Tag Archives: EART

Press Play | Looking for more tankers in European skies

Where’s a gas station when you need it? That’s exactly what’s going in the minds of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10 crew as they look for the French C-135 Stratotanker that should be flying somewhere ahead of them. Seconds later, they find the French aircraft and move in closer. It’s an obvious metaphor for closing the infamous European tanker gap. The solution comes in two shapes: the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and the Airbus A400M.

Over the North Sea and to the crew of the KDC-10, that’s all distant music. As participants in the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, they have just finished air-to-air refuelling (AAR) twelve F-16s that take part in action packed exercise Frisian Flag 2016. Somewhere ahead and beneath them, the French KC-135 also just finished refuelling fighter jets, as did the German Airbus A310 that’s also nearby.

Goal

That’s three air-to-air refuellers in the same patch of sky, a sight not often seen as tanker aircraft are usually hard to find in Europe. The overall goal of EART is to improve flexability, efficiency and effectiveness of the combined tanker force of all zeven nations (the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Italy) that handed command over their assets over to the European Air Transport Command (EATC). From Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands,  EATC commands  19 tanker aircraft of various types from all seven nations. That number equals 65 percent of all AAR platforms available in Europe.

Airbus A400M

Compared to the hundreds of air refuelling aircraft available to the US, the European numbers fall far short, hence the ‘tanker gap’. However, that gap may soon be a thing of the past, given the increasing number of Airbus A400M available to France and Germany, plus Spain and Belgium in the near future. By 2025, EATC should have 80 or so A400Ms at its disposal, with roughly 40 air refuelling kits available for those aircraft. The new Airbus aircraft has been involved in AAR tests.

(Image © Vincent Kok)
Two F-16s taking part in Frisian Flag 2016 join up prior to refuelling. (Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish F-16 is about to move into position behind the KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Participants of the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) on the tarmac at Eindhoven airbase. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

MRTT

Moreover, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Poland are on course to jointly buy and operate the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). During EART, it emerged that a Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed during the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, with a contract for three or four aircraft to be signed that same month during the Farnborough Airshow.

The shared pool should grow to eight Airbus A330 MRTTs eventually. Belgium, Germany and Spain have already expressed interest in particpating in the program as well.

Harmonize

“EATC has been asked to harmonize A400M and A330 MRTT operations in the future”, says Colonel Jurgen van der Biezen, a RNLAF-delegate to the joint European command in Eindhoven. “What we are looking for, is an air-to-air refuelling hub that is very similar in operation to the European Heavy Airlift Wing operating from Hungary.”

Introducing the A400M and A330 MRTT as tankers increases EATC’s refuelling fleet to 69 assets, equal to 82 percent of all similar capacity in Europe. It’s a signifant increase compared to today’s situation, an increase that enables European nations to support their own – plus each other’s – operations.

It’s an idea that gets the thumbs up from all within EATC, just like the thumbs up shown by the crew of a Dutch KDC-10 tanker over the North Sea. They successfully performed some formation flying with the other two tankers in the same patch of sky. After leaving the formation, they are on their own again. But with a different feeling this time. There are others out there.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image: On the look out for tankers over the North Sea. (Image © Vincent Kok)

A RNLAF F-16 pilot gives the thumbs up. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A RNLAF F-16 pilot gives the thumbs up. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
More customers for the Dutch KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
More customers for the Dutch KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish F-16 sneaks up on the KDC-10 from behind. (Image © Vincent Kok)
A Polish F-16 sneaks up on the KDC-10 from behind. (Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French C-135 Stratotanker beging inspected prior to its next flight. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Feature: Closing the tanker gap with EART

No air power without air-to-air-refueling. But also, no air-to-air refueling without certifications, clearances, bilateral agreements between countries and heaps of paperwork. The infamous European ‘tanker gap’ perhaps is not a matter of aircraft after all, but a matter of overcoming bureaucracy and inefficiency, it appears during the current European Air-to-Air Refueling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands. If anything, participating tanker crews are determined to work together as closely as possible.

The platform at Eindhoven usually houses just two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tanker aircraft, but until 24 April an Airbus A310 MRTT from Germany, an Italian Air Force KC-767 plus a French Air Force KC-135R join the two Dutch aircraft. Together with their crews, all aircraft participate in EART, an initiative started by the Eindhoven-based European Air Transport Command (EATC), which commands large parts of the military air transport and tanker fleets of the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain.

 

Libya
This exercise specifically for tanker aircraft originated from lessons learned during Operation Unified Protector over Libya in 2011, says Eric van Osch, attached to EATC and a flight engineer on the KDC-10. “During those flights all nations used the same standardized procedures, but nevertheless we noticed slight variations in planning, radio communication and other operational details. Those variations made efficient use of available tankers hard at times. This exercise here at Eindhoven is held to harmonize operations, get to know each other even better and use our joint assets more efficiently.”

The current shared feeling is that European tanker capacity is sufficient in peace times, but falling behind in major operations or during large scale conflict. Optimal use or available aircraft and purchase of new tankers should close this ‘gap’.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The German A310 MRTT and Italian KC-767 in one shot. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A shot of its own for the French KC-135. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Frisian Flag
For two weeks, the aircraft participating in EART refuel fighter aircraft that participate in Frisian Flag 2015. Today, the Dutch KDC-10 is joined in the air by four Polish F-16Cs and four Dutch F-16AMs, while the Italian KC-767 supplies fuel to other fighters. The Italians and French are able to refuel using both the boom and probe and drogue method, while the Dutch and Germans only use the boom and drogue method respectively. The US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles currently at Leeuwarden are only allowed to refuel on the French tanker. Once more, an example of clearances, certifications and other bureaucratic headaches.

The EART tankers fly twice a day, giving away precious fuel to Frisian Flag players. Air-to-air refueling allows the fighter pilots to stay close to their target area, a necessity in current operations around the globe.

Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

European pool
Modern air power requires air-to-air refueling and tankers are said to be in short supply in Europe. Several nations have joined forces and are looking to buy at least four A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft from Airbus, with a request for proposal expected soon. These aircraft will serve as a joint pool for the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal and Norway. NATO will pay for the aircraft and they will operate from Eindhoven, with forward operating bases in Norway and Poland. Deliveries start in 2019 at the earliest. Dutch 334 squadron will likely be absorbed into the new European tanker unit.

“That means the end for the fantastic KDC-10 in our fleet”, says Van Osch, who has flown on KDC-10s since the aircraft was introduced into Dutch service twenty years ago, although both KDC-10s were actually built in the seventies and used by charter airline Martinair before. “It’s a great and fantastic, stable platform for air-to-air refueling. And of course, it has lots of character.”

Racetrack
Dutch Viper pilots flying next to us have ear nor eye for any of that. They are looking for gas and are happily supplied with exactly that by our KDC-10, which is orbiting the ‘Shell’ racetrack over the North Sea. Another five minutes and some friendly waving later, they disappear to continue their Frisian Flag mission.

 Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Observe
During EART, air crews fly along on board each other’s aircraft to observe variations in procedures.  These variations are discussed back at Eindhoven, where academics also take place. Ground personnel is also involved, with turnaround times for aircraft during the exercise being shorter than usual. This year’s EART follows up last year’s first successful edition, which was also held at Eindhoven. Participating crews are enthusiastic about it. According to EATC there’s a lot of potential for growth, with future exercises possibly held elsewhere also.

EART allows more efficient use of European tanker aircraft, while the number of available tankers is set to grow. The European tanker gap seems to close slowly but steadily, just like another F-16 pilot who slowly but steadily approaches our KDC-10 and gets to hear the word he wants to hear at the end: contact!

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Italian KC-767 during preparations for its next flight. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
View on the French KC-135. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Flying the Frisian Flag

Large scale military flying exercise Frisian Flag 2015 is currently in full swing at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands and Airheadsfly.com went access all areas on Tuesday 14 April. Close to 60 fighter aircraft from six different nations take part in Frisian Flag, which coincides with the European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training 2015 (EART 2015) at Eindhoven airbase, also in Netherlands.

During Frisian Flag, military jets fly in complex scenarios twice a day. The aim is to broaden the experience of fighter pilots in developing, planning and executing offensive and defensive tactics. Involved in the current Frisian Flag are F-16s from the Dutch and Polish air forces, F-18 Hornets from both Finland and Spain, Eurofighter Typhoons from Germany, plus US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles. Lots more about those Eagles is here.

Jet noise is what Leeuwarden is about these days. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Jet noise is what Leeuwarden is about these days. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two engines, even more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two engines, even more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Robust
Frisian Flag was first held following joint allied operations over the Balkan in the early nineties. “We train crews in missions against robust airborne and ground threats, including Roland and German SA-6 ground-to-air defence systems, inflatable targets and smokey SAMs, which simulate missiles being launched at aircraft. It provides the best training you can get,” says Dutch F-16 pilot Remco, a pilot of Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) 322 TACTES Squadron with 1,000 hours on the F-16 under his belt. Since 323 Squadron left for the US to learn to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II late last year, 322 Squadron has taken over the responsibility for organizing Frisian Flag.


(Footage © Elmer van Hest)
Leadership
Remco was mission commander on the first missions of this year’s exercise. “Frisian Flag is all about leadership and it challenges you. You have to know the capabilities of each participating asset and deploy them as best as you can. Planning of each mission takes about six hours, and we only finish after landing during a mass debrief. Those debriefs get quite heated at times about which tactics worked and which didn’t. But the proof is always there on the screens. That’s lessons learned in the end.”

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Spanish F-18 Hornets are newcomers to Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Not so much for Polish F-16s. They are regulars. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Not so much for Polish F-16s. They are regulars. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Necessity
Frisian Flag has been a familiar name among European air combat exercises for years and past editions has drew countless air crews to Leeuwarden. The airbase staff puts a lot of effort in explaining the necessity of Frisian Flag to the population of Leeuwarden. The airbase is located close to the town and noise complaints are a fact of life, with roughly 40 aircraft taking off and landing twice every day for two weeks.

Tankers
The real playground for Frisian Flag is however not Leeuwarden, but a 180nm by 322nm reserved airspace over the North Sea which extends towards Northern Germany in the East. Flying time to the area from Leeuwarden is just three minutes. However,  the use of tanker aircraft makes for more efficient missions. Frisian Flag is therefore combined with European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training 2015 (EART 2015), run by European Air Transport Command (EATC) at Eindhoven airbase. Tanker aircraft supporting the Frisian Flag participants are a Dutch KDC-10, French KC-135 Stratotanker, German A310 MRTT and Italian KC-767 tanker aircraft. More on EART 2015 next week here at Airheadsfly.com.

20150414_EHLW_USAF_F15S_TAXYING_DSC_0216
The Air National Guard F-15s make good use of thir stay at Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Close to terra firma and his fellow species, but not yet. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A German Typhoon finds runway 23. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Platform
Frisian Flag, along with similar exercises such as Red Flag and Maple Flag, serves as a constant platform for exchanging experience and ideas. The arrival of the F-35 at Leeuwarden in 2019 – and the new tactics involved with the new 5th generation fighter – means Frisian Flag will see changes in the future. “We are working on that,” says Remco. Current experiences over Iraq and earlier scenarios over Afghanistan and Libya are being incorporated into the exercise.

Both Frisian Flag and EART run until 24 April. The Air National Guard F-15s will stay at Leeuwarden for an extra week and will eventually head to Graf Ignatievo Airbase in Bulgaria as part of US operation Atlantic Resolve.

See here for a report on ↑ Last year’s Frisian Flag.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

A Dutch Viper pilot in his office. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Dutch Viper pilot in his office. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Spanish Hornet pilot looks after his wingman… (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
… while a US pilot checks his instruments. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish F-18 pilot concentrates in his cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish F-18 pilot concentrates in his cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this German pilot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this German pilot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This F-15C is the most colourful os the twelve US Eagles present. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This F-15C is the most colourful of the twelve US Eagles present. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
No less than 10 German Typhoons headed for Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Burning rubber. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Burning rubber. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Frisian Flag side-note brings European tankers together

RNLAF KDC-10 with registration T-235. Archive photo (Image © Dennis Spronk)
RNLAF KDC-10 with registration T-235. Archive photo (Image © Dennis Spronk)

In the shadow of the Frisian Flag multinational air combat war games now in full throttle at Royal Netherlands Air Force Base Leeuwarden, a bit south the first European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training (EART) kicked off on 31 March 2014 at Eindhoven Airbase.

The EART brings 10 tanker aircraft together, including those from the Koninklijke Luchtmacht / RNLAF (McDonnell Douglas KDC-10), the Luftwaffe / German Air Force (Airbus A310 MRTT) and the Aeronautica Militare Italiana / Italian Air Force (Boeing KC-767).

During the multinational flying fuel station exercise Eindhoven serves as a Tanker Forward Operating Base, making it possible for technicians and logistic experts to train, prepare and plan for possible future deployments. Having EART at the same time as Frisian Flag creates great possibilities for the tanker crews to refuel the fighters airborne further north, making both exercises gain possibilities and realism.

The first European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training (EART) lasts until 11 April 2014.

Source: Ministerie van Defensie (the Netherlands MoD)

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