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Go West!

Michael Balter looks back at the one of the TLP courses held during 2006 at Florennes Airbase in Belgium to see what this regular exercise offers both the participants and enthusiasts

Florennes has been the home of NATO's 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 Since then Canada has withdrawn from the programme but is, together with France, represented by a liaison officer. Italy and Denmark joined in 1996, followed by Spain in 2002. Florennes is home to the Belgian Armed Service's 2 Wing, whose F-16s can usually be expected to be active during the TLP.

TLP 2006-4 consisted of the usual mix of NATO fast jets, together with visiting and support aircraft, plus a German Navy Sea King Mk41 from MFG 5, normally based at Kiel-Holtenau for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

For the first time four Czech Air Force L-159 ALCA aircraft from 21 Základna Taktickeho Letectva (zTL), based at Cáslav (LKCV), joined in the flying course, two aircraft being full course participants with the other two aircraft flying a supporting role. Italy's F-16s were quickly decorated following the country's victory in the World Cup, bringing a splash of colour to the otherwise grey aircraft!

On 6 July an Tactical Air Support for Maritime (TASMO) mission was flown over the North Sea, where a ship was attacked by the TLP package. It gave the media party the opportunity to witness a mission take-off with armed aircraft, as they were to use 'hot' self-defence assets (chaff and flares). In the morning we had an briefing in the Ops Building by Colonel Minne, ACO Tactical Leadership Porgramme, who updated us with the latest information about the TLP and flying course 2006-4.

Unfortunately none of the four Czech Air Force L-159s flew that day, but we were able to talk to the pilots about their first experience of TLP. The objectives of the TLP are to provide realistic tactical training, to promote international inter-operability, to practise NATO procedures and above all, to develop the tactical leadership skills of participating aircrew.

There are three branches within TLP: The Academic Branch, the Concepts and Doctrine Branch and the Flying Branch. Academic Branch courses in the classroom train some five hundred personnel annually, while the Concepts and Doctrine Branch organises conferences for the staff and provides advice to various NATO working groups and organisations. However the main TLP activity is the flying course training - each year, the TLP staff organise six flying courses comprising approximately twenty-four fast-jet aircraft and additional support assets. Each course lasts four weeks and contains fifteen missions, the complexity increasing as the participating crews gain in experience.

NATO neighbours
Spanish salsa
FRA Falcons

A typical day on a flying course will be as follows: 08:00 weather briefing; 08:15 task/scenario briefing; 08:30 mission planning; 12:00 walk to aircraft; 13:00 take-off; 13:30 TOT; 15:30 aircraft back; 15:45 film assessment; 16:20 planning debrief; 17:35 AACMI debrief; 18:50 execution debrief; 20:00 'social debrief'...

In the future, the TLP programme will aim to integrate new NATO members, such as Poland and Hungary, consolidate night ops into the syllabus as well as integrate smart weapons and new sensor systems such as JSTARS and the necessary evil of the UAV. Much has been rumoured about a switch away from Florennes, and a recent re-basing study has recommended Albacete in Spain as offering better weather for an uninterrupted training programme.

General Michel Audrit, commander of the airbase of Florennes and ex-director of the TLP programme declared to the local press that the reasons that the TLP left Belgium were that NATO wishes to create a 'super TLP', to which an annual exercise would be added simulating an aerial conflict ('ACE Flag' - ACE: Allied Control in Europe) of one hundred airplanes flying simultaneously, some of which would carry live weapons, hence the necessity to look for a larger country (Spain is sixteen times bigger than Belgium).

The Spanish Government agreed to the recommendation on 27 October 2006 despite local opposition and it is expected it will take approximately three years to install the necessary infrastructure at a cost of 21 million Euros, becoming operational in 2009.

Remaining dates for TLP in 2007 are: 2007-2 5-30 March, 2007-3 7 May-1 June (at Karup, Denmark), 2007-4 runway out, tba, 2007-5 1-26 October & 2007-6 19 Nov -14 December.

My special thanks go to CC-Air HQ Ramstein, Public Information Office in Ramstein, to the TLP staff for their great support and Col. Mike Minne, ACO TLP for his briefing and help, without which this trip would not have been so successful.

 

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