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European Air Refuelling Training exercise 2019
Latest update: July 2019
From April 1 – 12 the sixth edition of the European Air Transport Command (EATC) organized European Air Refuelling Training (EART) exercise took place. Alike all previous editions Royal Netherlands Air Force Base Eindhoven hosted the participating aircraft and crews and the exercise ran alongside the annual RNLAF fighter exercise Frisian Flag held at Leeuwarden AB.

The first EART was held in 2014 aimed at two goals, bringing together the AAR / MRTT family to learn from each other’s procedures, experiences and get acquainted while at the same time supporting the fighter community at Frisian Flag. Before 2014 the tankers operated from their own bases (GAF: Cologne, RNLAF: Eindhoven and USAFE: RAF Mildenhall). EART evolved the next years with 2015 seeing the consolidation of the exercise, EART 2016 opened for non EATC countries, introduction of the certification process in 2017 followed by the advanced certification level in 2018. This year’s edition focused on threat reaction and formation flights during refueling.

EATC is a multinational organization consisting of seven countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain) with its headquarters and operations center located at Eindhoven AB. It provides a center of expertise for its members related to air mobility including medical evacuation and air-to-air refueling. Planning and execution of missions are coordinated inside EATC and Mission Control. During Frisian Flag, a member of the EATC’s AAR cell is detached as a liaison officer in Leeuwarden (the Movement Coordination Center Europe - MCCE - also provides a member of its AAR cell to support the liaison officer).
EART missions
Missions are flown twice a day, in the morning sortie from 09.00 – 11.30 and the afternoon wave from 13:00 – 17:00. The tankers take off from Eindhoven roughly half an hour before Frisian Flag participants are launched (09:30 and 13:30) and fly directly to their assigned racetracks over the Waddenzee and North Sea covering areas controlled by Danish, German and Dutch air traffic control

In the morning EART focuses on delivering fuel to the receivers and then return to Eindhoven were the ground crews have about one hour to get the aircraft ready for the afternoon sortie. As soon as the second AAR mission has been concluded the airborne tankers can focus on their own mission objectives which for instance can include assignment of an aircraft to the role of ‘On Scene Commander’ coordinating a SAR mission to rescue downed airman,  a scenario which is part of Frisian Flag.
EART improvements
After the exercise is concluded it’s being reviewed considering all feedback received from the participating squadrons. The conclusions are incorporated into the next exercise. Being asked about three improvements made in the previous year’s EATC PAO Major De Simone (Italian Air Force) commented the following had been implemented:"

- A better standard of documentation has been provided to the crews and the mentors. *
- Better involvement and more efficient use of the mentors.

- Implementation of threat reaction scenarios and tanker cell refueling flights."

* mentors are crews from the participating nations flying with other nations for culture exchange.

With the evaluation of the 2019 exercise still to take place and the improvements to be made in the future to be defined one objective was already clear.

Threat reaction and certification flight was introduced into the training this year and the focus point of the exercise for EATC. Major De Simone explains “The threat reaction scenarios consist on giving input to the crews while they are flying a specific area (air to air threat for example) and to observe the way they react to avoid the coming threats.” From 2020 or beyond tanker cell refueling flights and threat reaction will be incorporated into the exercise scenarios.
Eindhoven Air Base, EART missions and future
Until April 2019 all (six) EART exercise have been flown from Eindhoven Air Base. The exercise evolved from three participant in 2014 (Germany, Italy, Netherlands) to five in 2019 (see below). Countries can also request their participation which changed from the EART invitations send in the early years. Eindhoven AB is home to 334 squadron operating the two KDC-10s and the sole Gulfstream IV, 336 squadron operates four Hercules transport aircraft. Hosting additional tankers is currently maximized at five due to ramp space availability and the wing span of aircraft. The western apron is used to accommodate the tankers however the RAF Voyager KC.2 operated from the eastern ramp. Exercise EART is open for any EATC country. “EATC is looking for different solutions to link our training to other Large Force Exercises. So far no (other) information is available.”

The last years the exercise was confronted with limitations in tanker availability due to serviceability while in 2018 both the French Air Force and USAFE C-135s were withdrawn from the exercise as they were needed to support allied air operations over Syria (supporting air strikes after a gas attack by the Syrian government on its people). Major De Simone explained the impact on both EART and Frisian Flag “On EART it slightly decreases the training opportunities, but it doesn’t have a big impact on Frisian Flag as they always have a no tanker plan to operate without AAR.”

New air refueling assets will be introduced in the future exercises. This year for the first time an A330MRTT took part. The A330MRTT designated KC-30 (within the RAF Voyager) will enter service within the NATO Multinational Multi Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) next year. Currently eight aircraft are bought by Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway with the first KC-30 to be delivered at Eindhoven in May 2020. Major de Simone added “The Dutch mentor and all the other mentors (FRA, ITA, UK, GER) flew with the RAF Voyager since the main objective with the mentor is to exchange culture and to share experiences during the EART.“

Another new aircraft which might already take part at EART 2020 is the Airbus D&S A400M. “The A400M staff is very interested to join next edition of EART and this year we had two German observers from the A400M squadron (LTG 63). The certification of the A400M is still in progress within EATC nations but the Germans are already using the A400M for national refueling missions. Then we will have to think about an EART edition with tactical asset, which may result in the future in new training objectives for the tactical refueling fleet.”

Although nothing is official at this stage it’s likely another EART will be organized next year. At Leeuwarden 322 (TACTES) squadron already started their preparations for exercise Frisian Flag 2020. Running both the fighter and AAR exercises at the same time provides added value for both communities. EATC and its MCCE – AAR cell is ready for the new challenges ahead implementing the lessons learned in 2019 and introducing new AAR / MRTT assets in the future
EART 2019 participants
Country: Aircraft: Squadron: Home base: Comment:
Australia None     Observer
France C-135FR GRV 02.091 “Bretagne” BA125 Istres Mentor
Germany A310MRTT BMVg Cologne Mentor
Italy None     Mentor
Netherlands KDC-10 334 Squadron Eindhoven Mentor
United Kingdom Voyager KC.2 10 / 101 Squadron RAF Brize Norton Mentor
United States KC-135R 351st ARS / 100th ARW RAF Mildenhall  
EART 2019 in numbers
Callsign: Aircraft: 01.04 02.04 03.04. 04.04 05.04 Total
Texaco 41 KDC-10 1 2 1 2 0 6
Cobo 43 A310MRTT 1 1 2 2 1 7
Marcotte 44 C-135FR 1 0 0 1 0 2
Raven 50 Voyager KC.2 1 1 0 2 2 6
Quid 250 KC-135R 0 1 0 0 0 1
Total   4 5 3 7 3 22
Callsign: Aircraft: 08.04 09.04 10.04 11.04 12.04 Total
Texaco 41 KDC-10 1 0 2 2 1 6
Cobo 43 A310MRTT 0 1 2 2 1 6
Marcotte 44 C-135FR 0 0 0 1 0 1
Raven 50 Voyager KC.2 1 1 2 2 0 6
Quid 250 KC-135R 0 0 1 1 0 2
Total   2 2 7 8 2 21

All aircraft accumulated 120 flight hours, refueled 260 receivers with 1 million lbs. of fuel offloaded.

Note: The USAFE&AFA 351st ARS KC-135R departed Eindhoven on April 5 and flew its mission in the second week from RAF Mildenhall.

Major De Simone asked about the reason why the 351st flew almost all its missions from RAF Mildenhall and how the for the EART community important training objectives were shared and guarded commented “The Training Objectives (TO) are shared through the planning phase and defined before the training. During the ‘LIVEX’ the training supervisor adapts and defines the daily TO based on tankers availability, weather and Frisian Flag scenario.”

The author would like to thank Major De Simone as well as all other EATC staff in their assistance to write the article.
Photo gallery April 5, 2019
German Air Force A310MRTT about to take off for the first mission. French Air Force C-135FR visiting the EART detachment at Eindhoven.  RNLAF KDC-10 archive photograph. Eindhoven April 4, 2017.
The Royal Air Force send its 100th anniversary Voyager.    USAFE KC-135R departing for its flight back to RAF Mildenhall.