The need for a highly professional training
While the fighter community has trained to operate together for years (e.g. Tactical Leadership Program (TLP), Flag exercises, large NATO exercises in European airspace, etc.), the same cannot be stated for Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR), without which a lot of fighter operations would not be possible. The lessons learned from Unified Protector over Libya in 2011 showed that for a smooth multinational operation we need to train together in advance.
Moreover, the United States Forces are planning to deploy major parts of their AAR fleet out of Europe towards South East Asia, thus taking away a potential resource on AAR capacity on which the European Nations could always lean in the past. At the same time only 30 % of the EU member states (MSs) operate tanker aircraft (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK,).
To minimise this capability gap, EDA has implemented an AAR project team to deal with outcomes of four different institutions on AAR matters. One of those four pillars represents the Multi Role Transport Tanker/Air-to-Air Refuelling Operational Employment Working Group (OEWG) – led by the EATC. The OEWG’s general objective is to harmonize and - where necessary - to develop procedures and related processes to employ existing and future multi-role platforms in their dual AAR- and AT-role.
But what would a tanker be good for, without a well trained crew? This is where the European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training (EART) comes in, one important outcome of the cooperation between EDA and the EATC.
The first EART was conducted in 2014. AAR assets from different EATC nations were already involved in the fighter exercise Frisian Flag (FF) in the years prior, but purely in a supporting role. In 2013 the question was brought up if the framework of the existing exercise could not be used to also train tanker needs. This led to two major changes in the tanker participation to FF: Firstly, all assets would be deployed to Eindhoven, thus simulating an operation in a location that cannot be supported from the respective home base; secondly, the tankers would not return to base as soon as the fighter did not require there support anymore, but stay in the area and train manoeuvres and procedures of their own.
Aim and objectives
The overall aim of EART is to train the participants (air and ground crews) to be able to run a tanker operation from a deployed operating base (DOB). This also includes training elements like multi tanker formation or different rendezvous procedures, which is not possible in day to day operations. During EART, the crews have the unique possibility to gain or regain their qualifications in a short amount of time and within a realistic scenario.
The 2015 edition
The 2015 edition of the European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training will again take place at Eindhoven Airbase for two weeks in April and support Frisian Flag. The emphasis will again be on working from a DOB in a multinational environment. This will be even more prominent in this year’s training since additionally to last year’s nations (Germany, Italy and the Netherlands) France will participate and other nations are planning to send observers to assess a future participation.
Participation in 2015
- France with C-135FR
- Germany with Airbus A310 MRTT
- Italy with Boeing KC-767A
- The Netherlands with KDC-10
The intent is that, in the future, EART can be hosted by different nations multiple times a year to support different national and international fighter exercises, thus increasing the training opportunities for AAR units and, at the same time, providing a standardised support for the European and NATO fighter community. In case of future operations, the AAR community will be better prepared.
Another outcome of the EDA AAR Project is the recognition that in NATO there was no dedicated multinational training for AAR Planners. In 2014, the NATO Command and Control Centres (CAOC), together with AIRCOM and JAPCC, developed the Specialized Heavy Air Refuelling Course (SHARC). The first official course was held in February 2015. The course incorporates challenges replicating scenarios that the student will see in a large scale exercise or operation. It ensures standardization and continuous improvement within the NATO AAR community.
In 2015, EART will integrate “hands on” training for graduates of SHARC, which can be considered as a logical follow-up of this course as it will keep them proficient and prepare them for “real world” operations. This will be the first time that SHARC graduates participate in a live flying exercise.
Pictures: German, Dutch, Italian and French Air Force Media