PLAYING ‘THE ENEMY’ is one of the most important jobs in any air force today. The realism with which this is done will determine the level of combat readiness army, navy and air force units will be able to achieve and preserve. Over recent years a greater emphasis on realistic combat emulation, the role of playing an enemy force, has become increasingly important to the Canadian Forces (CF) in its day-to-day training operations and also in preparation for any UN/NATO-led operations it may be involved in. The air force’s combat support squadrons, or ‘composite’ squadrons in the sense that three of the five squadrons operate two fleets of aircraft types, support the Canadian combat forces by simulating an ‘enemy’ or ‘adversary’ force. Playing the role of the ‘enemy’, however, is just one of the many roles assigned to the air force’s combat support squadrons.
There are five combat support squadrons that each fulfil a myriad of responsibilities within the 1st Canadian Air Division (1st CAD) — 444 Squadron based at 7 Wing, Goose Bay, Labrador, is equipped with the CH-146 Griffon; 434 Squadron is equipped with both the CT-133 Silver Star and CC-144 Challenger based at 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia; 439 Squadron at 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec, is equipped with the Griffon and Silver Star; likewise 417 Squadron is equipped with the Griffon and Silver Star at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta; and 414 Squadron is equipped with the Silver Star only at 19 Wing Comox, BC. Electronic Warfare, utility support, target towing, joint operational support, coastal patrol, medevac, primary airborne targets, fleet support and search and rescue (SAR) are just some of the numerous missions fulfilled by the five combat support squadrons collectively. Moreover, each of the squadrons has additional missions and taskings that are particular to their own unit.
Twenty-six CT/CE-133 Silver Stars remain in service with all the combat support squadrons, except for 444 Squadron. Up until late last year there were 45 Silver Stars in service, but due to budget constraints these were cut back to 26. On March 22, 1948, the first Lockheed-built T-33 Silver Star took to the air, ushering in a long and brilliant career for what has commonly become known simply as the ‘Т-Bird’. The world’s first purpose-built jet trainer, evolving from America’s first successful jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, was an early by-product to come out of the company’s famed super secret ‘Skunk Works’ under the direction of Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson, and by 1959, Lockheed manufactured 5,691 T-Birds.In September 1951, it was announced that Canadair in Montreal, Quebec, would be building the new advanced trainers (designated the CL-30) under licence for the RCAF. Due to the urgency of the RCAF’s jet trainer requirement, an order for 20 standard Lockheed-manufactured Т-Birds was placed in 1951 and in April 1952, the RCAF placed an initial order for 576 Silver Stars, with the first Canadair-built Т-Bird entering service in 1952. Eventually, 656 Т-Birds were delivered to the RCAF between 1952-1959. It has outlasted the F-86 Sabre, CF-100 Canuck, CF-101 Voodoo, CF-104 Starfighter and CF-5 Freedom Fighter and with a major avionics upgrade programme nearing the end, the Т-Bird is probably in a position to outlast the CF-18, joked one Т-Bird pilot. Canada is one of the last countries within NATO to fly the Т-Bird, albeit in smaller numbers but according to the 434th’s Commanding Officer, Lt-Col Larry Russell, the Т-Bird is aptly suited in its current capacity as a combat support aircraft. «We provide a specific service; to help keep Canada’s combat forces [army, navy and air force] proficient in combat tactics, and right now the Т-Bird is the best bang for your buck when you take into consideration the missions we are able to carry out. The aircraft is paid for and is relatively inexpensive to operate — less than one third of the cost of the CF-18.” He added: «The T-Bird may not represent state-of-the-art technology, but don’t be fooled by its age or appearance; it’s a very capable aircraft.»
A CF-18 pilot flying fighter tactics against a simulated ‘hostile’ aircraft requires a target that can change direction at more than 3g (the Т-Bird can manoeuvre up to 7g). At the same time though, the purpose of a Т-Bird is not to go ‘head to head’ with the CF-18 in an all-out ‘dog fight’. An aircraft not capable of these manoeuvres would be easy prey for a CF-18 and the pilots that fly the $38 million fighter would not be honing their skills.
«Although limited in power and speed, the Т-Bird can provide the fighters with the limited ‘aggressor’ support for fighter pilots to hone their skills, since we are capable of carrying out most of the same manoeuvres as the CF-18, but at a slower speed of course,» said 417 Squadron’s Commanding Officer Capt Dave Bekolay. «And, despite the age of the Т-Bird, it has a very small radar cross-section making it difficult to detect on radar due to the rounded shape thus making it arduous for a CF-18 pilot to track us on his radar.»
The Т-Bird is currently the only aircraft in the CF that can fully meet its current roles, other than another CF-18 that is. However, in a time of shrinking budgets, officials realise the merit of the Т-Bird’s capabilities as a support aircraft, and the operational forces in the army, navy and air force that utilise them are taking advantage of that. Capable of simulating various levels of threats — fighters, bombers, strike aircraft, cruise missiles and drug ferrying aircraft -the Т-Bird is employed during CF-18 training operations on almost a daily basis at Cold Lake and Bagotville. «In real-world scenarios NATO pilots are often flying against ‘hostile’ aircraft with characteristics similar to the Т-Bird, which is a good simulator of a ‘Category One bogey’ — MiG-17, Super Galeb, Hawk, etc… aircraft flown by ‘hostile’ forces,» said Russell. “We can fly from 250ft to 39,000ft and can manoeuvre very aggressively when targeted by a flight of CF-18s.» More than one CF-18 has been ‘had’ when they attempted to grovel in a slow-speed turning fight with the T-Bird.The last of 26 Т-Birds are nearing the end of a US$27 million avionics update programme (AUP) underway at Kelowna Flightcraft in Kelowna, BC. Thirty avionics/electrical systems have been removed and replaced with 37 new or redesigned systems or individual components, and 17 items have been relocated that should allow the Т-Bird to remain in service until at least 2010. Without the AUP the 46-year-old T-Bird would not have been able to remain in service much longer. Its systems are antiquated, with some of them no longer made and in many cases spare parts are scarce. “Our capability has gone up exponentially in regards to where we can operate and the type of weather conditions that we can operate in. Likewise the cost of maintaining the aircraft should theoretically be cut since instead of trying to maintain and repair 1950s technology we now have modern systems where parts are readily available,» said Bekolay. The last of the 26 upgraded aircraft is expected to be delivered by the spring.
Since the days when Germany built radar-based defences to cope with night attacks by Allied bombers, air forces have used Electronic Warfare (EW) to boost the survivability of its air, land and sea combat forces. In today’s modern battlefield, nearly all weapons are fixed with some sort of electronic guidance system (other than free-fall ‘dumb’ bombs). Consequently, anyone fighting a battle either with these new ‘intelligent’ weapons, or against them is going to have to make use of some sort of EW techniques in order to prevail. To protect itself in combat, an aircraft or ship must be able to detect hostile radar signals, decipher them and then be able to counter-react with Electronic Counter Measures (ECM). In the EW support role, both 434 and 414 Squadrons help Canada’s operational forces train for such encounters through the use of EW-modified Т-Birds and Challengers.
The CE-133 Silver Star can carry the new Ericsson A100 (ALQ-503), Lundy ALE-503 chaff pod and the AEL/Cross Threat Emitter System (TES) pod. All three types were acquired as part of the Electronic Support and Training (EST) project greatly enhancing the EW training capability of the T-Bird when supporting operational forces. The EST project mandate is to provide the CF with threat representative airborne EW training for all three operational environments. The project also included a new EW suite for three CC-144A Challengers, the first of which is to be delivered in August.
The new A100 ECM pod greatly enhances 434 and 414 Squadrons’ capabilities over the old EW pods they replaced to provide a realistic EW training environment for CF-18 pilots as well as naval and land-based fire control radar operators and weapons system operators. In the case of the TES pod, it provides the frequency coverage to simulate anything from an incoming cruise missile to an incoming air-to-air missile to a ship. The A100 can jam most of the airborne fire control radars installed in today’s fighter aircraft and also allows interactivity between the two ‘warring’ units.
414 Squadron T-Bird pilot Capt Chris Brown explains: «The old EW pods which the A100 replaces were ‘dumb’ pods that were pre-programmed by crews on the ground before take-off for specific pre-briefed scenarios. The A100, however, gives the EWO the ability to read the signal that is being transmitted towards the T-Bird by the fighter aircraft, evaluate for its mode and roughly the direction it is coming from and jam accordingly. The EWO can also tell if the T-Bird is being looked at by radar, locked on by a fire control radar or ‘fired’ upon. You couldn’t do that with the old EW pods.»
With this information, the EWO can assess and critique the techniques employed by his opponent allowing trainees to sharpen their skills while operating in an intense EW environment. In turn, the EW training greatly enhances the operational capabilities of those being trained. «The T-Bird is an old, inexpensive aircraft carrying an expensive EW pod that has greatly increased our rate of success against penetrating an air defence environment, which indicates that any other air force around the world could do the same thing. This is why EW training is so important in today’s environment,» Brown said.
The CE-144 Challenger is also widely used for EW support by 434 Squadron, which often works in tandem with the T-Bird. At one time 434 Squadron operated a fleet of ten Challengers (on paper), of which three were fitted with what was supposed to be an interim EW suite. With budget cutbacks, the 434th’s Challenger fleet has been scaled back to just five aircraft, two of which are fitted with the interim EW fitment, two EST-configured EW Challengers (once delivered) and one Challenger fitted for the medevac role. Initially the EST Challenger suite, which has been plagued by cost overruns and programme delays, was to include two EW stations; a TACCO (Tactical Coordination Officer) station and a COMM (Communications) station. The TACCO station would have included a tactical map display, an ESM (Electronic Support Measure) control and display and an ECM control and display giving the three Challengers that were to have been reconfigured a full EW capability since they could jam land, sea and air fire control radars and communications at the same time. With continued budget cutbacks, the programme was scaled back to just two aircraft (three will still be re-configured but one will go directly into storage). The aircraft will also be limited to communications jamming and the ability to drop chaff. They will be able to jam on HF and U/VHF radio frequencies and also be able to voice record, edit and play back transmissions to confuse the ‘customer’.
Combat support squadrons are truly a ‘jack of all trades’. Besides EW and playing the role of an ‘aggressor’, in the case of the T-Bird it is used for utility, air defence (simulating an incoming cruise missile for example), tracking (flown in support of radar operators and to permit the calibration of equipment) and live fire exercises. In the case of a live fire exercise, a T-Bird is equipped with either a RADOP, which has a radar reflector inside for the ships to track or lock onto, or a Missed Distance Indicator (MDI), which has an acoustic sensor system that senses the proximity of passing projectiles. Either of the systems can be reeled out 10,000ft (3,000m) behind the aircraft as the T-Bird passes by the ships, which shoot at the target. The T-Bird is also often used to simulate an attacking jet in support of the Low-Level Air Defence training exercises in Chatham and Gagetown, New Brunswick and Cold Lake.
The Army’s Forward Air Controllers’ (FAC) training courses also seek the services of the combat support squadrons. ‘‘We are able to simulate the same close air support profiles as the CF-18, only at slower speeds for students to grow used to working with jet aircraft. Over the course of several days we will play the roll of an attack aircraft ‘striking’ at simulated targets selected by the student controllers. Towards the end of the FAC course CF-18s will be brought in so students can get used to operating with faster aircraft,» said Capt Brehn Eichel from 417 Squadron.
In the case of the Challenger, 434 Squadron is also tasked to carry out coastal patrols off Atlantic Canada. In the past, three ‘CP’-144 Challengers were utilised in the coastal patrol role, as well as utilitarian-type missions. Now any of the remaining Challengers can by used for coastal patrol missions, which the squadron flies three to five times a week. Initially the Challenger was envisioned as a stop-gap measure after the CP-121 Tracker was retired in 1990 until the arrival of what was supposed to be a new coastal patrol aircraft that never came to fruition. With a patrol area of 22,000 square miles (57,000km2), the Challenger is often deployed to other locations in Atlantic Canada in order to cover as much territory as possible. With rudimentary modifications made to facilitate photography from one of the passenger windows, the Challenger is limited to daytime VFR conditions, with at least three miles (4.8km) visibility. The crew will report all significant contacts and monitor for any signs of pollution. In the winter months the Challenger can also be tasked to monitor ice formations near shipping lanes.
Often the Challengers will also fly in concert with the Т-Birds, playing the part of a stand-off targeting aircraft, with the T-Birds simulating the path of the low flying missile just ‘launched’. For example the Challengers often simulate a ‘Bear’ bomber and the T-Bird a cruise missile. On command the T-Bird would ‘release’ from the Challenger and drop to low-level and simulate the characteristics of an incoming cruise missile. VIP, medevac and courier flights are also carried out when required.
The CH-146 Griffon helicopters on strength with 444, 439 and 417 Squadrons, each of which is equipped with a trio of Griffons also fulfil a variety of missions. Their primary mission is to provide rapid response to local emergencies during local flight operations at the Wings where they are based. Their secondary role is to maintain eight-hour SAR stand-by for national SAR taskings (417 and 439 Squadron maintain a two-hour stand-by during off-hours). In the utility role, the Griffons are used to support a variety of taskings at their respective Wings, such as range support, aid to civil authorities and administrative airlift.
«We are considered a secondary national SAR resource but, since Search and Rescue Technicians [SAR Techs] now form part of the Griffon’s crew within the combat support squadrons we are more capable than we were in the past when it comes to responding to a SAR tasking,» said 439 Squadron’s commanding officer Maj Pierre Saucier. Before that, base medics or firemen would fulfil the role as an on-scene medic. They did not receive the same type of advanced training as the SAR Techs. “Our crews train the same way the primary SAR squadrons do — we just fly a smaller, very capable helicopter without the same range and capacity of the larger Labrador SAR helicopter.»