Giovanni Taurino reports from Germany on Exercise elite, the annual German Air Force electronic warfare exercise.
THIS YEAR’S annual German Air Force electronic warfare training exercise, ELITE, was held at the Heuberg training area in southern Baden-Wurttemberg from May 3-14. Fifteen NATO nations, plus three other countries, developed and tested new tactical procedures in the most realistic scenarios possible, with Poland and Hungary acting as observers. For the aircrews, air defence forces and command-and-control personnel involved, ELITE is one of the highlights of the training programme. A total of 1,500 soldiers, some 110 ground vehicles and more than 90 aircraft took part in the exercise, which also included low-flying operations. In contrast to the general minimum low-flying height of 1,000ft (300m) Above Ground Level (AGL), low flying was carried out to a limited height of 500ft (150m) AGL in accordance with an exemption provision.
Main objectives of the exercise
Exercise ELITE highlights the operational training and follow-on training of aircrews, C2 (command and control) and administrative personnel of surface-to-air missile (SAM) forces and of the tactical air control service in a complex and realistic scenario. Supported by the Bundeswehr technical centres, the effectiveness of current jamming/deception techniques and tactical procedures is verified and further developed. The exercise increases combat crew efficiency in a complex electronic warfare scenario, highlights the proficiency and operational readiness of each participating nation’s force, evaluates its individual preparation for operations and develops and verifies tactical procedures.
Historical development of ELITE
Exercise ELITE has been held every year since 1995 and is the result of an initiative by two German Air Force Fighter Bomber Wings (Jagdbombegeschwaders — Jbg) Jbg-32 at Lechfeld and the now disbanded Jbg-34 at Memmingen.
Internal agreements with SAM forces and nearby armoured units were set up in order to train the operating personnel of air defence units and the aircrews of both wings in the field of electronic warfare as realistically as possible. After successfully completing the first exercises, the need to employ other weapon systems and, above all, to carry out a dedicated evaluation was recognised.
It was also necessary to use a permanent training area for deployment (dispersal of troops) of the SAM systems and to establish a realistic environment for the employment of airborne weapon systems (primarily Tornado aircraft). The high demands of German Air Force and German Navy air wings, air defence units and the German Army and German Air Force signal intelligence units made it necessary to transfer the lead responsibility for Exercise ELITE to a single Command.
For the first time this year, ELITE was conducted under the lead responsibility of GAF Tactical Command South.
ELITE has developed into an exercise which goes far beyond the unit-internal training and follow-on training possibilities. Consequently, it is particularly useful as a preparation for other Air Force exercises and tactical evaluations, and above all for the realistic preparation of possible employment in a crisis or combat area. Exercise ELITE has become an integral part of the Bundeswehr exercise programme, and has been improved by the integration of individual units from other nations (primarily NATO nations).
For the third year running, ELITE was held at the Heuberg Range, an army training range and the highest exercise area in the south of Germany. The range is about nine miles (15km) north-west of Sigmaringen on the Schwabische Alb at a height of 2.620-2,950ft (800-970m) above sea level. From east to west the range is 4.5 miles (7.5km) long and four miles (7km) from north to south. It covers an area of 11,860 acres (4,800 hectares), 40% of which is covered by mixed woodland and thicket, making it perfect for air-to-ground training.
In the early afternoon of April 28, participants drove their weapon systems and support equipment to the Hueberg Range, their base for the coming two weeks. Apart from Germany, NATO members comprised the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary (observer), Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland (observer), Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. A NATO E-3 AWACS from Geilenkirchen AB, Germany also took part, along with non-NATO forces from Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. According to Maj Thomas Emig, the exercise’s coordinator, the 2004 exercise was the biggest yet, with more than 100 aircraft deployed at German, French, Swiss, Dutch and Austrian air bases, offering high-quality electronic warfare training for C2 personnel.
A Typical Air Operation
After departure from their respective bases all the aircraft joined up at a prior arranged area north of Regensburg. From there, they headed west to enter one of two corridors — one north (ERA4) or one south (ERA1) — which route to Heuberg Range (ERA3a and ERA3b), flying through the combat area (ERA2).
A range slot time was allocated to each mission to measure the level of mission accomplishment. On the morning of Day 7, the entire exercise mission was set at 40 minutes duration, timed from departure with the first slot time at 06.45 Zulu time. This involved Swedish Air Force Viggens callsign ‘Spider’ tasked with jamming the range from high altitude. Other strike packages were approaching Heuberg to meet their respective slot times. They were preceded by Swiss F/A-I8S callsign ‘Hornet’ performing an air space sweep against hostile air defence aircraft played alternatively by German Air Force F-4Fs callsign ‘Rhino’ and Austrian Air Force Saab 1050Es callsign ‘Tiger’ or ‘Zombie’. The strike was initiated by two German Air Force Tornado ECRs callsign ‘Dragon’ at about 600 knots (1,110km/h) for a Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) mission following clearance by ‘Hornet’ section. During this time, C-160s, callsigns ‘Castor’ and ‘Cargo’ were awaiting clearance to drop supplies and troops into the target area.
Once aircraft arrived over the target area, there were ground defences to avoid. The numbers involved and the type of units deployed meant that this was one of the exercise’s more difficult aspects.
Heuberg Range is circular and Maj Emig divided the ground assets into a number of clusters and targets – like slices of a cake — each sector would be active at different times. In this way, the attacking forces would be unaware of where the ground threat came from, creating maximum surprise to the bomber aircrew, to provide the most realistic environment comparable with a real combat mission.
Evaluating the performance of the various aircraft requires comparison of the aircraft’s flight data with data from the radar, and this was achieved by deploying a Flight Profile Recorder (FPR) on the ground.
An instrumentation pod is attached to a weapon pylon on each aircraft, such as those used for AIM-9 or AIM-120 missiles. It is linked to the aircraft’s on-board avionics and weapons systems to exchange data and record the three-dimensional flight path. The pod communicates directly with ground stations, allowing the mission to be evaluated in a very short time. The number of air forces — not only those in NATO — which require a modern state-of-the-art Air Combat Maneuverability Instrumentation (ACMI) system is high, so there is an obvious need for inter-operability. In Europe, a new standard of ACMI operations has been established, and ten nations have selected the EHUD airborne pod, which goes under other names in the United Kingdom (RAIDS/Action) and France (SEMAC/Action). This is used for multi-national exercises, such as ELITE or the NATO Air Meet, and has shown itself to be a big step forward in debriefing capabilities and evaluating events.
Real-time monitoring is part of the new standard and is used more and more frequently, because most mission data is immediately available and can be processed. Classified data is held inside the pod and can only be assessed after flight unless a standardised and inter-operable encryption system is put into place.
Switzerland, a NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) nation, joined ELITE for the third time, having taken part in 2002 and 2003: four F/A-18s and one Cougar flew from Dubendorf AB. The Cougar (callsign ‘Scout’) was charged with the low altitude transport mission in single and combined operations. This was the first time that Switzerland had operated this helicopter in its complete configuration in tactical exercises involving other nations. The F/A-18s (callsign ‘Hornet’) were engaged in defensive counter air (escort) or offensive counter air (sweep).
The Swedish Contingent
It was Sweden’s second visit to the exercise, and it brought two GIRAFE 75 and two RBS 90 systems, plus a battery command post capable of producing local air pictures using information gained from the attached sensors. Half the crew was changed halfway through, 52 operators being involved.
In addition, new equipment called AACV 90 was tested for the first time, with the main purpose of seeing how far it was possible to go regarding firepower, networking and agility. This unit was the result of an upgrade of the CVAA 90 which began in 2002. The new version allows the crew to: Fire on the move against air targets; Transmit and receive target data for networking; Use a gyrocompass for GPS positioning; Pressurise for the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) environment
As with last year’s ELITE, Lechfeld AB was the home base for the Swedish Air Force EW-Viggen (electronic warfare) unit. For the morning and afternoon exercises, the aircraft took part in a two-ship formation for a jamming task with the callsign ‘Spider’. All the flights were co-ordinated with other mission assets, including the SEAD aircraft.
The Swedish EW-Viggen is the result of more than 30 years of airborne electronic attack (AEA) capability within the Swedish armed forces. In the early years, the focus was on enhancing pilots’ skills working in a dense EW environment and developing good electronic protection (EP) for its own radars. Gradually, attention turned to ground based air defence (GBAD) and integrated air defence networks.
When the EW-Aggressor Squadron was dismantled in 1997, the decision was taken to move the AEA capability from the aged J-32E Lansen to the more modern modified Sk37E Viggen. Today, the 211th Squadron, based with F21, the Norrbotten Wing, based at LuleS, flies the six remaining Sk37E Viggens within the Swedish Air Force.
Exercise ELITE has evolved into an integral part of the annual training programme for many of the NATO nations. It is a realistic and effective learning tool that provides great benefit to all of the participating aircrews and groundcrews alike.