Training the Frisian Flag Exercise with ASTA Simulators
REVISTA DE AERONÁUTICA Y ASTRONÁUTICA / Octubre 2014 /
Comandante Juan de Dios Saldaña Molero
Friday, December 20th, 2013. Morón Air Base, Group 11, Pilots Club, Christmas informal event. Statement from the Major, Chief of the 111 Squadron to the Head of ASTA: “It seems to be confirmed that we go to the Frisian in April. And we want to train for it with the simulator”.
With this short message, it starts what we could refer to the first big exercise of tactical training with ASTA, the C.16 Simulation Centre at Morón Air Base. It was the very first time to set up a new exercise starting from scratch and with a limited timeframe, with the added difficulties of being such a complex scenario and not having been there ever before. There were just three months after the Christmas break before Squadron 111 deployment in Leeuwarden, but the training should start with enough time in advance to run the missions. Therefore, we were actually talking about of approximately one month and a half to create and further elaborate an exercise that will allow effective and realistic training and that will paid off the huge effort of the simulator personnel and the pilots that will be flying it.
GENERATION OF THE DATABASE
In order to create the Database (DB) there was need to define its extension, all the airports, and all the aerial and terrestrial elements to use. There was also a need for satellite imagery with different resolution, and information about the Air Bases involved, especially Leeuwarden, but also other alternatives. The aim was clear: once a pilot will sit in the ASTA Cockpit, should be thinking he was there, not a single aspect should be overlooked: buildings, taxing areas, tress, … and of course radio aids, radio frequencies, breaking systems, lights, …
The time needed to create the DB where extensive due to the huge amount of elements: visual terrain and its modeling, radar signature and IR of the air elements … All that generation process was complemented by numerous tests to verify that the results were correct, which implied an effort of other ASTA resources (maintainers, operators, pilots of the Group) and a lot of coordination to not interfere with the normal operation of the simulator.
CREATING THE EXERCISE
Once available the first initial version of the database, we could start working on generating the exercise where the training missions will be developed. Then it was held a planning meeting between the Chief of 111 Squadron, the operators (contracted civilian industry, former 113 Squadron instructors and experienced Eurofighter pilots) and the Head of ASTA. With the information that was available at the time, a mission with the necessary complexity was designed, with almost every participant aircraft involved, and which could be used for training all different roles within (Sweep, Escort or Strike) by prioritizing missions Sweep. This meant many hours devoted to programmed behavior of the “synthetic” aircraft (Computer generated Forces “CGF”).
The result was a mission with 70 aircraft in flight (50 friendly, blue forces and 20 enemies, red forces), including 4 air refueling tankers and one AWACS, SAMs, mission briefing identical to the exercise and available coordination datasheet (ComCard with frequencies, Codewords, Callsigns, IFFS … real ones). To achieve the greatest possible realism, it was not enough with the hard work of the deployment database and working area replication, but also real life communications were recorded. Then the corresponding communications generated for the rest of the “synthetic” aircraft that shared communications with the pilots using the simulators (the two operators were involved in each mission of the exercise). It is worth to highlight that a mandatory prerequisite for this mission was to run missions for familiarization with the airspace and local procedures, in order for the transition and consolidation of the learning process to be achieved in a progressive manner.
EXAMPLE OF ASTA MISSION
The pilots have to be in the simulator 1 hour and 15 minutes before their assigned simulator time (slot). A specific room within the NATO SECRET area of the simulator was made available as briefing room for the Frisian Flag, in which the pilots, besides having all the documentation relating to the exercise (SPINS, ComCard, EXOPORD, approaching cards, maps,…) received the mission briefings. These briefings consisted of a briefing sheet (what day, time and location is the simulation taking place), an actual mass brief of the mission and the formation briefing. The time available was a replica of what you would find in the exercise, so it was an important factor to consider.
At the slot start time, the pilots should already be sitting in simulators cockpit and ready to start. Missions were mainly conducted with three pilots flying the ASTA devices in interactive network missions. Once launched the mission will not stop unless there was a serious failure in the simulation affecting all the simulators, to accentuate the realism of training (“fall out” / real contingencies). The mission lasted for 2 hours, considering that since the engine start to taking off there were only 17 minutes, having to do it in the sequence set forth in the mission ComCard. After taking off the pilots proceeded to the waiting areas (holdings) where the planes involved in the first wave were already or still arriving. After an offensive presentation of two formations of four aircraft each, with
the pilots integrated on them, two packages of aircraft proceed, one from the north and one from the south to attack two different parts of Germany. The Eurofighter pilots, once reached the defined time or the operating bingo, proceed to their air-refueling window, knowing that there were formations doing their corresponding refueling before training and after them. Once their refueling was completed, the pilots should cover the remaining time window along with another formation of four aircraft, providing protection for a Dutch transport aircraft C-130 (“slow mover”) and a formation of 4 German Eurofighter coming from a mission CAS in southern Germany. At the end of “Vultime”, they had to meet with the recovery windows imposed by the organization of the Frisian Flag, to proceed with a radar vectors recovery for the Tacan approach to the runway in use (Leeuwarden base was set with instrumental conditions). The mission did not end there; they still had to return to their corresponding parking area and stopping the engine following established local procedures.
Fifteen minutes after the end of the slot, the debriefing was ready in the ASTA debriefing room, where you can repeat any part of the exercise and have access to all screens of the simulators, the audio of the mission, and the situation of each of the sensors and elements of the scenario. The tactical part of the mission were replayed in real speed, so the pilots spent between 30 and 40 minutes to get the lessons learned.
The ASTA has been confirmed as an essential tool for complex training exercises, allowing for training situations and missions that in the real aircraft are impossible to reproduce before deployment. This ensures that the benefit of the real missions is actually much higher than in previous deployments, where, especially in the early missions, the pilots have to focus on the domestic aspects: local procedures, communications sequence, instrument approaches, familiarity with the work area, etc. It also allows the deployments with much more preparation and knowledge, as crews have undergone a process of planning and implementation (documentation, calculations of time / fuel tactical assessment, data processing mission for aircraft detection doubts / errors / shortcomings, etc.), allowing them to prepare any missions in the exercise faster and effectively.
Obviously, the operational training is maintained with the same fidelity as in the PAB missions of the simulator unit. Similarly, flight safety is enhanced and augmented, as situations that could cause potential incidents are trained in the simulator.
A total of 50 missions were developed for the pilots involved in the deployment, which represents a time of flight of approximately 75% of the actual hours flown. Takin in consideration that the pilots spent an average of 4 hours between the briefings and debriefing the mission, we can get the idea of the importance of operational squadron has given to the ASTA.
But the most important are the comments that have been received by the participants back from the Frisian Flag exercise: “I had the feeling that I had been there”, “The administrative part was already done”, “Going to alternative would not have been a problem”, “One of the days we flew a mission almost identical to ASTA “,… All testimony received have been positive, which has encouraged us to continue in this direction, as it has happened with the exercise Anatolian Eagle Wing 14 in Turkey.
Serve this article as to thank everyone involved in the ASTA, and the 111 Squadron pilots, who have relied on its usefulness, trust that has resulted in a big success.