Tactical loop – operational capability

A Note To The Reader

This text describes how the Swedish Air Force conducted an operational intervention in the NATO-led intervention in Libya in 2011. It describes how decisions were made at different levels, from the UN, NATO and the Swedish government to a bill being passed in the Swedish parliament. The story is about the efficiency of the Swedish system.

 

On 2 April 2011, the first fighter aircraft from Swedish Air Force Wings F 17 at Ronneby Airport took to the air with the Sigonella base in Italy as their destination. From parliament adopting the bill to the aircraft landing at Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy, took 23 hours.

The mission was a tactical reconnaissance task to photograph potential targets. Example: SA-8 surface-to-air missile battery discovered by the Gripen EW system, photographed by the Gripen and neutralised by other NATO units.

Background

In order for this to be possible, there must be a carefully defined process for how decisions are made at all levels of the Swedish system, from the government and the parliament to those who prepare and conduct operational missions.

This text describes the various components of the tactical loop, which comprises the foundation for all preparations, the entire execution of the mission and all analyses resulting from it, as well as further decisions on future measures.

An authentic description of one of the missions conducted, based on a pilot's experiences, is also included.

Recommended reading

The author recommends the following texts that relate to this story: In chapter Creating value for customers under the heading Concept Methodology in chapter Adaptability for new requirements under the heading Regulatory requirements produce effective operation

Summary

In order to understand how advanced and complex military aircraft systems are to operate in a dynamic threat scenario, we must understand certain fundamental conditions that apply to such systems.

We must start by understanding the customer requirements and the global security context in which the customer is to act. In order to exemplify the requirements and the conditions, below a pilot describes how he conducted an operational mission.

The Libyan regime's violence against its own people resulted in the UN Security Council deciding on 17 March 2011 to establish a no-fly zone for the Libyan air force. The decision was founded on resolution number 1973, which was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In this resolution, the Security Council stated that the situation in Libya comprised a threat to international peace and security, and in order to realise the decision a NATO-led intervention was to be executed, the aims of which included establishing a no-fly zone.

In order to execute a mission, the user must consider a number of factors, and the military threats to which the unit can be exposed is a prime example. Other planning parameters depend on where the operation is to be conducted and the environment in which the unit is to act.

In order to carry out the actual intervention, the armed forces act in a tactical loop that includes operational planning for missions and how missions are conducted and evaluated. Following the tactical loop entails a large number of cycles and preparations that comprise the conditions for being able to conduct the intervention.

The version of the tactical loop that Saab has developed is unique in that all components are built and integrated by a single company in close collaboration with the customer and the user. This close integration between all components bodes well for both tactical and economic efficiency.

Content outline

  • How the Swedish government decided on an operational intervention in Libya.
  • In order to execute an operational mission, the user must consider a number of factors.
  • Together, the different components of the tactical loop provide the conditions for conducting operational missions.
  • The life cycle of an operational mission comprises the tactical loop.

From Government Decision To Operational Intervention In Libya In 23 Hours – How Is This Possible?

In order to understand how advanced and complex military aircraft systems are to operate in a dynamic threat scenario, we must understand certain fundamental conditions that apply to such systems. What, then, do we need to know?

First, we need to understand the customer requirements and the global security context in which the customer is to act. Moreover, we must understand the political agenda, why the customer wants an advanced defence system. We also need to understand the requirements for developing advanced military aircraft systems and how Saab transforms them into development work in practice.

In order to exemplify the requirements and the conditions, below a pilot describes how he conducted an operational mission.

The Libyan regime's violence against its own people resulted in the UN Security Council deciding on 17 March 2011 to establish a no-fly zone for the Libyan air force. The decision was founded on resolution 1973, which was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In this resolution, the Security Council established that the situation in Libya comprised a threat to international peace and security. In order to realise the decision, a NATO-led intervention was to be executed, the aims of which included establishing a no-fly zone.

On 28 March 2011, NATO formally requested that Sweden participate in an international intervention force. The Swedish government proposed in a bill presented on 29 March 2011 that an intervention force be sent to Libya. The bill was submitted to the Swedish parliament's joint committee on foreign affairs and defence (UFöU), which on 31 March 2011 voted to support Sweden's participation in the international no-fly zone over Libya initiative. The decision was submitted to the Swedish parliament, which on 1 April 2011 adopted bill 2010/11:111 on Sweden's participation in the international military intervention in Libya. There were two conditions in the decision which meant that the force was not permitted to attack ground targets other than in self-defence and that the intervention should last a maximum of three months.

The Swedish operation in Libya was originally designated Flyginsats Libyen 01 (FL 01), or Aerial Intervention Libya in English, later altered to FL02 when the mission was extended.

The force that Sweden deployed comprised eight JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft, a TP 84T tanker aircraft and an S 102B Korpen reconnaissance aircraft. In addition to the above, the force comprised about 250 people.

On 9 June 2011, the Swedish government presented a bill to extend the intervention by another 90 days. The bill also proposed reducing the number of JAS 39 Gripen aircraft from eight to five. The bill was adopted by the Swedish parliament on 17 June 2011, and the force was named FL02.

The Swedish intervention with Gripen aircraft comprised a reconnaissance mission, and such missions require thorough planning within the armed forces.

Feasibility – Restrictions and Planning Conditions

In order to execute an operational mission, the user must consider a number of factors, and the military threats to which the unit can be exposed is a prime example. Other planning parameters depend on where the operation is to be conducted and the environment in which the unit is to act. In the case of Libya, the unit was stationed at the Sigonella base in Sicily, Italy, and the task was to conduct aerial reconnaissance over Libya.

A few examples of important issues to consider include:

  • Distance – how to secure a fuel supply.
  • How to cooperate with other nations in the intervention.
  • How to communicate and issue orders.
  • Weather conditions that need to be taken into account.
  • How a rescue mission would be executed if an aircraft was lost.
  • Equipment and weaponry required for the mission.
  • The type of map data required.

It takes a great deal of effort to obtain maps suited to the mission to be conducted.

There can also be specific conditions in the area of operations that must be considered. One example of this is that the type of fuel available at Sigonella base is adapted for the US Navy.

Weather conditions in the area are also special, with a great deal of lightning and high volcanic ash content in the air, as well as sand from sandstorms. Naturally, this affects aircraft and equipment.

The mission – what was done

On 2 April 2011, the first fighter aircraft from Swedish Air Force Wings F 17, Ronneby Airport, took to the air with the Sigonella base in Italy as their destination. From parliament adopting the bill to the aircraft landing at Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy, took 23 hours.

The mission was a tactical reconnaissance task to photograph potential targets. Example: SA-8 surface-to-air missile battery discovered by the Gripen EW system, photographed by the Gripen and neutralised by other NATO units.

A Gripen fighter take off at home base

Assessment from NATO

tatement from NATO Command: The Gripen squadron is of great value and highly prioritised. They have a very fast loop from anding to interpreted image delivery. They are in a real war with a passive opponent who has a very real ability to combat aircraft with advanced surface-to-air missiles.

NATO Command is very pleased with the operation, which was quickly executed with high-quality results. The important message is that the squadron does a very good and much appreciated job.

Geographic location

Operation area.

The mission – how it was accomplished

Planning and execution follow a tactical loop that is a carefully defined process for how a mission is conducted, from when the mission starts to when it finishes and the data has been analysed. The results are summarised and sent to command for further interpretation and decisions on new measures. Mission analysis involves both recommending further operational actions and defining maintenance measures to ensure the availability of all weapons systems for the next mission.

Summary of the actual mission over the city of Brega that pilot Duke describes below:

03:00        MSO compiling mission into an MSS planning

06:00        Initial intelligence brief

                  MSO mission brief

                  ATO/ACO and mission study                  Mission Data Card (MDC) completed

07:00        Mission brief with wingman. Detailed walkthrough of complete sortie

08:00        Step brief, weather and threat situation update just before getting on board

08:20        AC pre-flight

09:00        Take-off AAR, Recce mission over Brega, AAR, Defensive Counter Air protecting tanker completed

13:00        AC touchdown Sigonella

13:20        Post mission brief

~15:00      Mission report

Photo taken during the surveillance mission

Execution of the tactical loop – search for air defences in Brega

Aerial Intervention FL 01: A pilot called Duke relates the mission. Source: Flygvapenbloggen, blogg.försvarsmakten.se

With a mentally projected bar I pry myself from bed at 05:10. I'm to lead the first shift of two during the day and planning starts three hours before take-off. The first thing that happens at division is that the two of us who are flying are briefed by the intelligence officer on the situation in Libya in general and where we're going to fly more specifically. Today there have also been reports of hostile air defences being fired, so things take a little longer than usual.

Following the briefing a mission support officer – who has been up working half the night – is waiting to show us how the sortie has been planned. The basic setup is perfect as usual and after a little input from us and some discussion about which altitude we should fly at she disappears to gather all the papers we need. She also loads a memory stick with the mission information we need to upload to the aircraft later.

Now it's time to check out the personnel recovery situation in the area where we are to fly. We go through our EPA – Evasive Plan of Action – to see whether it suits our mission or if we need to make any changes. There we write down in detail how we will act if we have to eject over hostile territory, such as how we should use radio, where we might find friendlies and the current code words.

From the ATO – Air Tasking Order – we can see roughly what we are to do on the mission. Today we are going to recce a number of air defences in and around Brega in Libya and then switch to an air defence role for the second half of the shift. We have two aerial refuels at our disposal so it ought to be fine. To be sure, I ask the MSO to carefully check a fuel alternative with another load to see how we can maximise the chance of mission success. My number two – Edge – is tasked with following up on this and, if necessary, compensating the navigation for any unpleasantries, such as the suspected air defences. He also makes a few small changes to the EPA to account for the rising temperature in the area; it's getting close to 40 degrees.

Two hours before start I present the mission brief to my number two. We go through every part of the shift in detail. The altitudes we will use, the planned route, countermeasures against air defences, what to do if certain types of faults arise and so on.

The equipment we carry weighs about 20 kilos. It's still below 30 degrees, but the temperature is rising fast. The forecast is for about 35 degrees in the shade today, so we need to hydrate as much as possible so that we can cope in the desert for as long as possible should anything go wrong. Libya is one of the hottest countries in the world, and is mostly desert. Having equipment that is well suited to these conditions directly affects our chances of survival.

At the step brief before we go to the aircraft we get the latest weather update. They also check whether we've received the latest tactical information and done everything that needs to be done to fly. Today, just like almost every day here in southern Italy, the weather is good.

Forty minutes before take-off we sit in the aircraft to conduct pre-flight procedures. This doesn't take long, but you have to check everything from problems with the aircraft to problems with the flight plan. Today everything goes as it should and we spend 20 minutes just sitting in the aircraft waiting to take off.

Once our take-off slot comes round, we set course for our first tanker for aerial refuelling. We do this just before we enter the area to be able to take as many photos as possible before the next refuelling. Today we are refuelling from a French KC-135. Most important is that it goes well. Travelling at 600 km/h and flying a boom – that you can't see – into a 70 cm wide basket, mostly made of metal, half a metre from a plastic casing, demands all your attention.

Once we've refuelled things get serious. The checklist for going feet dry, that is, flying in over land, is reviewed by both of us. The aircraft is now fully configured to face real threats at short notice. The first shift felt unusual flying with live weapons, which we don't normally do on training missions. We increase speed and drop to tactical heights. I photograph with our excellent reconnaissance capsule while Edge watches my back.

I work mostly head down, which means that I'm looking at my displays to manage the sensor while Edge keeps a lookout for other aircraft and hostile air defences. Unlike in safety-conscious Sweden, the tactical air traffic controllers (call sign Magic) are not as good at informing you about our own aircraft, and sometimes you don't even have radio contact, so you have to keep a lookout. Link 16 that we just got for the Gripen helps a lot, however, as you can see the other aircraft on a map display.

The capsule has a good day today and all targets are photographed without incident. Bingo fuel – the fuel level required to fly home – is approaching and we request higher altitudes towards the tanker areas for renewed aerial refuelling. When we reach the second tanker two British Tornado aircraft are already refuelling. My aircraft shows that the limit has been reached, but with a little mental arithmetic and risk management I conclude that a little less fuel will be enough to make it home, so we can wait a few more minutes.

The second part of the mission is DCA – Defensive Counter Air – where we accompany tankers and other aircraft and protect them from any aerial threats. The Gripen is multi-role and by pressing a few buttons my bird is now configured for aerial targets.

From our patrol route I can see with our thermal camera how the war is being fought down below, further inland. Grenades and firing are clearly visible, but at our current distance – feet wet – I can't discern individual people. We also take the opportunity to use the same camera, but with the daylight function, to check one of the known SA-5 sites for activity. Gaddafi has the capability to repair his air defences, but hopefully not without our knowledge.

Tactical Loop – What Is Included and What Is Required

In order to carry out the actual intervention, the armed forces act in a tactical loop that includes operational planning for missions and how missions are conducted and evaluated. Following the tactical loop entails a large number of cycles and preparations that comprise the conditions for being able to conduct the intervention.

Below we describe a tactical loop for executing a mission together with other loops that are required as support or in preparation for the execution of the mission (the tactical loop). The following description covers the different parts of the tactical loop.

The figure, Tactical Loop, illustrates the principle relations between the different types of preparations.

The pilot – training

Maintaining a high level of readiness for different types of missions and the ability to conduct missions at short notice demand the continual upkeep of aviation skills.

Basic capabilities such as emergency training and complex scenario training can be practised extremely effectively in a simulator.

Prior to a new or altered mission profile, training the profile in a simulator before training it for real in an aircraft is very cost effective.

Preparation Planning – During the preparation phase, the conditions of the training mission are considered. Preparations for a simulator session are made in the same way as for a real flight session.

Mission Training – One of the many advantages of flight simulation is the opportunity to train different types of missions with different types of threats and different tactical approaches. Other important aspects are the ability to train missions to be executed in different geographic environments, aerial refuelling and so on. A simulation can be paused for immediate evaluation and then resumed.

Training Evaluation – Different types of mission are evaluated and techniques refined accordingly. See the figure Tactical Loop section: Air crew training

Maintenance personnel – training

Maintenance work is trained continually with the simulation of normal service measures, such as replacing parts and components.

Virtual Maintenance Trainer is used to virtually conduct service measures, as well as to simulate different technical chains of events in an aircraft. The different normal and faulty states of every system can be simulated. See the figure Tactical Loop – section: Ground crew training

Preparations – succeeding with a mission

Mission execution requires the acquisition of maps with terrain and other environmental data. This data is gathered in various ways and refined in a Digital Map Generation System.

Depending on the type of mission and the circumstances under which it is to be executed, the map data is processed and adapted to those particular needs. See the figure Tactical Loop – section: Map data loop.

Life Cycle of An Operational Mission – The Tactical Loop

The tactical loop describes how the unit plans, executes and evaluates an operational mission. The following text describes the different parts of the tactical loop. See the figure Tactical Loop – section: Tactical Loop.

The first step of the loop is ATO (Air Tasking Order) and ACO (Air Combat Order): These contain a mission description with details about what is to be done, such as to search an area to check for air defences. The ATO can include details about a specific target area, possibly with coordinates. The unit also needs to decide which frequency bands to use during a mission.

Second step – Preparation Planning: Conducted in preparation for a mission. This is done using a planning and evaluation system, known as a Mission Support System.

Third step – Rehearsal: This involves the pilot conducting the mission in a mission simulator to ensure that the mission can be conducted. It is particularly important to train complicated missions so as to be well prepared in different threat scenarios and to be prepared for altered situations when the mission is actually conducted.

Fourth step – Data Preparation: This entails transferring the entire mission to a portable memory stick, so that the tactical data can be uploaded to the aircraft prior to the mission.

Fifth step – Mission Execution: Entails executing the mission.

Sixth step – Data Retrieval: Entails retrieving data from the aircraft, which comprises readings for checking the aircraft's status and measurement data from the actual mission. Measurement data comes from, for example, sensors in the aircraft, cameras with optical sensors and antennas that scan radio sources.

Seventh step – Mission Evaluation: This is where the mission is analysed. The unit often uses several different systems for evaluation. If the mission was a reconnaissance mission then specialised officers are required to interpret the findings captured in photographs and films. Personnel who work with image interpretation are trained to identify specific objects. They are able to analyse large quantities of data and assess the tactical value.

Other important results can be retrieved from systems that interpret measurement data from broadcasts from radar stations that were recorded during the mission. The pilot's information from the mission is analysed together with the information from other sources.

In order to evaluate how the unit has performed during the operation, the aircraft that participated in the operation can be played back in three dimensions.

Eighth step – Mission Report: This involves reporting the mission and its findings, all of which are documented in a report. The status of the technical system is also assessed to determine any need for maintenance measures. The mission report documents the outcome of the mission and provides recommendations for possible future missions.

Mission planning – how the mission is executed

The following text describes preparatory measures for an aircraft fleet and the resources needed to keep it operational. See the figure Tactical Loop – section: MaS Loop, subsections: Corrective and Preventive.

Mission planning requires a number of preparatory measures, which include assessing the different types of maintenance needs depending on the current status of each individual aircraft.

Aircraft data is analysed using a materiel support system, called a Maintenance Ground Support System. This system monitors the aircraft's systems and use based on the data retrieved from the aircraft.

The armed forces know the current status of the entire aircraft fleet, so individual aircraft with a suitable status are selected for a particular mission.

In order to train preventive or corrective maintenance measures, technical personnel use a special training system, a so-called Virtual Maintenance Trainer.

Finally, the armed forces need to determine how many aircraft are available for a particular mission. Limiting factors include access to a number of personnel resources, such as pilots, image interpreters for the evaluation of reconnaissance missions, mechanics to conduct maintenance and rectify faults, and personnel who can plan missions, secure access to spare parts and ensure, for example, fuel quality.

Most often, the available personnel resources set the limits rather than access to aircraft and equipment.

Realising operational capability – who does what

Continual and close collaboration with customers throughout a product's life cycle is the basis for understanding and transforming the requirements that are to be woven into a complete and effective materiel system. The armed forces procure an entire materiel system from Saab, and if Saab is to deliver such a materiel system then the organisation must have the necessary licenses. The company must have the necessary expertise to develop, produce and flight test aircraft and to supply maintenance solutions so that the armed forces and the air force can conduct advanced missions at short notice.

In order to succeed at this, Saab must work together with its customers (the procuring authorities) and users (armed forces). The dialogue is based on understanding and being able to transform user requirements as regards practical use.

The author´s reflections