Exercise ELITE 2007 at Lechfeld Air Base - Germany, June 14-28, 2007

Philip Stevens reports: Held annually for the last twelve years, ELITE (Electronic Warfare Live Training Exercise) is the biggest exercise in the German Air Force’s (GAF) calendar. This year 17 nations were involved, including Romania for the first time. Four other nations were there as observers. This large electronic warfare exercise is unique within NATO. Most of the activity is in southern Germany centred around the Heuberg Training Range, which is south of Stuttgart and the largest in Germany. Attending personnel spoke highly of the value of the exercise, their experiences and of the knowledge they gained over the two weeks. German Air Force Commander Lt Gen Aarne Kreuzinger-Janik said; "ELITE offers a spectacular opportunity to conduct exchanges of ideas and experience, not only militarily, but culturally as well". ELITE is designed to improve combat success and survivability during electronic warfare. Multiple jamming and deception techniques combined with the tactical procedures to counter them are analysed to improve efficiency. Capt Gregor ‘Beppo’ Brehm, ELITE 2007 project officer, said; "ELITE’s main aim is to provide electronic combat training for the air crews and the Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) guys that are sitting inside the Surface-to-air Missile Sites (SAMS) on the ground". Capt Brehm is a former Tornado pilot who once served at RAF Cottesmore, UK.

As there is insufficient space for all aircraft involved only 80% of the aircraft fly from Lechfeld air base. Nations flying from Tornado air base at Lechfeld this year were; United Kingdom (Tornado GR.4), Greece (F-16), Norway (Falcon 20ECM), Italy (Tornado ECR), Turkey (F-4 and F-16), Poland (MiG-21) and Romania (MiG-21 LanceR). The GAF were flying Tornado ECM and IDS.

Manching, as in recent years, was used by the Swiss Air Force (F/A-18 and F-5F) and by some of the aircraft used for electronic counter-measures. In total 45 jet aircraft, 15 helicopters with 13 transport and support aircraft took part. Some aircraft were flying from their home bases, including GAF Eurofighter Typhoons, which were participating for the first time, were flying Neuburg, which is only ten minutes extra flying time from the exercise area. Also participating were French Air Force Mirage 2000D’s from Nancy, Tornado IDS from Nörvenich and Büchel and NATO E-3A’s from Geilenkirchen. A considerable amount of ground forces play their part in the exercise. 1,500 soldiers are at the air bases with 1,000 at the Heuberg range utilising 200 vehicles ten of which are tracked.

Although the main purpose of the exercise is the Suppression of Enemy Defences (SEAD), for added realism there is a Combined Air Operations (COMAO) element. The COMAO’s often consisted of between 15 and 30 aircraft. The air-to-air threats are only used on the way to the range for both the morning and afternoon missions, and not used on their return. Chaff and flares are dispensed, but no live weapons are used during the 1 to 1½ hour sorties.

Pilots usually flew once a day in either the morning or afternoon wave, giving them each ten missions over the two weeks. Participating air forces brought around 2½ pilots per aircraft to allow for two missions a day, sickness and for pilot planning on the ground. To increase pilot flying experience, a Guest Flight Program is operated to allow pilots to fly aircraft from other nations. It was limited to around two or three guest rides per nation, which included Germany.

The Swiss Air Force at Manching
The Swiss Air force were based at Manching throughout ELITE, due to the limited space at Lechfeld. Lt Col A Miescher, Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet pilot, described the three distinct missions the Swiss AF flew.

Firstly they flew against specific threats such as the ‘Skyguard’ system operated by the Austrian’s. Flying at high speed and at low level, initially at 1,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL), then down to 500 feet in the main training sector and descending down to just 230 feet over the range.The second mission is COMAO, where they play the ‘sweep’ or the front element, to clean the airspace to ensure the SEAD bombers of the strike package can follow without coming under an air-to-air threat. They are supported by AWACS (French or NATO E-3’s), air-to-air refuelling (AAR) and the civilian operated jammers of Flight Refuelling (FRA) with Dassault Falcon (Mystere) 20C’s and Gesellschaft für Flugzieldarstellung (GFD) with Lear Jets.The third mission opposite the second and involves flying against the COMAO and strike package. Here they are on their own, supported only by Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) which takes place over northern Germany. AAR is not specifically part of the ELITE program but helps the Swiss simulate modern air power type missions. These missions are almost two hours in duration with one hour on station.

All three missions are flown each day, a typical package consisting of four F/A-18’s in front as ‘sweep’ followed by four GAF Tornadoes, four RAF Tornadoes, and four Greek AF F-16’s. Two Romanian AF MiG-21’s were flown as escorts. In the second week helicopters were added to simulate Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

Lt Col Miescher said; he flew against Eurofighters two versus one but would have liked the opportunity for four versus four close air-to-air combat, adding that Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapons are not much fun. His biggest challenge was in the air-to-air role, assessing the in-flight shots. "It is so difficult with so much EW going on, you don’t know what you see on the radar is what actually happened, claiming shots is the issue. Don’t claim shots in the air, wait till you are on the ground and assess it there". Lt Col Miescher who flew against both the Eurofighters and much older F-4’s and MiG-21’s said that they are not that different, after all it is just an AMRAAM shot. "It’s not just the platform but the weapon system that makes the difference. You don’t always win against the MiG-21’s, you know, never under estimate your opponent".

How effective are the jammers?
They are the best you can have, they only carry jamming devices. They even do specific comm’s jamming depending on which nation they want to jam. We (Swiss) had yodelling, on another occasion they said they were firing ‘Fox 3’ an AMRAAM and then played pop group Queen’s ‘Another one bites the dust’! Another tactic designed to confuse pilots was to record their radio calls to play them back during subsequent sorties. One frequency however is kept free from jamming at all times for safety reasons.

With Swiss neutrality, why do you take part in air to ground exercises?

Swiss neutral, air to ground – due to international laws we have armed neutrality, so we can defend our country against all levels of threat. We need to be ready to defend the country the threats decades ago were perhaps just two weeks away, now we are talking years. To be air to ground capable can take two to three years, so we have to be ready should a threat emerge from within Europe. It is all about how much time you need to build up a complete defensive aerial capability.

On the Range
The Heuberg Training Range is situated high in a vast area of grass fields and forested hillsides, and is an ideal location for concealed ground defences. Positioned at the range were German, Dutch and Turkish Rapier and three Patriot Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) systems. There are some low level strikes, by the nature of electronic warfare, most missions are at medium level.

Information is exchanged between the participating nations, during the main debriefings hosted by Heuberg training range. However sensitive subjects could be discussed one-to-one with range personnel.

Capt. Brehm, ELITE 2007 project officer, said at ELITE opposing sides were not described as ‘Red Air’ and ‘Blue Air’ as this was a relic from ‘Cold War’ times, it was interesting that on day eight Romanian MiG-21’s and Polish Su-22’s conducted a joint strike against German manned Patriot GBAD missile sites. The various GBAD systems are frequently moved around the range. On one occasion with the ground very heavy after intensive rainfall at Dutch Patriot site needed to be ‘rescued’ from the mud by a German recovery tank. The whole operation took eight hours and cost the Dutch a crate of beer!

ELITE has developed over the years, originally back in 1991 Tornadoes based from JBG-32 at Lechfeld and a SAM group, used the Hohenfels range for practise prior to attending the ‘Red Flag’ exercise in the United States. The exercise scenario continued expanding each year until in 1995 the first ELITE exercise took place. Starting out as a national exercise eventually other nations asked to attend. Invitations currently go out to NATO, EU and ‘Partnership for Peace’ nations. In 2002 the exercise was moved to the Heuberg range.

Hungary will be participating next year for first time. As more nations are added, the exercise gets more complex. There are now problems with air space and access to the range, consequently they may have to offer a range with EPICCCS (Enhanced Polygon Integrated Command Control and Communication System) or ‘Polygon’ to de-conflict aircraft in the future, we were told. Despite some flying limitations, there are no plans to move. More bases in the future may have to be used, with Memmingen, which is now civilian, being considered under a rental agreement. ELITE 2008 will run from July 3-17.


Source: Target Aviation Photography - Philip Stevens
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