From 21 February to 4 March, Portugal was the stage of Real Thaw, the annual exercise that provides special training to NATO units most likely to participate in military operations within international cooperative frame works. And if Portugal was the stage, Beja airbase was the dressing room. Fighter aircraft, transporters and helos all played their part.
Other than delivering jet noise over large parts of Portugal, the main goal of Real Thaw 2016 was to provide tough tactical training with participation of air, land and sea forces and focusing on the execution phase. Participating forces were confronted with an operating environment as realistic as possible and typical of current operations, according to the Portuguese Air Force, organizer of Real Thaw.
The Portuguese sent all their assets to join Real Thaw, including F-16s, Alfa Jets, C-130 Hercules plus P-3 and C295 maritime patrol aircraft. Forces from other countries were invited to participate in Real Thaw 2016 in order to create a joint-operational environment.
Participation also came from the US (F-15, MV-22 and C-130), Norway (F-16), the Netherlands (C-130), Belgium (C-130), Denmark (AS550 support helicopters), Spain (C-212 light transport aircraft) and the UK. Also, a NATO E-3A Awacs was involved.
Day and night
Missions took place at both day and night times environments and included the use of para jumpers, forward air controllers and other ground forces. The coordination of Real Thaw 2016 was run from Beja Air Base in central Portugal. In order to give support to air and ground missions that took place further north in the areas of Guarda and Pinhel, a tactical air base was temporarily set up near the town of Seia.
Real Thaw 2016 was the eighth exercise in a series conducted by the Portuguese Air Force since 2009.
The Romanian Air Force is starting the search to purchase another batch of 12 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. This was revealed by plans of the Mihnea Motoc, the Romanian Minister of Defence on 26 February. It is planned the deal is going to be signed in 2017.
In 2015 the Romanian Air Force already bought a batch of 12 F-16s from Portugal, of which the first is expected to be delivered later this year, presumably september. Where the second batch of second hand Fighting Falcons will come from, isn’t clear at this moment, as Motoc stated: “To date, we have sent out requests for information to all the allied countries which operate such planes, including the US and five European allies.”
The extra purchase is made possible as Romania increased the defence expenditure up to 2% of the GDP, as stated in a memorandum of understanding in 2015. The reason of the increase has everything to do with the international situation, as a result of for example the Ukrainian crisis.
As we reported earlier, in November 2014 the first Romanian Air Force pilots flew solo on the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon from Monte Real air base in Portugal (click here).
For the past two weeks, Beja airbase in Portugal was the scene of multi national exercise European Air Transport Training (EATT15), organized by European Defence Agency (EDA) and European Air Transport Command (EATC). In other words: C-27J Spartan and C-130 Hercules galore in Portugal. This is Red Flag for the big guys.
Taking part in EATT15 were Portugal, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the UK, as well as observer countries Brazil, the United States and Poland. Next to C-27Js and C-130s, also present at Beja were Airbus C295s and C-160 Transall aircraft. In total, 20 transport aircraft and 2,500 military personnel were involved, not counting in three Portuguese Air Force F-16s and a sole P-3C Orion.
The EATT15 aims to train and prepare the crews of tactical airlift squadrons in order to guarantee their readiness for all kinds of operations within the European alliance. The concept of the exercise is to “provide joint training and ensure interoperability among the participating forces”, said Lt. Col. Laurent Donnet, overseeing EATT15 on behalf of the Belgian Air Component.
During the exercise, crews trained for various scenarios, such as operations to and from unprepared air strips, Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR), extraction of military and non-military elements, medical evacuations, plus air support in an urban environment and emergency situations.
During EATT15, crews used the Airdrop Joint Precision System (JPADS), a US military airdrop system using GPS, an onboard computer and steerable parachutes to direct cargo to a designated impact point.
EATT15 was also about efficient use of logistics, tooling and spare parts. The proximity of similar aircraft types and their crews allowed for standardization of procedures, exchange of know-how as well as the fostering of a spirit of unity. This spirit is embraced by European Air Transport Command (EATC), the institution directing and overseeing operations of hundreds of European military transport and tanker aircraft. The latter had their own exercise earlier this year.
Romania has revealed which airbase will be the home of the country’s new dozen second-hand Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter aircraft. Fetesti will be upgraded for at least 32 million euro – mostly paid for by NATO – to accommodate the new fighter squadron, the government has acknowledged on 13 May 2015. Meanwhile, four Portuguese F-16s have temporarily deployed to Romania.
The base strategically located between Constanta on the Black Sea Coast (48 miles or 77 km) and the capital of Bucharest (80 miles or 130 km) further west. The base with only one runway (north-south) and one major taxiway has been very much run down and is not up to NATO standard (yet). The upgrades will include the hangars, shelters, fuel tanks and the ammunition bunkers.
Romania bought 9 ex-Portuguese Air Force F-16s and three ex-US stock Vipers in 2013. Romanian crews are training as we speak at 5 Air Base in Monte Real in Portugal, where the first Romanian pilots went solo in November last year. In 2016 the F-16s and their crews should reach operational capability at Fetesti.
Furthermore, four Portuguese F-16s from Monte Real arrived at the Romanian Air Force’s 71st Air Base in Câmpia Turziin on 4 May. They are deployed here as part of joint training mission Falcon Defence 2015. The Portuguese are to stay until 30 June.