After 40 years of activity, 2019 is a special year for the TLP Tactical Leadership Program of Albacete. With the Flying Course 2019-1 the experimentation of a new format of the course begins and for the first time two F-35’s, belonging to the USAF, visit the Albacete airbase by participating in a mission of the Flying Course 2019-2.
The news had already been announced by Colonel Maldonado last November, in Amendola, during the Flying Course 2018-4: the subsequent participation of 5th generation aircraft in a TLP course was scheduled for the 2nd course of the year 2019, right at the its headquarters, the Spanish base in Albacete: aircraft belonging to the USAF military.
The conditional is always a must when it is about partecipating in exercises, since last-minute cancellations can always be around the corner, so all breathed a sigh of relief when, on the morning of Monday 10th of June, two F-35As appeared on the vertical of Los Llanos airport coming from the base of Aviano where the TSP, Theater Security Package, consisting of 12 F-35s coming from Hill AFB, Utah; they were expected for what the Spanish Air Force had defined, we will say inappropriately, “the participación, por primera vez, de aviones de quinta generación en el curso de vuelo of the Programa de Liderazgo Táctico”. But then pointing out: “Se trata, en concret, de cazabombarderos F-35 of the USAF, that despliegan por primera vez en Albacete”.
We could interview Col. Maldonado shortly after the end of the Flying Course 2019-2. Below is what we told us.
“Our aim was to rely again on the participation of 5th generation assets, as a step in the TLP strategy to guide the integration of the three different generations of fighters and to continue advancing in the integration between the 4th and 5th generation aircraft.
Two U.S.A.F. F-35’s in particular participated in A CSAR mission, one of the most complex missions in the TLP course. The pilots first participated in the specific CSAR theoretical lectures held on Saturday 8 June, so they participated, as “Blue Air”, in the planning, briefing, execution and debriefing of the CSAR mission, of 10 June, as “Sandy” 5 and 6, along with two Spanish EF-2000’s and two Polish F-16’s.
In our vision of keeping TLP aligned and relevant in a global environment and in continuous change, 5th generation a/c integration is strategic for both TLP and NATO. Therefore, we believe that the TLP can, and should, assume the leadership of this integration, between 4th and 5th generation, in the doctrine of the COMAO under the aegis of the broader doctrine of the Alliance.
As I have already been able to affirm, we must consider that at least 6 of the 10 signatory countries of the TLP memorandum already operate, or will operate in the short term, with 5th generation aircraft, and it is part of our strategy to change what is necessary for meet the training needs of future pilots of aircraft of both generations.
The redeployment to Amendola was a great opportunity to have a first contact with the F-35’s, in that case belonging to the Italian Air Force, but we believe that it is much more important that these aircraft participate recurrently in our courses here in Albacete, headquarters of the TLP.
At Amendola AFB we learned that these aircraft offer exceptional capabilities to the COMAOs, complete them and improve them in an impressive way. However, there is still a long way to go, we must adapt the concepts and operational tactics, but we are also working on other areas, or strategic lines for further improvement, to adapt the TLP to the training needs of the 4th / 5th generation.
First of all, our attention must be on the infrastructure: expanding / diversifying the areas of redeployment within the base, fiber optic interconnection, aspects of safety and protection of aircraft, etc., are improvements that we consider necessary despite we have already obtained, thanks to the ‘USAFE, a report that certifies that the structures, currently present on the basis of Los Llanos / Albacete, are however suitable for the operation of the 5th generation assets.
Second: the extension of the airspace. Approximately the operational area will have an extension of 200 NM X 100 NM, with over 120 NM on the mainland, indispensable for preparing challenging objectives for the 5th generation hunting discovery capabilities and also necessary to allow the A/A training with the “Meteor” missiles.
More: a new syllabus (TLP 2.0). We realized, about a year ago, that the learning curve of the course participants was steeper in the first three weeks of the course, while, in the fourth week, the curve had a flatter course, not growing as in the previous weeks . On the other hand, some countries have revealed that it was very difficult for them to deploy planes for a month in the TLP to carry out only one mission a day.
Thus, in 2018, during the Steering Group meeting, it was decided to design a new course, lasting only 3 weeks, one less than the previous version, with the flight phase concentrated in the last two weeks and with the addition of synthetic tools to plan and carry out the first three missions of the course, to be carried out in the last 3 days of the first week. On Saturdays between the two weeks of flight, our time was dedicated to the theories of CSAR and the “Petting Zoo” (vision of the means of possible opponents as in a zoo – Editor’s note).
Although for the the new course it was decided a reduction of flight missions from 15 to 12, of which 3 are synthetic, we have tried to compensate this reduction by updating the type, so as to preserve those actually more interesting and at the same time insert new ones such as the Anti-Access Denial Area (A2 / AD). Given the satisfactory results of the first two courses of 2019, the meeting at the end of June of the steering group definitively approved the new Flying Course formula.
Now a hint to this issue: training in Contested Degraded Operations (CDO). That is, design more complex and demanding scenarios with greater presence of radar and communications disturbances, degraded GPS signals, “inflatable” targets, increase and improvement of anti-air defenses and OPFOR (Red Air), in order to make training effective 5th generation fighter pilots.
Last but not least an update of NATO’s tactical doctrine: the TLP, in concert with the Allied Air Command which constitutes the focal point within the Alliance for the development of standardized tactics, techniques and procedures, has started the elaboration of a chapter of the NATO doctrine dedicated to the operations with the aircraft of 5th generation, which we count is ready in 2020.
“In summary,” concludes Col. Maldonado, “we have just started, and this participation of the two American F-35s was another small step forward. The next goal is to have the F-35 participate in a complete course in 2020 “.
The hopes of Col. Maldonado, which we add our own to, is that they can once again be the F-35s of the 13th Group of Amendola’s 32nd Wing to establish this record.
The appointment with the TLP is however for September when the Flying Course 2019-3 will be held, the first course definitively approved in the new 2.0 format.
Text and photos: Sergio Lanna and Gianluca Storti