The EATT 2012 air transport training course ends today. This innovative flying event has brought numerous aircrews up to speed on the latest tactical airlift tactics, and cleared the way for still closer cooperation in this field. Despite the sad death of the Officer Commanding the Exercise, Lt Gen Juan Luis Abad Cellini, the exercise has been a great success. As it draws to a close, we spoke to Laurent Donnet. Laurent has been one the key movers at the European Defence Agency in creating this training course, and he offered some context on the future of European air transport cooperation.
Hi Laurent. Tell us about your background. What do you do at the EDA, and what did you do before that?
I am a Belgian Air Force lieutenant-colonel. For 16 years I flew F-16’s from wingman to squadron commander. In 2000 I was assigned for three years in the Deployable CAOC in Ramstein to work as ATO coordinator. In 2006 I went for Staff College in Paris. I have now been working at the EDA since April 2009 in the Manoeuver area, looking mainly at airlift issues. Since November 2010 I have also been the Manoeuver Assistant Manager.
So tell us a little about EATT ’12. What was it, and who was involved?
EATT is the first multinational air transport live flying training event to take place in Europe. This event focused on airlift-specific tactics, techniques and procedures and allowed their harmonisation leading to more interoperability between EU aircrews. The participants to EATT 2012 were the following: Spain as host nation with a C-130 and a CASA-295, Belgium with a C-130, Czech Republic with a CASA-295, France with a C-130, Germany with two C-160 and finally The Netherlands with a C-130. Austria, Bulgaria, Italy and Norway were all there as observer nation and the chances are high they will participate to EATT 2013.
Why was this exercise conducted? What is the importance of this exercise, and why is it exciting?
In 2011 19 pMS plus Norway signed up for the European Air Transport Fleet partnership that looks at improving airlift provision in the EU. In this framework an Ad Hoc Working Group Tactical Air Transport (AHWG TAT) was created to identify common issues, problems encountered and lessons learned in order to achieve a far-reaching level of interoperability between tactical airlift users in the area of training and operations. After only two years of work this AHWG can already conduct a first flying event, EATT, which is a pretty good achievement.
This first flying event is extremely important to better work together in the future. In Europe airlift training is today a very much national issue and as operating together becomes more the rule than the exception, the need to train together becomes bigger every day. Moreover, this EATT will help develop a European Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Course (EAATTC) to be organised from 2014.
The main value of such a training is to effectively fly the techniques, tactics and procedures that were developed and to get used to fly together. There is no substitute for being airborne. Nothing will beat that, even if you have the best and most advanced flight simulator in the world.
How have the preparations been going?
The entire preparation was done under the auspices of the AHWG. To be underlined is that this preparation, which was heavy, went well thanks to the huge involvement of the AHWG TAT chairman, LTC Pascal July from the Belgian air force but also thanks to the massive support of the European Air Transport Command (EATC).
The Initial Planning Conference took place in Madrid in March 2011, the Main Planning Conference in September and the Final Planning Conference in March. These conferences were absolutely necessary to safeguard a good training event. Nevertheless, separate AHWG meetings were still needed between those main conferences. As you can see, the IPC took place more than one year before EATT. This is a minimum since so many things need to be discussed and arranged, especially for the first one.
What are your hopes for the future of air transport training?
My hope is that the EU nations will clearly see the benefit they can take out of this type of event and invest manpower and financial resources not only to improve EATT but also in future projects proposed by EATF. This being said, EATF is a Category A programme and thus ‘owned’ by the pMS.
EATF provides a unique framework to tackle airlift issues and the AHWG Tactical Air Transport is the working group created by the pMS to make EU progress towards more airlift interoperability. This opportunity needs to be taken with both hands.
What other cooperative initiatives are there in this field?
For European air transport this is the only training initiative. A multinational advanced airlift tactics course exists in the US (and some pMS send crews to that course) but besides that, no other known initiative exists in the field of tactical air transport. That’s why it is so important for the European airlift community.
EATT seems to be a great example of European defence cooperation. Do you agree? What is your general view of European defence cooperation?
I fully agree with the statement that EATT, and I would even say EATF, is an example of European defence cooperation. However, to stay alive, pMS and all concerned organisations and agencies should continue to involve themselves even more in this airlift initiative. It is a very young project and lots of issues still need to be solved. A lot of work has still to be done and it is only with the involvement of all that we will make this an even bigger success.
Concerning European defence cooperation I have mixed feelings. Even though pooling resources will save manpower, money and equipment on the medium term, on the short term, to launch those cooperations, most of the times more manpower and money is needed, and that is a challenge in these times. I think we have to invest more to pay less.
This Q&A is part of a series. To read more about EATT, see here, here and here.