going on. The mission of EC02.012 during wartime is also the air defense role. Apart from this, the Mirages need to escort vulnerable fighter-bombers and protect them against other aircraft. Besides the air defense and escorting aircraft, EC02.012 is also used for reconnais- sance and offensive tasks such as bombings.

The unit was used more often in the new role during detachments outside France. EC02.012 flew many missions during Operation Alysse in southern Iraq. The Mirages of EC02.012 were guarding the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. The unit has also contributed in the 90s while maintaining the No-Fly Zone over Bosnia. This operation was carried out under the name Operation Crecerelle. During operation Trident in 1999, the French Mirages performed their part in maintaining a No-Fly Zone. In this period, the pilots made an average of 180 flight hours per year. Because of these numbers the pilots were perfectly trained to use techniques of modern warfare when needed. These techniques and tactics can only be applied if the pilots are in continuous training. Techniques such as air to air refueling and night operations are an important aspect when it comes to air defense. Also, the use of electronic jammers plays an important role in modern electronic warfare. At this moment the squadron is equipped with 18 Mirage 2000C RDI fighter jets. The unit has a number of 25 pilots and about 140 technicians in service. The unit does not only guard the airspace of northern France, but also parts of the Belgian and Dutch airspace. The French Mirages from Cambrai will provide support when these friendly countries are asking for the support from France. Also the other countries will support France when needed. EC02.012 is nowadays a flexible unit which uses a wide range of tactics. Delivering quality when it comes to safety is one of the main goals of the unit.

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