As the first TLP course of 2004 concludes, Michael Balter looks back at the last TLP course of 2003 held at Florennes Airbase in Belgium to see what this regular exercise offers both the participants and the enthusiasts.
Florennes has been the home of the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) operation since 1990 when the six nations that then formed the Central Region air forces (Belgium, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and USA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) establishing the facility. Since then Canada has withdrawn from the programme but is, together with France, represented with a liaison officer.
TLP 2003/5 consisted of the usual mix of NATO fast jets along with visiting and support aircraft. Florennes is home to the Belgian Armed Service's 2 Wing, whose F-16s can usually be expected to be active during the TLP.
On 23 October an air-to-ground mission with air-to-air protection over the French coast was scheduled to take place. It gave the opportunity to witness a mission with armed aircraft, as they were to use 'hot' chaff and flares, self-defence assets.
The principal purpose of TLP was, and still is, to increase the overall effectiveness of the Northern Region tactical air forces, through the development of leadership skills, tactical flying, mission planning and tasking capabilities, and conceptual and doctrinal initiatives. But with the new NATO concept that calls for air forces from different regions augmenting each other and flying missions together, the requirement for aircrew from all the NATO nations coming together and learning from each other can be achieved by TLP.
The flying branch is headed by a Lieutenant Colonel rank or equivalent drawn in rotation from Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, the UK and the US. Some fourteen officers from seven nations make up the two sections of the flying branch; air-to-ground and air defence. All the aircrew have recently completed front-line flying tours and all return to their home units, outside of the flying courses, to maintain flying currency. The majority have also participated in the TLP flying course at some stage of their flying careers and many have operational experience in the Middle East and Balkans theatres. The staff are responsible for co-ordinating the mission scenarios, briefing and debriefing the participants, assessing the results and also bringing out the lessons learned from each of the missions.
Six TLP flying courses, each of four weeks duration, are held every year with up to thirty aircraft and crews participating in each course. Each unit deploying to TLP for a flying course normally deploys with two aircraft, crews and an engineering detachment of up to thirty personnel. Consequently, the participating aircraft for each course includes a wide selection of all tactical aircraft available in the NATO inventory today. The objectives of the course are to provide realistic training for everybody involved in air warfare, within the limits of the peacetime regulations. Participants are presented with a new scenario each day - the scenarios, which cover all aspects of modern air warfare, are challenging and aim to trigger the imagination of the participants. This is often achieved by confronting them with situations not normally encountered during routine training missions at home. A further objective of the course is to facilitate a free exchange of information on weapons, tactics and capabilities between the participating nations. By providing an environment that encourages the discussion and development of multi-national tactics, participants find the best way to employ to full advantage the differing aircraft capabilities of the multi-national forces that make up composite air operations.
During each course, a building block approach is used to progress the crews through fifteen carefully structured sorties. These sorties are aimed at giving an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of one another's aircraft as well as developing tactics, techniques and procedures for fully integrated multi-national formations. Participants are divided into two packs - those with an air-to-ground speciality (the 'mud-movers') that form the attacking force, while the 'air-defenders' form the second group, tasked with either providing air defence support for the 'mud-package' or providing an opposing air defence threat. From the simple beginnings of leading a mixed four or six ship formation of aircraft against a limited fighter threat, the TLP participant is taken briskly through a number of scenarios which culminate in a 24-ship multi-national formation tasked with neutralising an 'enemy' target while threatened with an opposing air defence force of up to eight fighters and field deployed surface-to-air missile units. Owing to the central location of Florennes, TLP sorties are flown throughout England, Holland, Belgium, Germany and France.
This provides many advantages, not the least of which is the variety of terrain and targets that missions can be flown over, as well as spreading the burden of noise and providing weather alternate routes. In general, TLP missions are run on the 'train as you fight' principle, and Havequick II/Mode 4 IFF are employed on all missions. TLP now uses a rangeless ACMI system for mission debriefing and participating aircraft are required to fly with the Bodenseewerk Gerätetechnik (BGT) flight profile recorder (FPR) pod on all missions.
Air-to-air refuelling (AAR) is planned for up to four missions on each course. For non-AAR missions, TLP attempts to adjust mission profiles to match the radius of action of participating aircraft. Nevertheless, airspace limitations often result in lo-lo-lo missions of one hour thirty minutes and hi-lo-hi/hi-lo-lo missions of up to two hours.
The TLP runs a series of academic courses that centre around threat doctrine and tactics, weapons and weapons effects, aircraft performance, surface-to-air missile (SAM)/anti-aircraft artillery capabilities, battle staff management and offensive and defensive air operations. The aim of the courses is to provide the participants with increased job skills and foster a common understanding of all facets of central region tactical air operations. The TLP academic branch is headed by a wing commander/lieutenant colonel drawn in rotation from the member nations of the MOU and comprises two shops, academic and intelligence. The academic shop conducts stand-alone study courses that are designed to promote an awareness of combined air operations among the aircrew and other tactical supporting agencies of the central region. Some of the courses are ideal, though not essential, pre-employment training for the flying courses. The shop includes specialists in defensive and offensive operations, electronic warfare and combat search and rescue. The intelligence shop provides essential intelligence support to the other branches in the form of briefings and presentations as well as running specific intelligence courses for unit intelligence officers. To achieve its aim the branch has developed a variety of academic courses and study periods:
Composite air operations (COMAO)
As a common
thread for these courses, participants contribute by briefing each other
on their own weapon systems, aircraft capabilities and national tactics.
Later, during discussion periods and desktop exercises, these tactics
are analysed and comparisons made with the tactics and counter tactics
that TLP has found work best in combined operations. Through these courses,
TLP expertise can be made available to more participants than attend the
courses. In any year, approximately 500 representatives of the tactical
airforces of NATO will attend academic branch courses at Florennes.
My special thanks go to Maj Rens de Graaff, TLP and his team for their great support and help, without which this trip would not have been so successful. See you again in 2004!