ONE OF NATO’s top annual live air exercises, clean hunter focuses on co-ordinating allied air operations. This year’s event was the biggest to date and took place over Northern Europe between June 14-25. Its operational areas extended from as far south as central France up to Denmark, and from the United Kingdom across to the middle of Poland. One of the most complicated exercises in Europe was supervised by the Headquarters Allied Air Forces North (HQ AIRNORTH) at Ramstein AB, Germany, through its various Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs).
The CAOCs are where the information and intelligence supplied by satellites, ground troops, UAVs and reconnaissance aircraft are processed. The results are then passed to the Operation Commander (ОС) and Mission Commander (MC) so that they can plan missions in their sector. The information covers various aspects of targets or threats, such as precise locations, whether ground-based or airborne, how many there are, what the weather is like in the vicinity, their distance or altitude, etc.
Mission-Planning clean hunter is mainly concerned with mission planning in co-ordination with CAOCs that are linked together through NATO’s data link communication network. In the near future they will be provided with a new tool called the Air Command and Control System (ACCS).
The NATO ACCS is intended to replace the existing air defence systems in NATO Europe, such as NADGE, GEADGE and STRIDA. It is designed to combine the tactical planning, tasking and execution of all air defensive, offensive and support operations into a single system. Its scope is therefore much broader than just air-to-air defence. The system will comprise a balanced mix of static and deployable entities. It is being implemented under the supervision of the NATO ACCS Management Organisation (NACMO) and will achieve an initial operational capability within three to four years. The initial contract to provide for the core software, a system test and validation facility, and a site validation capability, was signed with Air Command Systems International (ACSI) in November 1999.
The ACCS will provide a unified air command and control system enabling NATO’s European nations (including new alliance members) to seamlessly manage all types of air operations over their territory and beyond. Through its open computer architecture, the system is already evolving to meet emerging operational requirements, such as those associated with theatre missile defence, and it will be able to adapt to a changing operational environment, such as network centric warfare (the linkages and interactions among assets). Completion of the whole ACCS programme, comprising the provision of hardware, software and communications, but excluding the acquisition of sensors, will cost NATO and the nations approximately 1.5 billion Euros.
Due to the recent structure reorganisation within NATO, the number of CAOCs has been reduced from ten to six. There are four static CAOCs in Uedem (Germany); Finderup (Denmark); Poggio Renatico (Italy) and Larissa (Greece), and two deployable CAOCs in Uedem and Poggio Renatico. As the deployable CAOCs will need to exercise their capability to mobilise and deploy, the current facilities at Torrej6n Air Base in Spain will be the primary site for training and exercising in that region. A small NATO air facility support staff will be stationed there to support this capability.
Thirteen NATO members participated in clean hunter, flying mainly from their home bases, except for those nations deploying aircraft into Northern Europe. The exercise involved air forces from Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. More than 240 aircraft covered roles such as reconnaissance, SEAD, interdiction, strike, search and rescue, combat search and rescue, airborne early warning, electronic warfare and air-to-air refuelling.
In all, 46 air bases were utilised and training ranges, like Heuberg in South Germany, and Elsenborn in Belgium, were used for low-level flying. For example, over Elsenborn, the Forward Air Controllers (FAC) drew the aircraft towards targets that went down to as low as 250ft (76m) AGL.
Lessons learned from coalition forces during recent conflicts, such as in Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001 and ongoing) and Iraq (2003 and ongoing) underlined the importance of aircraft protecting ground forces as well as identifying, attacking and destroying threats to them.
To enable them to successfully execute these missions, it is extremely important to train and keep FACs to a high-level of readiness. Exercise clean hunter was designed to promote training, to maximize interaction and to exercise HO AIRNORTH and its subordinate CAOCs in the planning and subsequent operation of major coordinated live air operations. It plays a vital role in maintaining the professionalism of allied air forces and runs concurrently with other land and sea exercises, so that joint planning and operations can be practised.
clean hunter involves combat scenarios flown in other nations’ airspace to take advantage of the mixed terrain throughout Europe. The aim of this exercise is to train for multi-national operations using diverse types of aircraft from a large number of nations and to give NATO Communication, Command and Control (C3) airmen an opportunity to test their capabilities in a realistic scenario. Multiple missions were flown at the same time over different European regions, including Time-Sensitive Target (TST) and Time-Critical Target (TCT) missions.
Time-Sensitive Targets are those that require an immediate response because they pose (or will soon pose) a danger to friendly forces or are highly lucrative but fleeting targets of opportunity. The military community has developed an active interest in improving its ability to destroy TSTs ever since the threat of Scud missile launchers arose during Operation desert storm in 1991. More recently, the Kosovan Serbs and the Iraqis demonstrated that adversaries are getting even better at protecting these important and dangerous targets by continually moving them, building vast numbers of decoys and using camouflage and concealment. However, while the adversaries improve their techniques to protect these targets, NATO allies are developing their capabilities in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Command and Control (C2) communication and computer systems to destroy TSTs.
The only major problem that remains is how to integrate all these capabilities into the most efficient TST-destroying machine. The solution is the creation of a time-sensitive targeting cell within the CAOC that builds a total picture from all the ISR assets available, makes rapid decisions based on the information gathered and assigns the right asset to take out the fleeting target. This TST team is focused on finding and tracking SAMs and other high-priority mobile targets.
A Time-Critical Target is defined as a TST with an extremely limited window of opportunity, the attack of which is critical to ensure successful completion of the Joint Force Commander’s operations. By definition, TCTs rank high on the
Joint Integrated Prioritised Target List and this has seen the Aerospace Command, Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Centre (ASC2ISRC), seeking to develop and field a Time-Critical Targeting Cell. The TCT cell will enable the Combat Air Force’s (CAF) CAOCs to greatly reduce the timeline to find, fix, track, target, engage and assess TCTs.
A successful TCT cell incorporates intelligence preparation for the battle space, by carrying out terrain analysis, target development and nomination, weapon-target pairing and other data as may be appropriate to yield an integrated capability. This integrated capability should then successfully identify TCTs and make knowledge-based weapon tasking recommendations within the threshold timelines.
Clean Hunter continues to live up to its reputation as the biggest and best exercise of its type in the world. «This is the only exercise that provides traditional COMAO [Combined Air Operation] training over such a wide air space tackling varying adversary tactics, since the mission and forces are different in location and type,” said Major Guido Dedisch, Tornado IDS Weapons Systems Operator (WSO) from Jagdbombergeschwader 33 (Fighter Bomber Wing 33) at Biichel AB. «Almost all of the German air space has been reserved for the exercise and the wide participation of so many countries is a big advantage to raise the level of coordination and results.»
This year, Biichel AB hosted five Polish Su-22M-4 fighter-bombers (call-sign Timber) flying CAS (Close Air Support) missions. The Polish contingent came from the 40th Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (40th ELT) based at Swidwin AB and is now part of NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force, hence the unit’s participation in clean hunter.
On June 16 they took off from Biichel AB at 1410 Zulu time for a CAS mission as ‘Patrol Leader’ heading to Elsenborn training range. This means that if they were to meet other friendly forces tasked with CAS during the mission, they would assume command. Together with them, two local Tornados — IDS callsign Chevy — were making sure that nothing entered the targeted area, as they were tasked with AI (Air Interdiction).
Major Dedisch believes that more of these exercises should be organised as they are of great benefit to the new NATO members from former Warsaw Pact countries, which have to learn these new procedures.
Target: Neuburg AB, Germany
Major Olivier ‘Smile’ Lapray is a Mirage 2000D WSO assigned to EC 01.003 ‘Navarre’ based at BA133 Nancy-Ochey in France. He explained that clean hunter is a Command Exercise that allows NATO decision-makers to act in a much wider geographical area than other exercises that are more restricted in terms of air space, number of aircraft and are focussed on fewer places. Mission Commanders have to organise the mission from one location, but involve multiple air assets of various types located at different air bases in Europe. This is what makes clean hunter different.
At the same time, the Squadron Commander does not need a dedicated and deployed aircrew but can assign the mission to any person and aircraft available at that time.
Two squadrons from BA133 Nancy-Ochey participated in clean hunter: EC01.003 ‘Navarre’ (callsign Coca) and ЕСОЗ.ООЗ ‘Ardennes’ (callsign Commis) each with two Mirage 2000Ds for CAS or Al missions. On June 25, Coca was part of a package charged with AI, together with Jaguars from BA113 St Dizier, France and Tornado IDS from Norvenich AB, Germany, that were flying with Mirage 2000RDIs from BA103 Cambrai, France, providing ’sweep’ (top cover). The package attacked Neuburg AB where it encountered locally-based F- 4Fs and Turkish AF F-4Es carrying out CAP.
Lt Andreas Ingelsandt, an F-4F Phantom pilot at Neuburg AB, was part of the CAP defending his home base: «It is always interesting to learn and teach new procedures, exchange information and co-operate with foreign air forces, even if they operate the same aircraft. Although the aircraft are the same, the manner in which differing air forces operate them is often very different. During clean hunter, Neuburg AB provided ‘sweep’, CAP and AD [Air Defence] missions throughout the whole period.»
Among the air assets that now play a fundamental part in exercises and operations are the tankers that provide an air-to-air refuelling capability. The 100th Air Refuelling Wing based at RAF Mildenhall in the UK offers such a capability, courtesy of its KC-135Rs. During clean hunter, the tankers were temporarily deployed to RAF Fairford because Mildenhall’s runway was closed for runway work. Consequently it was from the Gloucestershire base that at 0940Z on June 21, a KC-135 (callsign Lager 63) took off for a clean hunter refuelling mission on the Giny air-refuelling track accompanied by second KC-135 on the same mission.
Giny and Rosy were two air-refuelling tracks over Northern Germany, east of Hopsten AB. After nearly two-hours flying time from RAF Fairford Lager 63 flight reached the air-refuelling tracks where Lager 63 was tasked to fly at FL180 (18,000ft [5,480m]) and Lager 64 at FL185 (18,500ft [5,640m]).
The first receivers — four Dutch F-16s from Twenthe AB and four German F-4F Phantoms from Wittmund AB — made contact and proceeded to take on fuel. Meanwhile, Lager 64 carried out the same procedure for eight Belgian F-16s from
Kleine Brogel AB. Each aircraft took about three minutes to complete air refuelling and everything ran smoothly. After all the receivers had left, the two tankers made their way back to RAF Fairford, where they landed a couple of hours later.
The 786th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) based at Sembach AB in Germany practised its search and rescue skills from June 14 to 18. It was joined by personnel from the 56th ROS (Rescue Squadron) based at Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, and rescue teams from British, Polish and Czech forces. Throughout the week, airmen practised inserting and extracting troops and rescuing ‘survivors’ or ‘downed pilots’. Two 56th ROS HH-60G Pave Hawks participated along with Czech and Polish helicopters. Airmen from the unit have been working together in real-world deployments since Kosovo in 1999 and more recently in evacuating people from the American Embassy in Liberia in 2003.
This CSAR exercise was set up after a request was made to the US Air Forces Europe officials for more opportunities to maintain a working relationship with the 786th SFS and their combat search and rescue support. This is all part of a broader plan to establish a NATO response force that has the necessary skills to set up operations from bare-base locations.