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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Military Training: Earning Their Stripes

THE FIELDING OF THE TIGER WEAPON SYSTEM IS A major challenge for the German and French army aviation corps.

Recent events in the Africa, the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan have shown, sometimes tragically, the relevance of the German and French air mechanization concepts and the urgent need to acquire a powerful support for the benefit of the ground maneuver element that is fully interoperable with all components in the field.

To meet this challenge, Germany and France decided to create a joint training center at the French army air corps base at Le Luc en Provence in the south of France, It opened on July 1, 2003, and began training the first operational Tiger crews at the beginning of 2006. Today, these crews are flying with the French army’s 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment, based in Pau.

The main mission of the École Franco-Allemande (EFA) Tiger training center is to give the Tiger crews, at the individual and collective levels, the tactical and technical skills needed for the missions to be carried out with this weapon system. They range from non-combatant evacuation operation to peace enforcement missions and high-intensity conflicts, often in a complex, digital, joint and multi-national environment.

Besides training, the school has three missions.

The first mission is to take part in the operational fielding of the Tiger within the French and German armies. This is a huge challenge that goes beyond training. The school is the first unit to have operational experience with the Tiger. It is sharing lessons of the Tiger’s everyday operation with the first operational units to be equipped with the Tiger. This extends to support, simulation, infrastructure, flight safety, human resources management, and so on. The school is a test bench in all of these areas.

The second mission is to become an integration laboratory at a low commanding level within the framework of European defense. The French and German defense ministers have said they want the school to develop integration as far as possible.

Finally, the school participates in use of the Tiger abroad. It is regularly asked to support the training of countries that have ordered the aircraft and must do this without disrupting its own training build-up.

Integration within the school is particularly tight. The commanding officer and training and support division officers are either French or German. Each officer has an assistant officer from the other country. The school uses three languages: German and French for daily life and English as the operational language.

The high level of skills necessary to fly the Tiger, the complexity of the weapon system, and the high cost of its flight hours call for the development of an innovative training concept, unique in Europe, intensively using outstanding and complementary simulation means: computer-assisted training (CAT), cockpit procedure trainers (CPT), and full-mission simulators (FMS). Complemented with lectures and validated on the simulator, this ground training allows the optimization of the flight training sessions.

The aim of training in Le Luc is not only to give a conversion-to-type qualification, but most importantly an operational qualification up to team level. This is why, given the architecture of the weapon system, Germany and France have decided to train all their Tiger pilots in the front seat, then to put them in the back seat to be the commanders of the aircraft. Then, the most experienced among them will be trained as team leaders (of a flight of two helicopters).

This makes it possible to progressively obtain the skills necessary for the implementation of the weapon system, avoiding redundancies between the front and the back seats. It directly prepares the crews for their first employment and ensures a better security of the flights, since each member of the crew is fully aware of the work of the other one.

The theoretical program is reduced to the essentials necessary for understanding the systems and is taught in most cases with CAT lessons, alternating with some lectures.

After that, the trainee learns the procedures he needs to do his duty, with growing degrees of complexity, speed, and precision on the CPT (eight in total, reconfigurable in German or French version). The more complex technical procedures and maneuvers, as well as the tactical skill and the work as a crew, are then taught using the FMS. (There are eight in total). Their performance allows a realistic presentation of flight scenarios. The level of imaging of the outside and tactical environments allows, moreover, reproducing the engagement conditions of the digitized battlefield. The use of the FMS is the primary element of the bi-national training concept.

The rest of the training is conducted on the real helicopter.

The plan is to train up to 140 pilots a year for both nations in five different courses.

The ratio between the different assets varies with the level of the course (more real flights during the basic training and a very few in the advanced course, the biggest part being performed on simulation assets).

The qualified helicopter instructors come from different backgrounds (anti-tank, support and utility helicopter pilots) to mix the experiences and speed the build-up of training in all Tiger employment fields. Many of them have more than 3,000 flight hours. Some have up to 6,000.

The Franco-German school now has more than 10 aircraft, which have flown 1,500 flight hours. The first qualified helicopter instructors have more than 300 flight hours, 20 percent of them at night. All types of flight have been conducted (night-vision goggles, tactical flight, instrument flight rules, emergency-procedure training, air-to-air combat).

Among the major stakes, simulation permits training the crews up to battalion level. This is the reason why the French army gives some time slots to the forces for their operational training, to optimize the employment of the FMSs and of the CPTs the school has at disposal.

The school has tight links with Australia, which has ordered the Tiger. Since June 2005, the school also has had a Spanish liaison officer, whose mission is to strengthen cooperation between the German, French and Spanish army aviation corps. Some Spanish pilots have been trained at Le Luc and it is planned to continue that on a regular basis beginning in January.

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