European Editor Dim Jones describes the EW Training Facility (EWTF) at RAF Spadeadam.
Running east to west along the northern slopes of the Tyne Valley, between the Solway Firth and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans in the 2nd Century AD to keep out the marauding tribes of northern Britain, a reminder of the Roman occupation of Britain some 2 millennia ago. Just north of the wall, and in a different way just a significant for the defence of the UK, is the Electronic Warfare Training Facility (EWTF) at RAF Spadeadam.
Until 1957, no-one very much contested the Spadeadam area with the marauding tribesmen; at that point, by reason of its low population density it was selected as the site for the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Test Centre and specifically the Blue Streak missile. This ill-fated project was cancelled in 1960, on the grounds of expense and vulnerability to pre-emptive strike, but the massive concrete test structures at Greymares Hill still dominate the Spadeadam skyline. In 1976, the RAF took over the site, and it became Europe’s first Electronic Warfare Tactics Range.
The range surface area itself, by the standards of some tactical air ranges elsewhere, is relatively small – some 9600 acres – but its associated air exclusion zone is much larger (about 30 x 15nm), and this is further extended by a low-flying area exclusive to, and controlled by, Spadeadam. In turn, this area is itself part of a larger restricted low-flying area, extending almost across the country, where operational low flying at Minimum Separation Distances (MSD) down to 100 feet is permitted. Thus, the Spadeadam range lies at the heart of a complex in which aircraft, in large formations if required, can enjoy full tactical freedom at low level, something which other facilities – such as the Polygon range on the Franco-German border, run by those 2 nations and the US – cannot offer because of the restrictions on low flying in continental Europe. In the early EWTR days of the Cold War, air superiority could not be guaranteed, and UK tactics heavily favoured low-level operations. Since 1990, air operations in theatres such as the Balkans, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have been in permissive or semi-permissive environments, allowing medium-level air operations. The associated training requirements present an airspace problem above Spadeadam, which is resolved by careful coordination with other airspace users.
The facilities which the EWTF can offer fall into 3 broad categories: firstly, the pure electronic warfare aspects; secondly, the target arrays which provide the realistic environment in which defensive tactics can be practised; and thirdly, and more recently, the associated ground activity, which can be used to exercise ISTAR capabilities and support training for air-land operations. The early EW emitters reflected the Warsaw Pact equipment of the day, namely the ‘single-digit’ SAMs and equivalent associated equipments that constituted the bulk of the threat. At that time, these weapons systems were obtained by clandestine methods on which I will not dwell, but the demise of the WP provided opportunities to obtain this ‘legacy’ equipment by more orthodox means, not least through the acquisition by NATO of former East German Armed Forces kit. Since 1990, the opposition against which NATO and allied forces have been called upon to operate has largely been of this vintage, and so the capabilities of Spadeadam have remained relevant; furthermore, and although we have historically been spectacularly bad at predicting where we might become involved next, many of the likely contenders sport systems no more advanced than these. There is an aspiration to acquire more modern systems for the EWTF, but to the obvious trouble in obtaining them can be added the difficulty and expense of maintaining them.
Current EWTF systems are a mix of genuine equipment and emulators, and comprise SA-2, 3, 6, 8, 10, 11 and ZSU-23/4; there is also a Skyguard radar, associated with the Oerlikon 35mm AA gun system. In addition, ‘Lucky’ is a system which simulates a shoulder-launched SAM, and the infra-red missile threat posed by shoulder-launched weapons such as SA-7 is further represented by Smoky SAMs, a rocket system which replicates the characteristic smoke trail of these weapons. The Mallina EO-UV system stimulates aircraft missile warning receivers, and a Javelin laser simulator replicates that threat. Emulator equipment includes 2 versions of the US-built AN/MPD T-43, the Version 1 which emulates SA-6 (Gainful) and the associated Straight Flush radar, and Version 4 which emulates the SA-8 Gecko missile and Landroll radar, albeit without the search radar capabilities of the real equipment. The T1 emulates the Fansong and Low Blow radars associated with SA-2 (Guideline) and SA-3 (Goa) systems. The equipment is virtually identical to the real systems, using radar as a primary tracking mode with an optical back-up, thus making chaff and manoeuvre an effective defensive tactic. Lastly, ‘Jets’ is a landrover-based mobile radar simulator, which can provide a variety of threats.
The ‘real’ equipment – SA-8, SA-6 and ZSU-23/4 – is fully operational as far as the weapons systems are concerned; indeed, considering their age, and the valve and equivalent technology involved, they are remarkably serviceable, and some have been upgraded with digital systems in Poland. However, although the associated vehicles are capable of being rendered fully serviceable at short notice if required, the cost of maintenance and operation, and Health & Safety restrictions, mean that it is more sensible to deploy them on low loaders when necessary. Apart from the T1, which is static and positioned at the Berry Hill operations complex in the middle of the range, all the equipments are mobile; this is key, in that, while the range users know which systems are on the range, they have no idea where they are. Furthermore, the RAF has negotiated the use of small enclaves, well outside the range area but within the low flying system, where individual vehicles can be deployed, with their operating crews, for up to a week. In this way, aircraft attacking the range can be threatened during ingress and egress, and not just on the range itself. Other equipment can be deployed to distant locations, and operated remotely through a telephone link. For example, a SA-6 is regularly deployed to a small airfield on the Northumbrian coast, so that aircraft can practise their full chaff profiles over the sea while under threat from it. On that score, the use of flares and chaff is permitted on the EWTF range itself, but with some restrictions. There is also a small live weapons range – Wiley Sike – within the danger area, on which practice weapons can be employed.
In addition to the emitting equipment, there is a vast array of some 250 static and mobile target sets scattered around the range complex, including decommissioned aircraft, vehicles and armour, and some manufactured mock-ups; while the latter may be readily identifiable as such from close range and zero speed, they certainly look realistic from 100 feet and 500 knots. This brings me to the issue of ISTAR, and the capability that has been developed during recent operations for suitably-equipped aircraft, be they manned or unmanned, to loiter at medium level, using their sensors to scan a target area under the control of a Forward Air Controller. Often what they are searching for is a pattern of activity; this can be provided by EWTF personnel, dressed and equipped as either foreign military or insurgent, and pursuing whatever nefarious task is required of them – for instance, the deployment of an IED. They are also equipped with realistic inflatable replicas of high-value targets, such as Scud-B missiles.
The range is controlled from the operations room at Berry Hill by a team comprising 4 elements: the Range Controller; the Air Traffic Controllers; the Flight Ops Assistants; and the EW Tactical Coordinators. The Flight Ops Assistants deal with range bookings and monitor the weather. The Air Traffic Controllers monitor the movements of booked and transit traffic, control range traffic as required while on the range, and liaise with other airspace authorities (including proximate airports, such as Newcastle and Carlisle, but predominately with the London ATC Centre at Swanwick) to deconflict range and other traffic, and to negotiate additional airspace in order to satisfy training requirements; they can provide a radar control service in all classifications of controlled airspace. The upper level in the range area is 5500ft, which satisfies the needs of low-level operators; however, the increase in medium-level surveillance and attack operations militates for more airspace, and the upper limit of the range can be increased to 18000 by NOTAM, and further by negotiation. The EW Tactical Coordinator ensures that the threats requested by the customer are provided where and when they are needed, and the Range Controller exercises overall control of the range complex. The EWTC can also provide debrief data, which can be e-mailed to the user for hot debrief on landing. More detailed debriefing can be achieved using data stored on disk and sent to the user.
The staff at the EWTF comprises some 80 service personnel, and 120 civilians, fulfilling a variety of standard RAF station functions, but also some peculiar to Spadeadam, such as the Threat Delivery Flight, which provides the non-RF threats, the GAFE section, which deals with the technical and operating aspects of German Air Force Equipment (the SA-6 and-8 and the ZSU-23/4), the Tactical Emulator Section, and the Threat Instructional Flight, which trains the operators.
Customers come from a variety of sources. The major range users are units of the UK Armed Forces, which arrive in a variety of guises. Operational training comprises the full spectrum, from a single aircraft, conducting an initial range recce as part of operational work-up training, through pre-deployment training for operational theatres, advanced coursework - such as the Qualified Weapons Instructor (QWI) course for fast-jet aircrew and the Qualified Helicopter Tactics Instructor (QHTI) course for rotary-wing, and Special Forces training, both multi-engine and RW. The range is used extensively for trials work, and is increasingly visited by US aircraft based in UK including the 352nd Special Ops Group - which has just added V-22 Osprey aircraft to its inventory - and by European nations, including more unusual customers, such as the French Foreign Legion, taking advantage of the tactical freedom of operations. EWTF personnel can also deploy, with equipment, to locations ranging from Lossiemouth to Oman - wherever a simulated threat is needed.
The EWTF also provides a unique facility for air-land training; one example is its utility as an exercise objective for major exercises such as the biennial Joint Warrior, where major troop insertions, by helo or para-drop, can be practised in simulated non-permissive environments. Last year, Joint Warrior used Spadeadam, and specifically such ground objectives as ‘Kalinsky’, a simulated airfield, and Prior Lancy, for assaults by over 4000 troops, including 16 Air Assault Brigade and 42 Commando. Lastly, the Joint Forward Air Controller Training and Standards Unit (JFACTSU) – see MS&T Issue 1-2011for a full report – stages part of its end-of-course Exercise Final Thunder at Spadeadam. This takes advantage of the controlled air environment, the Eastern-bloc target array and SAM systems, the ability to use pyros and blank ammunition, and to practise mounted and dismounted patrol procedures; it allows the JFACTSU staff to train and evaluate future FACs by exposing them to a ‘battlefield inoculation’, in which they exercise dynamic control of Close Air Support and Joint Fires operations in a 3-D battlespace environment, working in conjunction with a ground commander and role-played chain of command.
The EWTF staff is committed to improving the facility, within the omnipresent budgetary constraints. The latest project is a helicopter refuelling and rearming area, which will allow RW aircraft to turn round on-site instead of returning to deployment bases, thus allowing up to 4 sorties per day vice the current one or two and, equally importantly, facilitating hot debrief for the crews while the aircraft is turning by means of a short trip to the Berry Hill ops room. Other aspirations for the future, subject to budgetary constraint, include: widening the capability of some of the equipment to operate in low light and darkness as well as daylight; upgrading emulators to replicate more modern threat systems; and taking advantage of Spadeadam’s large and unique real estate to appeal to a wider variety of customers. The bottom line is that, where there’s a potential threat, there is a training need, which the EWTF will strive to meet.