European Air Group CSAR Course


In September 2003 and 2005, Florennes Air Base was twice the scene of the VOLCANEX Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) exercise of the European Air Group. In June 2007, it hosted the first ever CSAR Course under the auspices of the European Air Group.

 In the early 1990s, during the Gulf War and the conflicts in the Balkans, NATO member states entered into full-scale operations together for the first time since the Alliance’s foundation in 1949. Nonwithstanding their membership of the same military organization since several decennia, allied air forces experienced during these operations that their combined efforts were regularly hampered by insufficient interoperability in the field of equipment, personnel, procedures and command and control. Moreover, since the collapse of the Warsaw-Pact political priorities in Europe changed quickly and drastically and military commitments as well as the accompanying budgets diminished significantly. Operational military needs, however, did not follow suit as tasking increased continuously, mainly because of peace support and humanitarian operations, inside as well as outside Europe. All this meant that more had to be done with less.

 The European Air Group

 The political and military leaders of the major European players in the Gulf War and in the Balkan conflicts – France and the United Kingdom – gathered in Chartres, France, in 1994 to see how they could remedy this situation. The meeting resulted in the London Declaration of 27 June 1995, establishing the Franco-British European Air Group (FBEAG). This group was officially inaugurated at High Wycombe on 1 September 1995. In 1998 Italy responded positively to the invitation to join the bi-national organisation, which was then renamed the European Air Group (EAG). Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain joined in 1999, making the EAG a truly multinational air force organisation.

The EAG’s objective, as embodied in the founding Intergovernmental Agreement and adjusted by the Amending Protocol, is to improve the operational capabilities of its parties’ air forces to carry out joint operations, primarily through mechanisms that enhance interoperability and principally at the tactical level. The underlying idea of this objective is that enhancing everyday interoperability through training and exercises and improving mutual knowledge and understanding through exchanges of personnel and combined activities will, after all, make co-operation in crisis a great deal easier and quicker to achieve through improved efficiency and effectiveness. This objective is reflected by the EAG’s maxim, “Operating Together”.

The EAG is directed by a high level Steering Group, composed of the seven nations’ Air Force Commanders as well as of representatives of their Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of policy directors of their Ministry of Defence. To enhance the interoperability of its members, the European Air Group can be involved in any air force activity except for NATO Article 5 and nuclear issues. Its approach to this task is as simple as it is efficient. The Group first identifies activities in which interoperability is prone to improvement, assesses the issues in deliberation with national specialists and develops a solution or recommendation. It then oversees any required training and draws up the necessary agreements, usually in the form of a technical arrangement. Each such activity is dealt with in the form of a project and is elaborated in a working group, organised and supervised by the EAG Director and his Permanent Staff. Personnel for the Permanent Staff are provided by the participating nations at a rate of three staff officers and one support member per country. The current Director of the EAG is Lieutenant General Gerard Van Caelenberge of the Belgian Air Component who took over the post on 10 January 2006.

 Interoperability projects

 The European Air Group has already treated a broad variety of issues in the field of training, coordination and exchange of services and equipment.

Following an EAG project on night vision goggles (NVG) training, the French Aéronavale (Naval Air Arm) contracted to use the RAF’s NVG facility at RAF Henlow to train its aircrew. The European Airlift Coordination Cell (EACC) was created in September 2001 at Eindhoven airbase, the Netherlands, to coordinate air transport and air-to-air refuelling activities among the EAG air forces. The EACC received a broader scope of authority and capability when it was transformed into the European Airlift Centre (EAC) in July 2004. A technical arrangement was prepared to allow cash-free exchange of spare air transport and air-to-air refuelling services between participating countries. The EAG sponsored successful trials of French Mirage 2000 Ground Support Equipment (GSE) for use on RAF Tornados, which meant that for the operational deployment to Solenzara in the framework of the Kosovo-crisis, the RAF did not have to move GSE from RAFG Brüggen.

 Another of the more recent activities of the European Air Group is the Deployable Multinational Air Wing (DMAW) project, which aims at providing planning support tools and framework arrangements to enable two or more nations to operate elements of their air arms – up to three squadrons or equivalent units strong – as a coherent entity at a deployment operating base (DOB). The project focuses among others on interoperability of planning, command and control, communication and information systems (CIS) and logistics support as well as on legal aspects and financing of such an entity. The EAG is at present also active in the field of Force Protection (FP) and Survival to Operate (STO). As up to 60% of personnel of out of area operations are involved in these specialities, the mutual knowledge of each other’s procedures and equipment is of paramount importance for the security and survivability of a DOB. A more aviation related activity aims at making national Autonomous Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (AACMI) pods and ground stations compatible in order to improve the effectiveness of the mission debrief in a multinational environment. Nations have agreed on an electronic data format to be used for information exchange between EAG AACMI systems and for the subsequent fusion into a coherent whole, which allows debriefing to take place remotely. A trials exercise to evaluate downloading and fusion of data took place in Decimomannu in September 2005 and involved Belgian and Dutch F-16s, French Mirage 2000s, German F-4s, Italian and British Tornados, Italian AMX and Spanish F-18s.


Another ongoing major study aims at improving the EAG nations’ Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) capabilities.

 The threat level for CSAR operations is mainly determined by the danger represented by enemy forces in the air or on the ground, around the pickup zone or on the way to or from this zone. In low threat conditions friendly forces maintain full air superiority. Ground based air defence (GBAD) assets are confined to small numbers of dispersed anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) with infrared Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs). Ground threats are limited to small, isolated hostile elements with small arms. Medium threat conditions are characterized by only local friendly air superiority and by the presence of an integrated enemy ground based air defence system with SAMs and AAA as well as of organized and well-armed hostile ground troops. Threat conditions are considered to be high when air superiority is in enemy hands, when hostile ground based air defence consists of a highly sophisticated integrated air defence system and when major concentrations of highly deployable ground troops are present.

Under low-to-medium threat conditions, a CSAR recovery force consists in the first place of a number of Rescue Vehicles (RV), which form the nucleus of the package and carry the Extraction Forces that will eventually identify and pickup the downed aircrew. A wide range of helicopters like the Eurocopter EC-725, the Aérospatiale SA.330 or the Dornier UH-1D can fulfill this role.

Spanish Air Force Eurocopter Super Puma AS.332-B 803-03 (s/n HD.21-3, c/n 2031) and AS.332-B1 803-12 (s/n HD.21-12, c/n 2354) took part in the EAG CSAR Course at Florennes Air Base as rescue vehicles carrying extraction forces. Both helicopters belong to Escuadrón 803/Ala 48 and are based at Cuatro Vientos.

The rescue vehicles are protected by a Rescue ESCORT (RESCORT), which is partly attached to the rescue package and partly detached from it. The detached RESCORT is the first to enter the Operations Area (OA), three to five minutes in front of the main package. It sweeps the OA for possible air-to-air threats and initially provides the On-Scene Commander (OSC), who controls and coordinates the operation. This role, however, can in a later stage of the operation be taken over by an RV or another RESCORT vehicle if it is in a better tactical position to do so. On its way to and from the OA, the detached RESCORT is also responsible for slow mover protection of the helicopter package against airborne threats. The attached RESCORT accompanies the rescue vehicles, protecting their front and flanks against ground threats in the OA and during their way to and from this area. A part of the attached RESCORT usually precedes the rest of the package by one or two minutes in order to sweep and secure the OA for the rescue helicopters, while the remainder of the attached RESCORT stays in close formation with the RV. Aircraft like the F-16, AMX or A-10A can operate in the role of detached fixed wing RESCORT, while armed helicopters like the Belgian Hirundo, French Gazelle, Dutch Apache or Czech Hind can serve as attached rotary wing RESCORT.

The role of rotary wing attached RESCORT was played by a pair of Czech Air Force Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopters. They came from 231. Attack Helicopter Squadron, based at Prerov.

Under high threat conditions, a CSAR package is augmented with numerous aircraft and helicopters in a wide variety of support roles like reconnaissance (RECCE), ELectronic INTelligence (ELINT), Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD), REScue Combat Air Patrols (RESCAP), Airborne Early Warning (AEW), Close Air Support (CAS) and Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR). Such large-scale operations can be composed of up to hundred vehicles and are usually led by an Airborne Mission Commander (AMC), often on board of an AEW aircraft.

EAG CSAR doctrine

The first major CSAR operations in history took place during the Vietnam War when dedicated missions were set up to rescue aircrew that were downed behind enemy lines. The importance of such missions was in the first place to fulfil the nation’s duty of care for its own troops. Such a mechanism is an important morale-boosting asset as it gives troops the necessary confidence to carry out high-risk operations. This, however, was not the only motive behind CSAR as it also is a means to recover highly trained and valuable assets like pilots or Special Operations Forces (SOF) shot down or dropped behind enemy lines. These people are not only highly valued because of their lengthy, complex and expensive training, but also because of the possible source of intelligence or propaganda they may represent for the enemy, as was amply illustrated during the beginning phases of Operation Desert Storm and in the Balkans.

All recent CSAR operations were almost without exception executed by American forces. More and more of the numerous present day peacekeeping operations, however, do not include an American participation anymore. A good example in this context is Operation Artemis, performed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003 by European Union member states only. In Europe, with its numerous small or medium sized air forces, no single nation has the ability to autonomously plan, monitor and execute a CSAR operation in a non-permissive medium-to-high threat environment.

Although CSAR was already a major topic of the 1996 and 1998 editions of VOLCANEX at Cazaux Air Base in France, the subject received a major boost in 2002 when the European Air Group agreed upon a CSAR-project for the coordination and promotion of CSAR activities among the air forces of the member nations. A first CSAR Force Integration Training (FIT) took place at Cazaux in November 2002. It was followed by VOLCANEX 03 at Florennes, Belgium, in September 2003 and VOLCANEX 04 at Zaragosa, Spain, in September-October 2004, which resulted in a CSAR Mission Planning Guide (CMPG), the participants’ joint CSAR-handbook. The CMPG was validated during VOLCANEX 05 at Florennes in September 2005. Its further elaboration, however, could not remain a European-only standardisation initiative, but should fit within the NATO doctrine. In this context the NATO Search And Rescue Panel and the EAG Staff met to amalgamate in a combined effort all existing CSAR documents into to a single all encompassing Allied Tactical Publication, the ATP-, formerly known as the ATP-62. The major aim of that effort was to standardize processes and procedures at the tactical level, which were until then left to the discretion of each of the individual NATO member states. In 2006, the Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) cell of the EAG organized VOLCANEX 06 at Decimomannu Air Base, Italy, to test, evaluate and improve the CSAR procedures developed during the previous years and written down by then in the draft ATP 3.3.9.x, NATO Personnel Recovery Tactics, Techniques and Procedure.


In order to provide the European CSAR community with a recurrent CSAR event, the EAG recently developed a CSAR Course in which pilots can enhance knowledge and proficiency required to execute a CSAR mission in a non-permissive, international environment. The tentative first trial of the course happened at the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) facilities at Florennes from 8 June to 21 June 2007.

 The CSAR course is a two weeks course aimed at all helicopter and fixed wing aircrew that want to gain experience in Joint Personnel Recovery missions and consists of three days of academic courses and six days of live missions. Each mission is thoroughly briefed, planned and debriefed to allow all pilots – irrespective of their individual background and experience – to learn and to gain proficiency so that at the end of the course all participating pilots are able to take up the role and responsibility of Rescue Mission Commander (RMC). An RMC should be capable to plan and execute a CSAR mission in a non-permissive, international environment in working together with European and NATO coalition partners. He should also be able to fly within a CSAR Task Force (CSARTF) as an element of a Combined Air Operation (COMAO) and understand the organization and operation of a Combined Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (CJRCC), in particular that of a Deployable Combined Air Operations Centre (DCAOC).

 The Czech Republic, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom participated with air assets in the first EAG CSAR Course. A pair of Czech Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopters took part in the role of rotary wing attached RESCORT, while a pair of Italian AMX International AMX aircraft figured as fixed wing detached RESCORT. Two Spanish Eurocopter AS.332-B Pumas played the role of RESCUE vehicles. An Airborne Mission Commander (AMC) was on board of an RAF E-3D AWACS aircraft.

Two AMX International AMX-T aircraft (MM55036/32-52 and MM55047/32-53) operated from Beauvechain Air Base in the role of fixed wing detached RESCORT during the first CSAR Course of the European Air Group. Although both aircraft carried insignia of Foggia-Amendola based 101 Gruppo/32 Stormo, the pilots were of 13 Gruppo.

 All participating helicopters operated from Florennes Air Base. The fixed wing aircraft, on the other hand, had to fly their missions from Beauvechain Air Base as the main runway at Florennes was closed for repair works. Italian ground crew stayed at Beauvechain, but to enable the AMX pilots to fully participate in the preparation and debriefing of the missions, a shuttle was organized between both bases and consisted of a Belgian Air Component Wing Heli Agusta A.109BA helicopter. The British E-3D operated from its home base.

 The interest for a combined European CSAR effort continues to grow. Between 13 and 22 June 2007, nine countries participated in VOLCANEX 07 at Holzdorf, Germany: the seven EAG member states and Norway and Sweden.

 * * *

Text and pictures by

© Jos Schoofs (June 2006)

Last updated 20/06/07 13:46   Daniel Brackx