Exercise Ample Train

Patrick Allen reports on a major biannual NATO training exercise held for the first time at RAF St Mawgan.

OPERATIONS DENY FLIGHT, the United Nations enforcement of an air-exclusion zone (AEZ) over Bosnia by NATO fighter aircraft, and Warden over Northern Iraq, are practical example of why NATO exercises such as Ample Train are important and necessary.

Operation Deny Flight has already involved up to six NATO air forces, deploying their fighter aircraft to other NATO nation’s airfields to undertake operational missions. These include the Dutch, French, United States and Royal Air Forces operating their fighter aircraft from Italian Air Bases. All these developments were made easier by NATO conducting a regular series of biannual exercises known as Ample Train together with monthly exercises known as Ample Gain.

Both these exercises are designed to improve NATO air force interoperability and to enhance their ability to mount combat missions from a number of pre-selected NATO air bases.

This year was the first occasion that the Royal Air Force has hosted an Ample Train exercise which took place at RAF St Mawgan, Cornwall from May 24-29. St Mowgan’s geographical position, long runway and accommodation recently vacated by the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, proved ideal for hosting this important biannual exercise, which has been running for ten years.

During the week, nine different NATO nations with two aircraft each, and over 300 personnel, took part in the exercise which involved a full programme of flying and ground training involving packages of up to eighteen fighter aircraft.

It was also the first occasion that Spain has been involved, arriving with two Spanish Air Force F-18s. RAF St Mawgan must also have been one of the few locations that both Greek (Mirage 2000) and Turkish (F-16s) fighter aircraft could be seen together on the same airfield.

The main purpose of the exercise was to promote mutual understanding, confidence and co-operation between participating nations and units. Basically a ground exercise, it involved both air and ground crews acquiring experience of working on each others’ aircraft undertaking pre/post flight checks, refuelling, re-arming, replenishing oils, preparing weapons — including loading guns, bombs, missiles, replenishing chaff/flares and assisting with start-ups etc. The series of exercises have already helped to improve procedures and training techniques and have provided invaluable experience for foreign ground crews working on unfamiliar aircraft in collaboration with other nations.

In addition to Ample Train, the monthly Ample Gain exercise involves two aircraft from a NATO nation detaching to a specified air base to undertake a series of exercises to help maintain air and ground grew currency.

These interoperability exercises are extremely popular with all involved and could prove invaluable in time of conflict, particularly in a period when out-of-area operations are on the increase.

Participating nations and aircraft in this year’s Ample Train included:

BELGIUM (Kleine Brogel) 2 x F-16A

GERMANY (Hopsten and Neuberg) 2 x F-4F

GREECE (Tanagra) 2 x Mirage 2000EG/BG

ITALY (Istrana) 2 x F-104S

NETHERLANDS (Volkel) 2xF-16A

SPAIN (Zaragoza) 2x EF/A-18A

TURKEY (Murted) 2xF-16C/D

UNITED STATES (Soesterberg) 2 x F-15A/C

UNITED KINGDOM (RAF Marham) 3 x Tornado GR.1 (27 Sqn)

SUPPORT AIRCRAFT:

Greek Air Force C-130 Hercules

Turkish Air Force C160 Tronsall

Spanish Air Force CN-235

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