At a final briefing, in front of maps projected on the wall, the three aviators review all the potential risks of the mission, from the adverse threat to possible technical problems.
They are based in Jordan, closer to the fiefdoms where the Islamic State (EI) group has been planning attacks around the world for two years.
On this first day of the New Year, the two crews - a single-seater, a two-seater - will head north on a triangle whose three tops are synonymous with the EI in Syria: Raqa, Deir Ezzor and Palmyra, Which had just been taken over by the jihadists to the Syrian forces.
"We go to Syria for an intelligence mission, possibly to strike", summarizes "Titi" (most pilots have a nickname, their identity remains confidential for security reasons).
In Palmyra, the planes of the international coalition led by the United States have already carried out raids to destroy the valuable booty on which the fighters of the jihadist organization have put their hands.
Fuel in the air
The IA reportedly seized dozens of vehicles and a worrying arsenal, including MANPAD portable missiles likely to shoot down aircraft, a French source said.
In the area of Palmyra, "they may have recovered from ground-to-air artillery", warns an officer in front of the three pilots.
The most serious anti-aircraft defenses came from the regime and its Russian ally. But they hardly target coalition planes, who fear the risk of collision with Russian jets in a crowded sky.
Both Rafales will concentrate on underground caches and possible movements of IA combatants on the ground.
Before leaving, the pilots still check the weather. "Your work area is clear, except for a few low-level phenomena that will quickly dissipate," says an officer.
Then they unfold the parameters of the mission, planned like all the air operations of the international coalition since Doha in Qatar. "We are lucky today, a tanker in flight is dedicated to us during two slots (slots). There is fuel in the air!", Rejoices Titi.
- In case of failure -
The resources of the coalition in tankers, especially French, are counted, which can quickly make an acrobatic mission. "There we have du + playtime + (margin), we will be able to have an extra slot (extension of a mission) if it became interesting," he anticipates already.
Muff, a young pilot, listens with great concentration all the instructions. "If you're out of radio, you come to place yourself next to me and you attract my attention," Jordy recommends.
End of the briefing: the three aviators leave to put on their flight suit and to collect handguns and distress beacons essential in case of ejection.
"For the moment, it is daylight but we will leave with night vision binoculars, tablets that allow us to have a carto + (cartography) satellite of the area, photos + reco + (recognition)," declines the Navigator of the two-seater, Jordy.
The preparations for the mission are coming to an end, methodically. In 50 minutes, the Rafales will take off in a lunar setting of sand and stone.
At the foot of the plane, the pilots check one final time the armament under the wings, electronic "pods" of a designation of targets ... Moments later, they leave in combat, towards the unknown.