From the 23rd till the 27th of October 2021, MAR members were present to report on the Ocean Sky 21 and EART 2021 Exercises held at Gando Air Base and Lanzarote Air Base respectively. Apart from covering the daily flying activities, MAR was also invited to the EART 2021 Media Day with the opportunity to fly in the back of a Spanish Air Force A400M to photograph refuelling missions with F/A-18 Hornets and EF2000 Typhoons.
EART 2021 was the 7th edition of the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) exercise which was conducted from the 15th to the 29th of October 2021. It was led by the European Air Transport Command (EATC) and hosted by Spain at Lanzarote Air Base. For the very first time, the training exercise was run in conjunction with the multinational fighter exercise “Ocean Sky” held at Gando Air Base in Gran Canaria.
France, Spain and the Multinational MRTT Unit (MMU) participated in EART 2021 with tankers, crews and mentors. Australia, and the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE) also participated with mentors. France and MMU participated with their MRTTs whilst Spain participated with an A400 from ALA 31. Due to operational reasons, the German Air Force A400M and Italian Air Force KC-767 cancelled their participation.
EART 2021’s focus is on similar and dissimilar “multi-tanker formation” and “tanker-to-tanker” rendezvous procedures. The 2021 edition also emphasized on “threat reactions and retrograde’ procedures.
What is EART?
During operations, a tanker from one nation may be required to refuel an aircraft from another nation. Thus, it is essential that all EATC’s member nations learn to work with one another for a smooth multinational operation.
During the NATO-led operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR over Libya in 2011, which was in terms of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) very much dependant on the United States Air Force’s assets, it became evident that there is a critical capability shortfall in regard to AAR especially within the European Union member states.
During Unified Protector, some of the tankers of EU member states, for a variety of reasons, were not made available to the EU forces. When taking a closer look at the AAR assets back then, it becomes apparent that the inventories of the Member States featured quite a number of different aircraft types such as the KC-135, KDC-10, A310 MRTT, VC10, TriStar and Boeing 707.
Those aircraft are equipped with different systems for fuel-delivery (boom or drogue) that are not always suitable for every receiver aircraft. In regards to interoperability, this is not the most favourable situation, especially since the certification procedures of aircraft to receive fuel from a foreign nation’s tanker are complicated and sometimes very time consuming. The situation becomes even more critical when considering that the AAR fleets of the Member States were reaching the end of their lifetime cycles. This often is accompanied by a decreasing availability rate due to their maintenance status.
Therefore in 2012, a plan to further develop this capability was set up by the European Defence Agency (EDA). Lessons learnt from past operations asked for more training dedicated to tanker crews. Thus EATC, supported by EDA, developed the European Air Refuelling Training (EART).
EART is the sole European training event for tanker aircraft organised yearly in conjunction with a large fighter exercise like the Dutch Frisian Flag or the Spanish Ocean Sky. It offers tanker air and ground crews the possibility to become familiar with scenarios they are not regularly exposed to and to maintain proficiency.
The event is also a unique opportunity for exchanging information and procedures and building interoperability within the European AAR community. EART is moreover used as a test-bed by EATC experts to develop, refine and validate common procedures and receive immediate feedback from all actors. Moreover, EART facilitates the certification processes between tankers and receiver aircraft.
EART has become an embedded rendezvous for the air-to-air-refuelling community. It is a successful example of pooling and sharing military air capabilities.
Today EATC commands a wide range of air-to-air refuelling assets covering the entire spectrum of AAR from helicopters to heavy receivers. With the introduction of the new generation tanker fleet, all EATC member nations either own national AAR capabilities or are multinational partners of AAR capabilities. EATC is the major force provider in Europe, with large operational options and reinforced operational effectiveness for EATC’s member nations.
The AAR Portfolio
The large and diverse EATC portfolio offers AAR tankers equipped with boom and basket refuelling systems. These are capable of providing service to almost all NATO and EU fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters, as soon as bilaterally certified. Whereas the A400M and KC-130J can refuel probe-equipped receivers such as the Eurofighter, Mirage and Tornado, the KC-767A is available for receptacle-equipped aircraft such as the F-16 and the F-35. The most flexible asset however is the new A330 MRTT, equipped with both AAR systems and offering a huge capacity of some 109,000 tons of fuel (depending on the mission profile).
Although assets such as the Dutch KDC-10 and French C-160 NG will be decommissioned, the number of tankers under EATC’s authority will increase in the coming years when the A400M, KC-130J and A330 MRTT reach full AAR capability. Thus, as of 2025, the number of AAR missions will increase significantly and EATC will be confirmed as a major force provider in Europe, with large operational options and reinforced operational effectiveness.
From 15 to 29 October 2021, Gando Air Base hosted the main Spanish “air to air” exercise, called Ocean Sky 21. Ocean Sky is a military exercise carried out annually by Air Force fighter pilots in the area called Delta 79, south of the Islands, either in the entire area or in its eastern and western sectors, separate from civil traffic.
The goal of the exercise is to develop the capabilities of the Command-and-Control Centre of the Air Combat Command in an aerial superiority campaign in order to enhance the level of air-to-air combat preparation of all the units involved. This is the first time that Ocean Sky was organised in conjunction with EART.
The Combat Air Command (MACOM) deployed its fighter units at the Gando Air Base, and auxiliary units at the Lanzarote Military Aerodrome. Spanish Air Force units consisted of ALA 11 and ALA 14 equipped with the Eurofighter Typhoon and ALA 12 and ALA 15 with the F/A-18A+ Hornet. Home-based ALA 46 also actively participated with their own F/A-18A+ Hornets whilst 802 Search and Rescue Squadron was also present with CN235MPA-100 and AS332B Super Puma aircraft.
In addition, these units were accompanied by the Hellenic Air Force 343 ‘Star’ squadron from Souda Bay with F-16 C/D Block 52+ aircraft, along with an AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) command and control system and other support units.
In this edition of the exercise, around 700 people, 50 fighter aircraft and 3 support aircraft took part, completing 27 flight missions and more than 500 sorties. The exercise was carried out in four phases:
- A first phase of ‘Force generation and deployment’ with the aim of carrying out all personnel and force preparation tasks, as well as the deployment of participating units.
- A theoretical phase, which includes a series of ‘Force Integration Conferences & Briefings’ aimed at understanding the aircraft participating in the exercise, Flight Safety, Combat tactics, etc., in order to complement flight training.
- A practical phase with Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) type missions, in a wide variety of scenarios and with a large number of aircraft, which allow increasing interoperability between the different participating units, as well as evaluating and improving the tactics, techniques and procedures used in this type of mission. These missions are split in a morning ‘Main Wave’ and an afternoon ‘Shadow Wave’.
- A final phase of ‘withdrawal/redeployment’
- 3 periods of visual combat (one against one – 1vs1).
- 9 main missions (Main Wave)
- Up to 30 fighters involved.
- Various scenarios:
- Defence of a no-fly zone (No-Fly Zone).
- Recovery of downed personnel.
- Air defence and air control.
- Defence of High Value Air Resources.
- 18 minor missions (Shadow Wave)
- Up to 14 aircraft involved in two different simultaneous missions.
- Same scenarios.
This brings to an end another fantastic exercise which MAR will for sure attend in the near future. A big thank you goes out to the Spanish Air Force and the European Air Transport Command for hosting us and for their continuous help and support.
List of Aircraft seen during our visit
|Owner / Operator||Aircraft Type||Serial / Registration||Remarks||Squadron|
|France – Air Force||Airbus A330-243(MRTT)||‘042/F-UJCH||EART 2021 – GCRR||ERVTS01.031|
|Greece – Air Force||Lockheed Martin F-16C-52+-CF Fighting Falcon||500||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||343 Mira|
|Greece – Air Force||Lockheed Martin F-16C-52+-CF Fighting Falcon||509||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||343 Mira|
|Greece – Air Force||Lockheed Martin F-16C-52+-CF Fighting Falcon||525||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||343 Mira|
|Greece – Air Force||Lockheed Martin F-16D-52+-CF Fighting Falcon||611||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||337 Mira|
|NATO||Boeing E-3A Sentry||LX-N90447||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||NAEW&CF|
|Spain – Air Force||Airbus A400M||T.23-08/31-28||EART 2021 – GCRR||Ala 31|
|Spain – Air Force||CASA C-212-100 Aviocar||T.12B-69/72-69||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||721 Esc|
|Spain – Air Force||CASA CN-235M-100MPA||D.4-07 /T.19B-15||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 37|
|Spain – Air Force||Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000||C.16-35/11-35||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 11|
|Spain – Air Force||Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000||C.16-38/11-38||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 11|
|Spain – Air Force||Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000||C.16-41/11-41||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 11|
|Spain – Air Force||Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000||C.16-49/14-49||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 14|
|Spain – Air Force||Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000||C.16-60/14-60||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 14|
|Spain – Air Force||Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000 (T)||CE.16-04/11-04||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 11|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-18/15-05||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 15|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-23/15-10||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 15|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-38/15-25||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 15|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-39/15-26||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 15|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-40/15-27||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 15|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-48/12-06||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 12|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-51/12-09||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 12|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-55/12-13||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 12|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-57/12-15||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 12|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-64/15-34||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 15|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-68/12-26||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 12|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-81/46-09||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 46 – 462 Esc.|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-82/46-10||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 46 – 462 Esc.|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-90/46-18||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 46 – 462 Esc.|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-92/46-20||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 46 – 462 Esc.|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18A+ Hornet||C.15-93/46-21||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 46 – 462 Esc.|
|Spain – Air Force||McDonnell Douglas EF-18B+ Hornet||CE.15-12/12-75||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Ala 12|
|Spain – Navy||Cessna 550 Citation II||U.20-2/01-406||OCEAN SKY 2021 – GCLP||Eslla 004|