Combining the best of live flying and constructive generated training is the goal of the Tactical Leadership Programme. Major Bram Remmelzwaal, Royal Netherlands Air Force, writes.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been conducting live flying training in mixed fighter force operations since 1978 when NATO nations in central Europe had the desire to improve the capabilities of their air forces, by training realistically, and developing tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP’s) for operating in multi-national air operations. That year Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the USA started the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) at Fürstenfeldbruck in Germany. Since that time TLP has grown with the addition of Denmark, Italy, Spain, Greece and France. In 2009 TLP moved to its current home, Base Aérea Albacate in Spain.

The Base Aérea Albacete is a two and half hours car drive East of Madrid in the interior of Spain. Albacete is the capital of the Castilla De La Mancha region. Just five kilometres south of the city centre is BA Albacete, co-located with the national airport of Albacete.

A TLP Flying Course typically lasts 4 weeks. In November, TLP Flying Course 2012-6 saw participating aircraft from Italy with Tornado’s and EF2000’s, Belgium with F-16’s, France with Mirage 2000N’s and Super Étendards, Poland with F-16’s, the United Kingdom with Tornado GR4’s, the USA with F-16CM’s and Spain with F-18’s.

Spanish Air Force Colonel Enrique Martinez Vallas, an experienced F-5, C-101 and F-18 pilot, is the current commandant of TLP and states “TLP’s goal is to keep the training offered the best NATO has.” All participating aircrew plan their missions together and utilize the capabilities of the individual aircraft types to fulfil the missions as tasked by the TLP staff. Col Vallas underlines this aspect of the multi-national and multi disciplinal operations: “Flying is fine, but planning is the basis, this in combination with a good debrief following the flying is paramount”. Much time is put into these integral parts of the mission. The TLP-staff strives to get the best out of their student aircrew.

The TLP-staff consists of front-line pilots and navigators, but also command and control, ground based air defence, intelligence and electronic warfare officers and specialists. They come up with the tasking and direct and assist during planning and debrief of the missions. The staff members typically rotate every three years, thus keeping the knowledge and skills fresh from the operational front line units.

This year lessons learned from NATO’s operation over Libya, “Operation Unified Protector” (OUP), are used to keep the training current and beneficial and Col Vallas notes “New techniques like adding Link 16 is part of the provided training opportunities. The interaction during the mission by utilizing Link 16 is important as demonstrated during the Libya operation and today’s TLP missions continue on that track.” Major Bonifacio ‘Bono’ Baca of the U.S. Air Force supervises the TLP Link 16 system operations at Albacete. The Warrior Preparation Center (WPC) of the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE), based in Germany, provides the current system. The six U.S.-personnel attached to TLP are Detachment 1 of the WPC.

The Link 16 suite is the Tactical Communications Group Battlefield Operational Support System (BOSS). According to Maj Baca, “BOSS allows TLP staff to be a Link 16 player and to offer constructive training for participating aircrew in live air operations. We have real aircraft with real pilots, but also operators on the ground, injecting air, ground, and surface data to enhance training. The added value is that we can realistically replicate training for aircrews that is normally offered by other aircraft or ground-based platforms, but are not always available for TLP.” Speaking about scarce assets such as Command and Control platforms e.g. E-3 AWACS, RC-135 Rivet Joint, and Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, like UAV’s, Baca notes “These aircraft are normally available during air campaigns and by simply adding them (simulated) in Link 16 they can provide their critical battlefield data, albeit constructively.” “Participating pilots see the information generated by the notional entities as in the real world.”

BOSS is an interim system for TLP, as TLP will procure its own Link 16 system. Vallas says “The goal is to fully exploit Link 16 and a study is done to assess the needed amount of operators, but also their required skills.” He continues, “TLP is still in the research phase. This year we invited other companies to show their equipment, like NATO Programming Centre with their CSI Link 16 simulator and France based Diginext with their TACTX suite. We are not in the procurement phase yet, we first need to write a program of work based on mission needs. We hope that the TLP-steering group and nations will make a final decision in June 2013 on the hardware as well as the addition of operators. It is our goal to reach Initial Operational Capability in 2014.” For the time being TLP is happy with their borrowed BOSS-suite.

During TLP Flying Course 2012-6, Netherlands Army First Lieutenant Ruud Hermans and Army Warrant Officer Dirk van Velzen of the Netherlands National Data link Management Cell (NDMC) and Royal Netherlands Air Force Lieutenant Pascal Kwaks of the Dutch Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) were present at Albacete. They were operating BOSS and assisting the TLP-staff with generating constructive training during the flying missions. Warrant Officer van Velzen: “The joint NDMC is utilizing Link 16 simulation for generating realistic training during live flying exercises, but also during testing periods and the CRC during daily training. The Netherlands NDMC has a lease contract with TCG for their BOSS-software and as such we deploy BOSS on frequent bases in the Netherlands. The help out of the NDMC was requested by the TLP commander and the Netherlands Air Force responded by sending teams to the TLP Flying Courses in 2012.”

Lieutenant Hermans, as an Army GBAD officer, is enthusiastic about being an operator during the TLP Flying Course and getting an operational insight of ‘the other side’ he often battled in exercises. “This closes the circle of experience”. Warrant Officer van Velzen opined that with constructive training imagination is the limiting factor, illustrating with an example: “TLP had equipped a car with GPS, simulating an offensive target. We manually updated its received GPS-position on BOSS via Link 16 to the fighters as it was sent by a constructive J-STARS ground surveillance platform. The updates were given till the sensors of the tasked fighter acquired the car as target. It worked great and the aircrew were enthusiastic. We can even send imagery via Link 16 on what the target looks like. This all in order to get the most realistic training, just as during real air campaigns.” In regard to the Dutch support, Col Vallas elaborated, “It is not easy to find well trained Link 16 personnel. Their support is very practical, they help us out on BOSS and in between the missions they advise us on Link 16 matters and thus helping us shaping TLP for its future.”

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, performs pre-flight checks prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)
Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, performs pre-flight checks prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

Maj Baca states “This is only the start, we want training at TLP to be at the leading edge, therefore we need to implement new technology. In addition to Link 16, we want chat functionality to coordinate with AWACS and the Spanish Command and Control units supporting us. We are now conceptualizing how to do this. If AWACS is not participating, we need a Recognized Air Picture from the Spanish Air Force Ground Environment. We also want simulated threat systems of our own.” TLP is dependant on support of individual nations and units when it comes to SAM-systems, threat emitters, simulating various radar systems to challenge participating aircrew and Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP’s) to interact with TLP fighters.

Elaborating on the way ahead, Col Vallas stated “For the new technology we follow three routes. The first was to get an Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI) real time tracking and monitoring system. We now have a contract with Diehl BGT Defence a German company. The second route will give us the air picture and add new radio’s to communicate with airborne assets. The third is to get realistic threats and that will be a combination of real live (actual SAM-systems), virtual (i.e. emulators and simulators) and constructive (via Link 16).”

With the constant addition of new technology, NATO’s Tactical Leadership Programme will be able to stay in touch with real world operations and on the leading edge of flying training with a focus on tactics and leadership.