Two German Air Force Tornados roared away from the runway at Lechfeld airbase in Germany, banking hard to chase the disappearing dots on the skyline which represented a diverse package of six rescue helicopters. These aircraft—two German Air Force UH-1D Hueys, two AB212s from the Italian Air Force and a Caracal EC725 teamed with an AS330 Puma from the French Air Force—were heading towards an enemy controlled Area of Operations (AO) intent on rescuing two F-15E crewmen. Their fast jet had been hit earlier that day by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) and now they were busy avoiding capture and waiting for deliverance from the sky in the shape of a multi-national rescue force.
This exercise scenario was one of several held from September 15–30 at the annual Combined Joint Personnel Recovery Standardization Course (CJPRSC). This year the German Air Force hosted the course at its historic Lechfeld airbase just northwest of the city of Munich (the previous year it had been conducted at Cazaux airbase in France). Lt. Col. Uwe Schleimer, JPR-1 with the European Air Group (EAG) and currently based at Air Command in High Wycombe, UK, is the architect of the course. With a fast-jet background on F4 Phantoms, Schleimer has served in a variety of commands within NATO, including J5 Plans for Afghanistan. He has been with the EAG since 2007.
“The turnout this year has been excellent,” says Schleimer. “All the assets that were promised turned up, which is very important as much work goes into the planning of the two-week exercise [in the past some promised assets were withdrawn at short notice by countries citing national tasking priority]. This full attendance has allowed us to put two full task force packages into the air on each day with fixed-wing escort, rotary wing escort, recovery vehicles, a command and control platform and an E3A NATO AWACS overhead.”
For Schleimer, the CJPRSC is virtually an annual commitment in terms of organization, for the two-week exercise takes up a major part of his working year to organize. “The future of this CJPRSC looks like remaining in the hands of the EAG, at least for the next year,” says Schleimer. “We are tasked by the EAG steering group. Following studies in 2002 it was decided that member nations should have a dedicated exercise to train CSAR/PR procedures.” This decision resulted in the Volcanex exercises. However, since 2008 the EAG has been running the CJPRSC with the intention of training individuals in personnel recovery, where the ‘how to’ was more important than the result.
“Process is the aim—not the output,” states Schleimer. It seems that the international military commands who support this course mutually agree that it remains with the EAG as it is something of a neutral entity. Although its procedures are taken and adapted from NATO standards, it has wider appeal than both NATO members or those involved in the European Defence Agency (EDA).
However, Schleimer feels that the natural development of the CJPRSC could be achieved better from within the Tactical Leadership Program located in Spain. (See note*) Around 270 participants this year hailed from 12 nations, including Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic. The Germans, French and Italians provided the fixed and rotary wing aircraft, although one of the ground extraction forces came from Sweden.
Assets available throughout the CJPRSC comprised the following: four Tornado (German Air Force); two AMX (Italian Air Force); two UH-1D (German Air Force); two Gazelle (French Army); two AB212 (Italian Air Force); one EC725 (French Air Force); one AS330 Puma (French Air Force); one EH101 ASW (Italian Navy); two Pelican HH3-F (Italian Navy); one Sea King (Italian); and lastly one E3A Sentry (NATO).
The objective of staging a course of this nature is to bring together a disparate mix of international rotary and fixed-wing aircrew to practice, review and if necessary, revise commonly used operating procedures. The EAG was laid down its own common operating procedures (COPs) over a period of years that are based on NATO standard operating procedures (SOPs). Once the course is completed, all of the aircrew should take this experience with them and be able to call on it should they find themselves deployed into an operational area where a need for a multinational personnel recovery mission arises.
The CJPRSC began with four days of academic briefings followed by seven days of missions. Two night exercises were originally included but the briefed and agreed level of light thought acceptable for the course was found to be lower on arrival to Lechfeld, therefore they were rescheduled as day exercises.
The participants involved in this course had a wide range of experience. For some this was to be their first exposure to CJPRSC. Looking after them was a selection of PR specialists headed by Lt. Col. Schleimerm who was supported by a temporary staff of Mission Monitor (MIMO) PR specialists including Maj. Bart Holewijn, previously a staff officer at NATO JAPCC but now the new commander of the Netherlands Air Force SERE School Commander, Squadron Leader Nige Moseley, SO2 RAF SERE School and Maj. Tor Cavalli Bjorkman, PR officer from the Swedish Armed Forces.
Rather than merely acting as critical observers, the role of the MIMOs was more of a mentoring one, re-enforcing techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs), helping to interpret mission objectives and critical information as it was handed down for the exercises from Command Group. They brought a more experienced approach in occasionally reminding the more eager participants to take a step back to refocus on the broader picture. Often in a developing situation, more inexperienced eyes tend to focus down on one particular aspect of the mission as it unfolds. Occasionally two different approaches can be steadfastly debated within the group. In some cases that argument becomes redundant, as the tactical situation on the ground moves on and a third approach is called for.
Each day’s scenario was set in advance by the EAG, with each mission briefed to the participants via a JCHAT computer messaging system (very similar to Microsoft’s MSN). Although only in another room of the command bunker at Lechfeld airbase where the exercise teams were based, the scenarios were set to simulate remote tasking as would be common on operations. Questions and answers went back and forth as the combined mission group explored the edges of the tasking that they had received. What was the source of a particular piece of intelligence? Could it be trusted? How old was the information? What were the last known positions of the dreaded surface-to-air missile (SAM) threats?
The mission on the first day that Rotor & Wing was present was to recover two friendly forces, in this case aircrew from an F-15E that had reportedly been shot down with a SAM. The area of operations (AO) was west and east of the course base. The operational scenario was set in an imaginary region with two enemy held countries, two friendly, and one neutral (but which could not be described as safe). The rescue was to occur on the borderline between neutral and enemy held zones.
As with any air operations over unfriendly territory, the ground-to-air threat is taken very seriously. For the missions that this writer witnessed on September 23-24, the briefed intelligence picture stated that the following threats were present in the AO in some form or other, and had to be planned for: Roland (actual vehicle present), SA-8 Gecko (simulated), ZSU23-4 (simulated), ZPU-1. Crews also had to be aware of the potential presence of an SA-7B MANPAD, as well as a range of small arms including RPGs, mines and possible landing zone improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
During the course of the morning planning stage, a couple of the MIMOs observed that the crews were not spending enough time in their initial brainstorming sessions. Once the briefing had concluded, they noticed, the mission commanders were assigning sub-commanders particular roles within the mission. These commanders then tended to get into a huddle with their own people and work the problem. The MIMOs said that they would have favoured an approach where the senior representatives of each element spent more time brainstorming an initial plan, then took it back to their respective groups to refine. The result was that in the final mission briefing, many more questions surfaced than may otherwise have been necessary. During the briefing on the second day, the MIMO staff stepped in after a somewhat longwinded final brief to ensure that everyone confirmed that they were happy to fly the rather complicated plan. In another briefing a last-minute suggestion was tabled for a combination of fast-jet and rotary wing assets to create a ‘noise’ diversion to ostensibly draw ground forces away from the LZs, but this came after the mission plan had been briefed to the MIMO staff for approval. As one MIMO commented, “the best plan will not help you if it is too late to be incorporated.” But in the shakedown at the end of the day, these are exactly the issues that the course is designed to highlight.
Fast-jet crews have traditionally regarded this kind of exercise (with helicopters) as not very challenging. However, the ongoing and frequent use of close air support in Iraq and now Afghanistan over recent years has fully emphasised the vital role that they can bring in suppressing enemy forces, especially when troops are in close contact. With two Tornados acting as high-level escorts for the missions that R&W witnessed, their package included a reconnaissance/sensor POD, HAARM anti-radar missiles, air-to-ground rockets and 20mm guns. This would give the rescue force a rapid reaction punch far above any that any rotary-only force could offer. Sweeping for radar contacts ahead of the rescue force—both on the way in and on the way out—would add a considerable measure of comfort. As it was, their role was focused on trying to identify ground based radar guided SAM systems on the infil and exfil rules for the helicopters. The Roland operators played their part with claims and counter-claims on who had been destroyed first.
The value of having the rotary wing crews in the same briefing and planning as the fast jet aircrews, command and control platform operators and the extraction force commanders was very obvious. A mutual understanding of each other’s capabilities and needs helped to build each scenario.
The debriefing sessions were held within each mission group and finally a summary from each mission commander was put to the whole course group. This also included feeds from the MIMOs, fixed-wing, AWACS, Intel teams and the course commander. Individual comments and observations were raised about particular events during each mission, but the MIMO staff were more interested in focusing on general themes that needed improvement. These included: inter-planning group communication early in the planning stages; the need for cell planners to create good snapshots of intent to aid group situational awareness; the ever-present need for time management during planning; constant communication card updating and adherence to a common plan; all backed up by good airborne communications between mission aircraft, their command and control platform, the AWACS and the teams on the ground.
During a final summary with R&W, LTC Schleimer said that the U.S. had, over many years, encouraged Europe to initiate and create its own personnel recovery capability. “Now we have done that,” says Schleimer. “The next step should be to re-engage with U.S. PR specialists to further sharpen and expand the skills and TTPs that are being practised and developed in Europe. Ideally this would at least be in the form of liaison staff, knowledgeable in US methods of mission planning and execution so that we could bring our standard operating procedures closer together.”
*Note: The Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE) Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) was born in January 1978 out of a desire by the Central Region Air Forces to not only improve the tactical capabilities of their own air forces but also to develop tactics, techniques and procedures which would enhance multi-national tactical air operations. In January 2002 TLP became a ‘Unit in Support of SHAPE’. TLP is now called "Allied Command Operations Tactical Leadership Program", or ACO TLP. In July 2009 ACO TLP moved to Albacete Air Base in Spain. (For further information go to: www.tlp-inf.org).