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NATO AIR MEET 1998

Our article published in PTISI (FLIGHT) magazine in 1998

a report by Bob den Engelsman / Martin van den Hurk of D.M.A.P.S.

After more than 18 months of preparation, the largest NATO air exercise of this year (under the control of AIRCENT) was hosted by the Spanish Air force from the 14th until the 25th of September 1998. It was for the first time ever that this exercise was hosted by a country out of the Central region. It was also the first time that a large exercise like this one was conducted from 1 airbase. With itís double runway Zaragoza AB is one of the few airbases in Europe who can handle an exercise of this magnatude.

The NATO AIR MEET (NAM) was formed by putting the TACTICAL AIR MEET (TAM) of the Central Region and the TACTICAL FIGHTER MEET (TFM) together

OPERATIONS

The NATO Air Meet (NAM) which was directed by General Fontaine from AIRCENT-OTAN and General Rubio (MACOM SP) provides the NATO air forces a perfect opportunity to conduct training operations in unfamiliar surroundings and in a simulated hostile environment. As demonstrated within a month after the NAM exercise, the need for the rapid and effective employment of composite air operations within NATO has become a necessity in today's unpredictable political and military environment. Unlike other real world operations and exercises, NAM 98 flight operations were carried out from a single location, Zaragoza, Spain. For NAM 98, over 90 combat and support aircraft from 9 NATO nations deployed to Zaragoza AB and conducted composite air operations (COMAO) from 14 to 25 September.

By operating from one air base the aicrew were given the opportunitie to fly different aircraft and from different nations and train together, exchange tactics and ideas and, most importantly, increase NATO's combat capability.

France, which does not belong to NATO's integrated military structure, joined the exercise as part of the normal training relations which it has established with its allies.

EXERCISE OBJECTIVES

The primary objectives of NAM 98 were:

  • To practice Composite Air Operations (COMAOís) procedures in a hostile environment using multinational Air to Air Refueling assets.
  • To exercise the procedures for defensive operations within fighter areas
  • of responsibility (FAORs) and offensive aircraft in the sweep and escort roles.
  • To maximize the training benefit of the exercise through thorough briefings and debriefings, incorporating feedback from opposing forces.
  • To promote mutual understanding, confidence and co-operation between participating NATO air forces.

Secundary objectives:

  • To exercise procedures for point and area defence by ground based air
  • defence (GBAD) units.
  • To use the opportunity of life flying to recertificate, revalidate training and familiarisation for groundcrew of various nations on a variaty of aircraft.
CONDUCT OF OPERATIONS

NAM2003

NAM 98 consisted of seven total missions, one per day, on the 16th through 18th and 21st through 24th of September. The participating tactical aircraft were divided into two opposing forces:(BLUE Air which was the offensive and RED Air who played the defensive role).

The Offensive team had approximately a 2 to I numerical advantage over the defensive team. Similar to the well known "Flag" exercises, NAM is designed to train experienced aircrew. Within this in mind, NAM 98 had been structured to give the participating pilots and team leaders the maximum amount of freedom to plan and conduct their missions. Mission commanders were designated for each mission and were responsible for the planning, briefing, execution and debriefing of their assigned mission. This approach will require active involvement of all participants and add to the overall training value of the exercise.

The missions to be flown:

  • Offensive missions against ground targets
  • Offensive missions against naval targets
  • Protection of offensive mission
  • Defensive missions against offensive

Supporting missions:

  • Electronic warfare
  • Suppression of enemy air defenses
  • Air to air refuelling (AAR)

Enviromental protection measures:

  • No weapons expended
  • Enroute minimum altitude 1000 ft
  • Maximum airspeed 0.95 mach (subsonic)
  • Limited use of afterburner
  • No flights over populated areas
  • No flights during weekend and at night

In co-ordination with AIRCENT and the Spanish AF, the Central Region IDCAOC had pre-developed ATOs for all NAM Missions, to include several alternate missions. Tasking teams from the NAM CAOC issued ATOs to RED and BLUE Mission Commanders the day prior to mission execution and assist participants in the planning and preparation for the mission. In addition to the ATOs, the BLUE Air team Will received a set of target folders for their assigned targets and both teams will be issued any applicable special instructions (SPINS) or rules of engagement (ROE) that apply for that mission. These SPINS and ROE will be utilised to limit weapons and engagement envelopes of the RED and BLUE forces on a rotating basis and provide for a more realistic training environment.

Missions began with the release of ATOs, SPINS and ROE to the RED and BLUE teams at l2OOL the day prior to mission execution. Mission Commanders, with the assistance of their team members, then had the afternoon to formulate their plans, co-ordinate with support assets and prepare their briefings for the following day. Mission execution day began with a mass brief to all participants, then progress to RED and BLUE mass and individual flight briefs. Each team was assigned a take-off block time, then proceded with AAR operations and the actual mission. Following each mission, each team was allotted time for individual flight and section debriefs and their team's mass debrief, where key mission points and lessons learnt were tabulated for use the overall mass debrief The day's events was terminate with a combined RED/BLUE mass debrief. The debriefing and analysis was headed by the staff of the AIRCENT's Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP). In addition to staff from TLP, the team was composed of personnel from the Spanish AF and HQ AIRCENT. The team's mission was to assist participants in the planning, briefing and debriefing of each mission, and to collect key information and lessons learned during NAM operations. Upon termination of the exercise, the team has to consolidate this data for incorporation in the final exercise report for dissemination throughout NATO.

BLUE AIR OPERATIONS (OFFENSIVE)

BLUE Air operations primarily consisted of COMAOs tasked against various offensive counter air (OCA) and air interdiction (Al) targets located throughout Spain. In addition to these missions, during the second week of the exercise several tactical air support for maritime operations (TASMO) missions were flown against a naval task force (Battle group Alfa which consisted of 1 aircraft carrier, 3 frigats and 1 logistic ship) that was operating in the Mediterranean Sea. Each COMAO consisted of approximately 50 tactical aircraft, including fighter escort/sweep, suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) and a dedicated airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft.

BLUE mission profiles involved a medium altitude departure to air-to-air refuelling (AAR) tracks where pre-strike refuelling operations were conducted. Once refuelled, the aircraft proceded to marshalling points and then continued to their assigned target areas, which were defended by RED Air fighters and ground based air defence (GBAD) units.

RED AIR OPERATIONS (Defensive)

The RED Air team was composed of fighter aircraft, GBAD units and a dedicated AEW aircraft. These forces had to integrate and conduct defensive operations against attacking BLUE aircraft. The RED air operations emphasised on defensive counter air (DCA) operations through the use of fighter areas of responsibility (FAORs) and co-ordinated surface-to-air engagement zones for the GBAD assets conducting point and area defence operations in and around NAM target areas. Within assigned FAORs RED fighter aircraft were given the flexibility to conduct mixed fighter force operations (MFFO). MFFO involves mixing different types fighter aircraft with varying capabilities and limitations to create a more effective overall force. During TASMO missions the RED team also supported the naval task force by providing threat information from the supporting AEW aircraft and active air defence from RED fighter aircraft.

AIRBORNE EARLY WARNING

As in all mayor exercise the AEW aircraft played again a key role in NAM operations. Dedicated AEW platforms were actively supporting each team's planning, execution and mission reconstruction efforts. During mission execution AEW were tasked to provide critical identification of friend from foe, threat warning and to maintain voice and data links between participants and exercise agencies, including the NAM CAOC and the naval task force.

ELECTRONIC WARFARE

In addition to the internal and external electronic counter measures (ECM) equipment carried by participating aircraft, the Spanish Air Force had included one CASA 212 and one Falcon D-20 to provide communications and radar

jamming during the exercise. Due to the limited electronic warfare (EW) assets participating, these platforms operate on both sides with and against RED and BLUE operations. Affording each team the opportunity to integrate these unique

EW aircraft into their game plan and to operate against them rovide valuable training from both vantage points.

AIR-TO-AIR REFUELLING

No less than Seven tankers from four countries were used during the NAM tactical operations. Due to the numerous amount of receiver aircraft, all tankers were placed in a neutral WHITE force which made support for both team's operations more effective. A unique aspect of this year's exercise is the creation of NAM specific AAR tracks within the exercise airspace, which enhanced the mission flow. A total of four tracks had been developed, with each area containing low, medium and high altitude blocks. As with past TFMs and Tactical Air Meets (TAMs), a feature of this year's AAR operations was the use of multi-national tanker cells. Utilising cell operations reduced the amount of airspace required to conduct AAR and permitted more aircraft to refuel in a limited amount of time. By operating from the same location, tanker crews were able to plan, brief, fly and debrief their tanker cell operations together.

The NATO Air Meet represented a valuable opportunity for NATO's air forces to operate and train in a demanding exercise environment. Building upon the lessons learnt from past TAMs and NAMs, NAM 98 emphasised on many of the key roles and missions that NATO airpower may be called upon to execute. Operating together, where the free exchange of tactics and ideas can take place, participants will gain a better understanding of these areas and become better prepared to conduct composite air operations. By enhancing itís ability to conduct composite operations and project airpower NATO increases it's overall military capability and strengthen itís ability to meet future challenges.

The Authors would like to thank LTC Schneider of the Public Information Office at HQ AIRCENT.