For the last two weeks, Beja Airbase in Portugal has hosted the European Air Transport Training 2017 (EATT17), the annual tactical airlift training event, which has become an important feature of the Portuguese and several other European air force’s annual airlift training programmes. Some 600 military personnel from seven Member States (Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom), the European Air Transport Command (EATC) as well as observers from Brazil and Hungary participated in this sixth edition of EATT.
The tragic loss of life in northern Portugal as a result of wildfires was a sombre backdrop to this year’s training. Understandably, a large element of the exercise’s firefighting and heavy lift equipment was redeployed to the rescue effort at very short notice. Nevertheless, the training continued with eight aircraft (see below) and ten aircrews from seven nations and over 600 supporting personnel in the form of ground engineers, paratroopers, logistic teams and normal operational support personnel drawn from the air force, army and navies of the contribution nations, underlining the inherently joint nature of contemporary operations and training.
As in previous years, the focus of the second week has been on advanced tactical operations with the crews dropping tactical loads and paratroopers within an increasingly complex intelligence driven scenario. The main effort is to operate the aircraft in packages of up to six to form the mainstream of a Composite Air Operation (COMAO) mission with integrated fighter aircraft as protection. The training has offered a very sharp reality check through the addition of surface-to-air threat emulators that illuminate the aircraft, testing their tactical ability and drawing lessons on the challenges of operating in contested air environments. The German A400M was a welcome new addition to this year’s event and was put through its paces by the exercise staff who are drawn from the EATC, the newly formed European Tactical Airlift Centre (ETAC), EDA and the multi-national Core Planning team from the contributing Member States. The training also enjoyed a visit from observers from the Brazilian Air Force and a multi-disciplinary team from Hungary who is planning to run a future EATT from Papa airbase. Despite the restrictions on airspace and equipment resulting from the operations to the north to counter the wildfires, the participating crews are unanimous in the need to run more multi-national events to improve interoperability and to share best practice in this critical operational domain.
EATT17 (as of 2018 to be renamed European Tactical Airlift Project Training, ETAP-T) is also an important milestone for EDA in that it marks the first practical handover of a training activity from the Agency to the ETAC following the formal transfer of responsibility that occurred on 8th June 2017 in Zaragoza. HRVP Mogherini and the Spanish Defence Minister Mme de Cospedal opened the ETAC in a joint ceremony, which also included the symbolic handover of the ETAC banner from EDA’s Chief Executive Jorge Domecq to the newly appointed ETAC commander. EDA will continue to support the 20-nation European Air Transport Fleet (EATF) Programme in other areas of airlift such as harmonisation of diplomatic clearances and the development of user groups for specific aircraft operators.
Germany (C-160 Transall and A400M Atlas), France (C-130H Hercules), the Netherlands (C-130H Hercules), Poland (C295), Portugal (C-130H Hercules), Romania (C-27J), and United Kingdom (C-130J Hercules).