Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) – Gando 2017

Base Aerea de Gando hosted the 2017 Dissimilar Air Combat Training Exercise (DACT) for the Ejercito del Aire –EdA (Spanish Air Force) during January 2017. Pixelsnipers attended the media day on the 24th January to discover first-hand about the exercise and the participating units and air arms.

Our exercise briefing was given by Colonel Ojeda from Mando Aereo de Combate – MACOM (Air Combat Command).

MACOM has the task of preparing Air Combat, Support and Command & Control Systems to deploy for military air operations. It provides the basis of the contribution of the air component in Joint Action Operations of the Armed Forces that are participating in, or leading multinational operations.

For this purpose, it has a Command and Control System capable of deployment; all of these elements are tested in DACT.

The combat elements for the exercise were split into two forces, the Blue force represents the allied component and they are the ones being evaluated in the exercise. Their role is to defend the no fly zone and repel or “shoot down” the Red forces who are taking the role of the aggressor’s.

The EdA deployed 5 different combat wings to the exercise with ALA 11 from Moron and ALA 14 from Albacete flying the Eurofighter EF2000 & EF2000(T), ALA 12 from Torrejon and ALA 15 from Zaragoza with the McDonnel-Douglas (Boeing) EF18M/BM Hornets, home participation was ALA 46 with the ex-United States Navy (USN) McDonnel-Douglas (Boeing) F/A18A+ Hornet.

In service the EF2000 equips 3 Escuadrons within the EdA from the 73 aircraft that were ordered. ALA 11 is made up of 111/113 Escuadron with the prime role of 113 to provide an operational conversion unit for pilots moving to the type, and for tactical training and evaluation. ALA 14 currently has only 1 assigned unit, that being 142 Escuadron.

The EdA has maintained a policy of operating more than 1-combat type in service, selecting an example from North American origins and one from Europe.

Replacement of the McDonnel-Douglas F4 Phantom started with the delivery of the F18 in November 1985 with an order comprising 60 EF18A variants, and 12 2-seat EF18B, the “E” designation being for Espana (Spain). Delivery was completed in July 1990.

Since their induction in service they have been upgraded to the current EF18M/BM standard with the development and fit of more modern mission and armament computer systems, databases, data storage units, wiring and pylon modifications and new software. This has enhanced mission capability by allowing the introduction of the AN/AAS-38 Nitehawk.

The Nitehawk produced by Lockheed-Martin is a forward looking infrared (FLIR) laser target designation (LTD) system for laser guided munitions delivery. Mounted on the port fuselage weapons staion (#4), it enhances the Hornets night attack capability giving the pilot a thermal imaging display in the cockpit, and on the head up display (HUD).

Nitehawk is fully integrated with the other avionics on the jet and it is used to calculate weapons release.

During DACT all the units shared maintenance that was provided by 275 support personnel, this provided experience and training in preparing for a combined task force deployed overseas.

As well as the combat elements of the EdA the Aeronautica Miltaire of Italy (AMI) provided 3 Eurofighter EF2000’s, with an example from each of 4, 36 and 37 Stormo.

The Red forces were controlled by PAPAYO, this is the name given to the Air Warning and Control Group located at Gando AB, the unit receives information from Escuadron de Vigilancia Aerea (EVA) 21 situated in the mountains of Gran Canaria, and EVA 22 on Lanzarote.

The Blue forces came under the control of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Boeing E3A Sentry, an airborne warning and control aircraft (AWACS) deployed from the NATO base in Geilenkirchen, Germany.

Spain along with many of its NATO partners does not maintain an independent airborne warning system but contributes to the NATO unit. The EdA provides personnel to Flying Squadron 2 within the Operations Wing of the unit, as well as the base support wing at Geilenkirchen.

The exercise no-fly zone is an area of 70 nautical miles (NM) by 80 NM over International waters, without the need to worry about civil air corridors the jets were able to perform manoeuvres and intercepts at both subsonic and supersonic speeds. The Blue force was defending an area to the East of the zone, with the Red force attacking from the West.

Colonel Ojeda explained that launching and simulated launches of missiles at supersonic speed increases their range and capability, and this has implications on rules of engagement and tactics.

Support for the operation came from a Lockheed KC130H Hercules from ALA 31 that acted as a tanker for the combat aircraft. Based at Lanzarote Airport for the exercise the Hercules was a daily visitor to Gando, and provided the platform for the media flight to observe the tanking operations, and for an up, close and personal look at the Hornet.

The EdA uses the probe and drogue refuelling method from its Hercules aircraft; this is when the tanker trails a flexible hose from the refuelling point that has a para-drogue attachment at the end. The drogue stabilises the hose in flight and provides a funnel to aid insertion of the refuelling probe from the receiver aircraft.

The probe is fitted with a valve that allows the transfer of fuel to commence only when a connection has been made to the hose’s forward internal receptacle. The valves in the probe and drogue that are most commonly used are to a NATO standard and were originally developed by the Flight Refuelling Company in the United Kingdom during the 1940’s.

This NATO standardisation allows interoperability between the air arms of the alliance.

The alternative method of in-flight refuelling uses the flying boom system where the rigid boom pipe is flown into a receptacle on the receiving aircraft to allow the refuel to take place.

The advantages of probe and drogue over boom are that it allows for multiple refuelling, subject to the number of stations available, conversion from transport to tanker aircraft is easier giving a more flexible aircraft utilisation and there is no requirement for a boom operator crew member to transfer the fuel.

The disadvantages are lower fuel flow rates because of the diameter of the boom pipe against the hose, the risk of pilot fatigue on long operations, and the system is more susceptible to adverse weather conditions.

Also operating from Lanzarote was a Dassault Falcon 20D from Grupo Mixto 47 based at Torrejon, this aircraft was utilised in the ELINT role, which is the gathering and use of electronic intelligence that can be deployed in the combat arena. Electronic warfare units can jam radars, or send them deceptive signals creating a different environment for the defensive forces to work in.

Search and Rescue was the responsibility of Escuadron 802, which is also a part of ALA 46, and they deployed the CASA CN235 MPA/SAR as well as the Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma when operations were taking place.

As well as participating in the exercise the combat element of ALA 46 (462 Escuadron) has a prime mission to defend the airspace of the Canarian archipelago. The squadron maintains a 365 day/24 hour alert for its F/A18A+ Hornets.

The Hornets used by ALA 46 were purchased from surplus USN stock and delivered over 3-years from December 1995. They were modified from F/A18A aircraft of the USN and designated EF18A+ in EdA service bringing them to the same specification of the later F18C variant.

The Hornet has a maximum speed of 1.8 times the speed of sound and with a thrust of 32,000 pounds is the spearhead for air defence. It can also perform air-ground as well as the air-to-air sorties to complete its mission.

The pilots develop during training from Gando AB as well as participating in national and international exercises, the aim is to gain experience from operating in all combat environments.

Hornets of the EdA have been involved in combat operations in Bosnia and Kosovo under NATO command. Operating in conjunction with Canadian and United States Marine Corps (USMC) units from Aviano AB in Italy they participated in bombing raids during Operation Allied Force in 1999 as well as combat air patrols, forward air control missions, and photo reconnaissance.

During operations in Libya the EdA deployed 4 Hornets as a contribution to allied forces enforcing the no-fly zone.

As the exercise drew to a close the EdA is already preparing for the next DACT in November 2018 where more personnel will be able to hone their skills in a testing environment. Pixelsnipers intends to return to record those developments in a future article.

In preparing this article I would like to thank Manolo Acosta Zapata for his translation of the briefing.