Togetherness is the byword for modern military operations as nations get round tight budgets by sharing resources

Stewart Penney and DeeDee Doke/LONDON Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC


The Australian-led Operation Stabilise in East Timor has at least 11 nations involved and Operation Allied Force over Kosovo and Yugoslavia included contributions from 14 NATO countries. That so many nations took part is no coincidence: modern warfare demands interoperability and jointness, tight defence budgets mean that all necessary resources are not available in any one nation. By presenting itself as representative of international consensus, a group of countries can get round political unwillingness to be seen meddling in another nation's affairs.

As well as creating coalition forces for military action, European nations aim to be even more together and are starting to discuss more joint units, similar to the German-based NATO Airborne Early Warning Force (NAEWF). A strategic transport force is receiving much attention in the margins while a common air-to-ground surveillance unit is another possibility. Each nation could own a few aircraft and create a multinational force when required, but provide individual elements to support national needs at other times. Nations could potentially "loan" aircraft to other force members.

For a multinational force along the lines of the NAEWF to work, several issues would need to be resolved. For example, and possibly most important, what if France needed to support its forces in Africa, the UK had to deploy to the Falkland Islands and Germany was scheduled to hold its largest exercise of the year, all in the same week? On the positive side, financial benefits should accrue from shared maintenance and crew-training and a there could be a lower unit cost for the aircraft purchase.

Interoperability is becoming a byword in procurement competitions as manufacturers stress the common use of equipment by a buyer's potential coalition partners. Again, shared maintenance costs are underlined - as are the value of common procedures and the sharing of operational data.

Common capabilities, such as beyond visual range air-to-air engagement and standoff precision attack, are needed for a nation to be invited to join a coalition force. Europe's reliance on the USA for reconnaissance, tanking and strategic transport assets was criticised after the Kosovo campaign. Those drawing attention to shortfalls included UK defence secretary George Robertson, NATO's next secretary general.

Gen Richard Hawley, the recently retired commander of the USAF Air Combat Command, acknowledges the insatiable demand from theatre commanders for scarce precision assets. Hawley believes the problem of allies lacking the appropriate capability is overstated. "Most of the US Air Force is still the same as allied air forces - we have 11 wings of Lockheed Martin F-16s that are not precision, and are without datalinks, and we will continue to have for another 15 years. The trick is to integrate disparate capabilities-and to give each an appropriate role in the battle."

That requires more training, Hawley says. "We must use Red Flag and Green Flag [training exercises] to better integrate high and mid-range forces." Theatre commanders' preferences for high-end forces is a challenge, he admits. "We have to try to educate them that there is a legitimate role for lesser capability aircraft."

US Air Force in Europe head Gen John Jumper says: "What I would appeal for is a focus on the basics: secure communications in the air, the right kind of identification equipment for friendly aircraft, some level of precision- guided munitions capability.

"Some countries are going to be more aggressive than others in technology, but we have to, because look what's coming down the line: the SA-10, the SA-12 surface-to-air missiles, generations of fighters that we know outclass what we have in the air today. We've got to be ready for that...that's why we have to keep aggressive technological programmes.

"I and Gen [Wesley] Clark were concerned about introduction of some of these systems in this particular conflict," he says, referring to the Kosovo air campaign. "It could have changed the balance and we've got to look ahead as an alliance-we can't go into the next conflict with the same equipment and the same mentality we entered this one with."

Interoperability is not limited to links between the world's air forces. Jointness, working with land and sea forces, is increasingly under the spotlight as countries seek to gain the maximum advantage from their military. A number of nations are for the first time setting up joint units or commands.

In the UK, the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) could not be written without "interoperability" and "jointness" as part of the lexicon. Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff Sir Richard Johns says jointness and interoperability are not new. He adds: "An awful lot of hot air has been expended by people slow to catch up with contemporary warfare." He says that "jointness does not destroy the single service ethos, which must be protected".

Allied Force proved the worth of interoperability in NATO, says Johns. Often strike packages consisted of five or six nations' aircraft: the NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) force is multinational and the tankers were "the unsung heroes of the campaign".

Airmens' views

Airmen who flew on the air war's front line are less enthusiastic about existing levels of interoperability. "I'm not going to tell you it was perfect," says USAF Lt Col Cesar Rodriguez, a Boeing F-15C pilot who has shot down three MiGs in two conflicts. "There are major differences at a variety of levels. It didn't prevent interoperability, but it didn't assure it 100%."

Commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Lt Gen Ben Droste cites the joint RNLAF/Belgian air force task force at Amendola, Italy, during Allied Force as an example of meaningful interoperability. Amendola "worked well", Droste says. "We have basically the same equipment. I say yes to jointness if purposeful. If it is politics, then I hesitate."

The RNLAF is studying the feasibility of a joint air defence organisation with the army and support helicopters, including Boeing CH-47 Chinooks and Eurocopter Cougars, and the Tactical Helicopter Group is being integrated into 11 Air Mobile Brigade.

The introduction of the Boeing AH-64D Apache into Dutch service will see closer links between the RNLAF and the army. The latter's officers are being integrated into the air force's AH-64 unit. The army will also provide helicopter pilots. Droste says the air force recognises that the Apache is to support the army and so its needs must be listened to. "The AH-64 serves a mission, not a force."

Interoperability in Kuwait during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 was "excellent", says the officer commanding Panavia Tornado-equipped II(AC) Sqn (OCII). The RAF is experienced at working with the US forces. "It goes back to the Gulf War. We've done Red Flag," he says. "We've operated with the USA, learned the US way of doing things. You can't get away from the fact the USA runs it. We fit in and it works." He adds that US forces are "extremely co-operative and they recognise coalitions and that politically they cannot do it themselves".

Intelligence has always been important and is becoming evermore so, says OCII. "If we're going to a ground attack target we need the most up-to-date imagery. Collection and dissemination is the key, and we are heavily reliant on the USA for that." It is not all one-way, however, as the Tornado tactical reconnaissance squadrons use Vinten Vicon pods for medium and high level reconnaissance. As one II(AC) Sqn pilot notes: "In Southern Watch the capability with the Vicon pod is valued by the USA." Strategic and tactical reconnaissance during Southern Watch - the maintenance of the "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq - allows the allies to evaluate targets and ensure that Iraq is complying with UN resolutions.

During Allied Force, the British Aerospace Harriers of Royal Air Force 1 Sqn worked closely with the co-located USAF Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolts. Typically, imagery gathered during missions would be processed in the deployed Reconnaissance Interpretation Centre and passed to the USAF unit. Officer commanding 1 Sqn (OC1) says: "We have a good relationship with the A-10 boys which gets the response time down." Good relationships and co-location helps interoperability, he says, adding that the US forces and RAF often train together. Station Commander Wittering says there is a strong relationship with the RNLAF.

The RAF Harrier force is about to become an integral part of one of the UK's lead interservice units - Joint Force 2000. Station Commander Wittering says it is "an important capability for UK force projection". He notes that aircraft carriers are just one of a number of places from which to operate. Joint Force 2000 therefore should not be seen as a carrier asset as the force will be more valuable if it retains the foreseen flexibility. Aircraft carriers are valuable national assets that allow force projection when there are no nearby friendly bases. Operating from semi-prepared strips, however, allows greater loads to be carried, and they are less risky to operate from, while carriers are limited by the number of aircraft they can carry and the deck cycle for launching and recovering waves of aircraft.


Air power should also deploy to the carrier when it gets to its destination rather than from home waters, as while the ship is away from land there is limited training value from operating over the sea. OC1 notes that the UK Royal Navy's Sea Harriers have a good radar and a long-range air-to-air missile. Station Commander Wittering adds that the Sea Harrier and Harrier GR7 "make a good package".

Flight commander plans 101 Sqn, Tim Walker, says interoperability is increasingly important to the tanker force. It needs to be examined further, particularly the way RAF tankers, which use visual flight rules procedures, operate with the USAF's refuellers at night. Improved radar equipment allows the USAF tanker force to keep 0.8km (0.5nm) station at night. Walker says the RAF can do this, but it is not comfortable with the equipment.

Major exercises such as Red Flag are crucial to give crew a "first sight" and therefore experience of the air tasking order (ATO) which lists the day's operations. With over 1,000 aircraft operating against Yugoslavia, and with each mission receiving an entry in the ATO, it became a lengthy document.

OC 216 Sqn Wg Cdr Dave Williams agrees that experience is the key and adds that the unit has many years of experience deploying to Italy. NATO's Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Vicenza knows that its single point Lockheed TriStars take longer to refuel than 101 Sqn's two-point BAC VC10s. CAOC rotated aircraft, such as suppression of enemy air defence and combat air patrol aircraft, which operate singly or in pairs, to the TriStars. The 216 Sqn is also comfortable in the narrow skies of the Adriatic and over the former Yugoslavia. Williams says lots of "little tankers is too many".

Crucial exercises


Command and control during air-to-air refuelling has become standardised as NATO ATP56, "the tanking bible", which outlines how an aircraft should approach the tanker and the procedure for a refuelling. The RAF is the lead service in producing ATP56 and its contents are reviewed twice a year. Other air forces' tanker squadrons visit 101 Sqn at RAF Brize Norton. Williams says interoperability is helped by RAF exchange instructors passing on knowledge.

Col Glenn Spears, 100th Air Refueling Wing commander, RAF Mildenhall, says that during Allied Force it was found there were no published procedures to refuel some aircraft, "but because we worked so closely together, we were able to get the proven procedures published".

"We practise interoperability with the tanker fleet. Because we have trained with NATO allies, we were very confident in our ability to work with all of the NATO aircraft. On any one day, we were refuelling them all."

The E-3 Sentry AWACS is at the centre of coalition air warfare and is the glue cementing interoperability. Not only does it oversee all the air assets from the helicopters and unmanned air vehicles near the ground to high-flying Lockheed U-2s, it has a maritime search capability and acts as an airborne relay.

In the air, the E-3's role in a triad of surveillance assets - electronic intelligence (ELINT) aircraft, the AWACS and reconnaissance aircraft - is crucial, says Station Commander Waddington, Gp Capt Ron Cook. He says that when ASTOR - equivalent to the Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack System battlefield surveillance aircraft - enters RAF service, the same triad will be created at RAF Waddington between the Sentrys, 51 Sqn's ELINT BAe Nimrod R1s and ASTOR. The triad pulls together real-time intelligence and is able to distribute the resulting picture quickly to assets such as the USAF's Airborne Battlefield Command Control and Communications (ABCCC) Lockheed Martin EC-130s. ABCCC controls loitering strike aircraft, forward air control aircraft and unmanned air vehicles and can bring air power to bear against a target quickly, crucial if mobile targets are to be destroyed.

Source: Flight International