During the 1991 Gulf War, the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and the France’s Armée de l’Air (French Air Force or FAF) worked closely together on a range of operational activities. Soon after the Gulf War, the two air forces found themselves working together again on missions in support of United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia. Further close cooperation followed in operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister John Major inaugurating the Franco-British European Air Group (FBEAG)
The FAF and the RAF realized that there was a need to improve the inter-air force cooperation and to work on issues relating to interoperability. Thus it was at the Chartres Summit, on 18 November 1994, that the first announcement was made of the intention to create the Franco-British European Air Group (FBEAG). Even at that stage it was foreseen that other European air forces might wish to join the organization, so the word ‘European’ was included in the title from the beginning.
On 27 June 1995, France and the UK jointly declared the formal establishment of the FBEAG. Shortly afterwards, Air Commodore Wright RAF was appointed as the first Deputy Director of the FBEAG, with Colonel Beck FAF as the first Chief of Staff (COS) and Group Captain Wood RAF as the first Vice COS. Then, on 20th September of that year, the first meeting of the FBEAG Working Group (WG) was held at the FBEAG Headquarters (HQ), located at RAF High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK, home of RAF Strike Command.
On 13 October 1995, Général André Nicolau was appointed as the first Director of the Group. Shortly afterwards, on 30 October, the FBEAG was formally inaugurated at a joint ceremony, led by French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister John Major. That same day, the FBEAG Steering Group (SG) held its inaugural meeting. The SG, in effect a committee comprising the Chiefs of the Air Staffs of each member nation as well as senior representatives of the ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, meets every year to decide on the Group’s policies and future work.
During 1996, the FBEAG worked mainly on strengthening existing ties and cooperation between the FAF and the RAF. However, Italy became the first nation to apply for membership and additionally in early 1997 Germany accepted ‘correspondent’ status, sending observers to EAG activities, but not participating fully in decision-making. Soon afterwards, the Italian Air Force (ITAF) was also appointed as an observer.
At the November 1997 Steering Group meeting, it was decided to invite Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain to become ‘correspondent’ members, along with Germany and Italy. Shortly afterwards, on 1 January 1998, the FBEAG formally changed its title to ‘European Air Group’ (EAG).
Meanwhile, work proceeded on the construction of a new building at RAF High Wycombe to house the headquarters of the EAG. The UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, the Right Honourable George Robertson MP, formally opened the building on 16 June 1998. That same day, the EAG Steering Group held a meeting during which Italy announced its decision to become a full member. On 6 July 1998, agreement was reached between the French and British governments regarding the precise wording of the required Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) officially creating the Group, and the document was formally signed. In September of the same year, the first members of the ITAF joined the permanent staff of the EAG HQ.
On 16 June 1999, France and the UK signed a Protocol amending the EAG IGA permitting other nations to join the EAG. At the 1999 meeting of the EAG SG, held in Rome on 12 July, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain all confirmed their transfer to full membership, and the EAG formally became a 7-nation organization. Staff officers and NCOs from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain have since joined the EAG HQ.
The EAG HQ is currently established for 30 personnel who represent the 7 nations. The Deputy Director (1*) post is set for 2 years and rotates between the Nations. The Chief of Staff (OF5) post rotates after 3 years. The other members of the Permanent Staff are shared equally between the Nations, but with DEU, BEL and the UK providing additional administrative support, and ESP and ITA providing IT support.