Storm Crow - Electronic Warfare Block Training 08-1

 

Electronic Warfare Block Training 08-1, informally known as Exercise Storm Crow, was held at and around the reserve airbase of Bertrix from 18 till 29 February 2008. It involved assets of the Belgian Air and Land Component as well as of the Dutch, French, German, Norwegian and US armed forces.

 Electronic Warfare (EW) is complicated and requires sophisticated equipment as well as highly skilled and well trained personnel. Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) systems and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) to defy such systems are expensive and rare high value assets that seldom can be found together in the inventory of a single country’s armed forces. As a consequence, in case of peacekeeping missions or conflicts various nations jointly deploy some of their assets to create an integrated air defence and air defence suppression system in the theatre of operations. To flawlessly gear all that equipment and personnel to one another, regular training and exercises are prerequisite. Training slots at the electronic warfare ranges of RAF Spadeadam in the United Kingdom and of the tri-national US-French-German Polygone in Germany are expensive and difficult to obtain. That is why a number of countries organise the dedicated Electronic Warfare Block Trainings on a regular basis.

 EW Block Training 08-1 was organised by COMOPSAIR. Although the exercise was not planned as preparative for a specific mission, it suddenly became a well-timed training for Belgian F-16 crews following the recent decision of the Belgian Council of Ministers to deploy a number of combat aircraft to Afghanistan. Recent statistics of aircraft losses in such theatres of operations showed that 55% of the losses were caused by infra-red guided missiles, 15% by radar guided missiles and 18% by Anti Aircraft Artillery (AAA), while 12% of the losses had unknown causes. Moreover, many of these fatal incidents occurred in darkness, necessitating profound training in night flying and in the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG).

 F-16AM FA-103

AN/ALQ-131 radar jammer pod equiped Lockheed F-16AM FA-103 flying low over the Ardennes during Strom Crow.

AIRCREW TRAINING

 Storm Crow was in the first place intended to train Belgian F-16 aircrews in the technical and tactical aspects of EW. Technical aspects comprised the use of the CARAPACE threat detection system and of the AN/ALQ-131 radar jammer as well as the management of the aircraft’s decoy dispensing system. The tactical component of the EW exercise consisted in practicing the selection and application of the proper threat reactions and in applying the NATO procedures for operations in an EW environment. Not only fast jet pilots, but also helicopter and transport aircraft crews trained in using their EW suite. In all, 400 F-16 sorties were planned, around 300 of which were actually flown, as were 5 Hercules and 50 Hirundo missions. Participating aircraft and personnel came from the 2nd and 10th Tactical Wings in Florennes and Kleine-Brogel, the 15th Transport Wing in Melsbroek and the Wing Heli in Bierset.

 In addition to the Belgian aircraft, numerous foreign air assets participated in a wide variety of EW support roles: NATO and French Boeing E-3As and E-3Fs acted as Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), the German Panavia Tornado ECR (Electronic Combat & Reconnaissance) variant was tasked with the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) and a single Norwegian Dassault Mystère 20ECM Raven operated as airborne radar jammer. During the first week of the exercise, some of these aircraft operated from Florennes airbase, while they completed their missions of the second part of Storm Crow from Kleine-Brogel airbase.

 Aircrews trained in electronic attack (e.g. the destruction of radar sites by the Tornado ECR), electronic protection (e.g. the jamming of radars by the AN/ALQ-131 self-protection pod of the F-16), communications jamming (e.g. the jamming of radios and data transfer systems by the Raven) and terrain masking (e.g. low flying to avoid detection by radars).

F-16AM with recce pod

The F-16s taking part in Storm Crow operated in the attack role as close air support aircraft and in the defensive role when accompanying and protecting high value assets like Hercules transport aircraft inserting Special Forces, flying in supplies or extracting non-combatant personnel. Belgian F-16s are well equipped for such missions with the internally mounted CARAPACE threat detection system and the externally carried AN/ALQ-131 jamming pod for self-protection. In the CAS role, the aircraft additionally carried an intake mounted LANTIRN targeting pod. In the reconnaissance role, they were equipped with a Terma Modular Recce Pod (MRP) on the centreline station.

 GBAD OPERATORS TRAINING

 

A second category of crews that were trained during Exercise Storm Crow were those of GBAD systems. Belgian, Dutch, French and German units participated in the exercise with command posts, radar systems, jamming installations and infra-red or radar guided missile systems. The Lombardsijde based 14th Regiment Anti-Aircraft Artillery (14A) of the Belgian Land Component deployed a number of its PAMELA-B Mistral launchers. The Land Component also fielded an Air Operations Liaison Team (AOLT) to control the airspace during Close Air Support (CAS) missions. The Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) in Glons, a part of NATO’s integrated air defence network, supported the exercise by providing real time, identified air pictures to the deployed radar systems. CRC Glons also ensured airspace coordination and flight safety, together with a locally deployed mobile Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower.

 

The EADS TRML-3D is a medium range, countermeasures-resistant, 3D, C-band, self-contained, mobile radar system. It was developed for integration in short and medium range air defence systems as well as for standalone operations. The system is highly mobile, compatible with numerous other surveillance radar systems and can share information with two adjacent radars, making it very suitable for deployments of multinational rapid reaction forces. The surveillance and target acquisition radar consists of a multimode phased array radar capable of detecting and tracking small-size, fast and low flying aircraft and missiles at ranges of over 200 km.

The Netherlands placed an order for three TRML-3D radar units in March 2005. A follow-on order, placed in December 2006, comprised two additional TRML-3Ds. The first deliveries took place in August 2006. These orders also included command and control centres and a digital communications network and are part of FGBAD NL, the Netherlands Future Ground Based Air Defence plan to enhance the GBAD capabilities of the Dutch armed forces. In the framework of this plan, the Netherlands will also reorganise its Stinger Man Portable Air Defence (MANPAD) units. Like the Belgian Mistrals, the Dutch Stingers will be installed on vehicles to improve their mobility. In a light variant, the missile launchers will be placed on a Mercedes-Benz truck, while in a medium variant, they will be turret mounted on a Fennek armoured vehicle. In the FGBAD NL plan the very short range, infra-red guided Stingers will also be complemented with the medium range, radar guided Raytheon NASAMS II (Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System). Six such systems, which use an adopted version of the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), were ordered for delivery from 2009 onwards.

All GBAD assets of the Dutch armed forces are based at De Peel airbase. The detachment deployed to Bertrix was part of the 101st Combat Support Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army. The Brigade is composed of a Staff, the 103rd Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Battalion, the 101st Engineer Battalion, the 101st Communication and Information (CIS) Systems Battalion, a Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) battalion and the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Command (Commando Luchtdoelartillerie or CoLua). Besides GBAD, CoLua is also tasked with providing light infantry and psychological operations for peacekeeping deployments abroad.

The Netherlands participated with three brand-new EADS TRML-3D (three dimensional Telefunken Radar Mobil Luftraumüberwachung) radar systems and a number of Stinger platoons. Two of the radar systems and all Stinger firing units were deployed off-base around Bertrix. The Dutch detachment of the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Command of the 101st Combat Support Brigade comprised around 100 personnel. France fielded just over 50 personnel and three short range Thales Crotale NG (Nouvelle Génération or New Generation) anti-aircraft systems as well as three Aspic and a pair of tripod mounted Mistral very short range missile systems. Like the Dutch assets, some of these systems were deployed off-base during the exercise. The lead unit of the French detachment was Escadron de Défense Sol-Air 05.950 “Barrois” of Base Aérienne 113 at Saint-Dizier. It was augmented with personnel and equipment of Escadron de Défense Sol-Air 13.950 of Base Aérienne 103 at Cambrai. A Cellule Tactique (tactical cell) coordinated and supported these three different air defence systems by assigning the targets to the most appropriate and best positioned firing unit and by providing them Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) information on the aircraft in their airspace of interest. The German Air Force deployed one of its Chipmunk dedicated radar jamming trucks near CRC Glons. It was manned by around 10 personnel. The tri-national Polygone in Germany detached a small technical team with a Smokey SAM launching installation to simulate the visual effects of air defence missile launches to which the aircrews had to react appropriately.

Crotale NG

 The Crotale NG is an all-weather low-altitude SAM system with all acquisition, tracking, firing and computer units mounted in a single vehicle with only one system operator. The vehicle is equipped with a Thales TRS 2630 E-band surveillance radar with associated IFF subsystem and its cupola houses a tracking radar, a day and night Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) camera, a daylight only TV camera and an infra-red localiser. The cupola also carries eight ready-to-fire VT-1 missiles in two packs of four launcher tubes. The surveillance radar has a detection range of 20 km against high-performance aircraft and of around 11 km against hovering helicopters. Altitude coverage is from ground level to 5,000 m. The monopulse Doppler tracking radar operates in the Ku-band, has a range of up to 30 km and features improved Electronic Counter-Countermeasures (ECCM). The thermal camera has an acquisition range of around 19 km in optimal conditions, while the daylight camera is limited to 10 km.

 All functions from target detection to target tracking are automated to achieve reduced reaction times. The reaction time is typically 6 seconds between first detection and launch of a missile. Once a missile is fired, the operational software selects the best missile tracking sensor on the basis of the data being supplied by all sensors. The operator has the option to override this automatic selection.

 The 2.3 metres long and 75 kg heavy VT-1 missile has an effective range of about 11 km and a ceiling of over 6,000 metres. It is armed with a 13 kg high-explosive (HE) fragmentation warhead, which is initiated by a proximity fuse. The warhead provides a lethal blast radius of 8 metres. The missile’s speed is Mach 3.5 and it can manoeuvre with load factors of up to 35 g. Its guidance system uses radar and electro-optical sensors.

Aspic

In the Armée de l’Air, the Aspic firing unit assemblies are mounted on a light Peugeot P4 4×4 chassis. The vehicle can carry four ready to fire Mistral missiles on its firing unit assembly and four reloads on its bed [for more information on the Mistral, see the special feature Mistral over Crete]. The firing unit assembly is equipped with a daylight TV camera, an infra-red camera for night-time and reduced visibility operations, an automated tracker and a digital computer for rapid and accurate target acquisition and tracking and for optimal lead angle calculation. The automated target tracking and engagement facilities allow to shorten reaction times and to maximise target kill probability. Aspic is small, air transportable, highly mobile, easy to operate, self sufficient and has a very short into-action-time, which makes it very suitable for use by rapid reaction forces.

 An Aspic crew usually consists of an operator-gunner and a driver. The high degree of automation makes that the operator-gunner only has to trigger the missile launch, but when required he can override the automated functions. The crew can operate the missile system from a console that can remain in the vehicle’s cabin or that can be deployed at distances of up to 50 metres from the firing unit to improve crew safety. While the operator-gunner follows the engagement of a primary target on the console, the driver can survey the surrounding airspace to maintain a good situational awareness. To that aim, he carries an Ares helmet, which can also be used to designate a secondary target and transfer it to the gunner’s console as soon as he handled his primary target.

Smokey Sam Launch

Smokey SAMs were used to simulate the launch of VT-1 missiles of the Crotale NG GBAD system. These small rockets are made of soft plastic to avoid engine damage should they be ingested by an aircraft. The rocket’s engine produces a dense white smoke, resembling the smoke trail as produced by many short range surface-to-air missiles.

Smokey Sam rocket

 Tim, a Smokey SAM operator of the Polygone practice range in Germany and based at Ramstain airbase, shows the small size of these SAM simulators.

Deploying dedicated EW aircraft, aircraft with an EW suite for self-protection and dedicated ground based jamming equipment rendered the training of the GBAD crews more realistic. It gave them the opportunity to detect, track and engage targets in an environment of intense electronic jamming and to put the countermeasures-resistance of their systems to the test.

 CAS AND FAC TRAINING

 Storm Crow was also a good opportunity to step up the Close Air Support (CAS) and Forward Air Control (FAC) exercises that are regularly held in the region by adding an EW dimension. F-16 fighter-bomber pilots could fly medium and low level CAS missions in five well-defined zones near Bertrix, Remagne, Tenneville, Marche-en-Famenne and Saint-Vith. The airspace above these zones ranged from 250 to 4,500 ft AGL (Above Ground Level). Part of the radars and missile launchers participating in the exercise were deployed to these five zones, adding to the complexity and realism of the CAS missions for both pilots and forward air controllers.

 In these zones, the forward air controllers first had to find the targets to be neutralised and then had to give the pilots an accurate description of the targets and guidance towards them in order to avoid collateral damage. The pilots for their part had to find and positively identify the assigned targets, select the appropriate armament and use the capabilities of their aircraft to simulate the destruction of the targets in the most safe and effective way.

 Belgian Forward Air Controllers

A Belgian forward air controller team as it participated in Exercise Storm Crow.

In the past, forward air controllers could guide a pilot to a target only by describing it and its surroundings. Nowadays, however, they can rely on technical means to transfer target data and information directly and in real time from the ground to the pilot in the cockpit. In the near future, these capabilities will increase even more with the arrival of the recently ordered new targeting pods.

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 Jos Schoofs (February 2008)

Last updated 05/08/08 18:11   Daniel Brackx

brackda@gmail.com