During the Wales NATO Summit of 2014, out of the 16 identified main shortfalls of the Alliance during recent operations, the shortage of ISR dedicated RPAS and lack of a developed multinational information sharing process has been highlighted. What does the Air Force intend to do to increase information availability across NATO?
The Italian Air Force has been carrying out airborne ISR operations with our RPAS for ten years, with a large operational experience accumulated both in various out-of-area operations and in support of other governmental agencies in Italy. These activities place the Air Force as one of the most relevant actors in this field in Europe and we are constantly working to capitalize on the experiences gained so far, as well as to further increase our capabilities.
Clearly, we acknowledge and realize that the modern crises entail a rising need for information and operations need to be more and more Intel-driven in order to attain success in most of the current scenarios. Hence, ISR assets have a very valuable role to play. In this regard, the Italian Air Force is currently working on different strands that include ensuring continuity and possibly an enhancement of our RPAS fleet and also focus on making sure that the data produced by each sensor is properly exploited in order to maximize its informational value.
As far as RPAS collection platforms are concerned, we are pursuing a set of Surveillance and Reconnaissance sensors improvements for our current frontline of MQ-9s. Moreover, the Air Force is significantly engaged in two main ISR programs (i.e. P1-HH Hammerhead and European MALE 2025) that, although different in terms of current development stages and capabilities, are both intended to eventually contribute to the overall availability of data. I do highlight this latter term, data, as independent of the automatic processing capability that might be associated with the collection phase. We recognize that the biggest challenge for developing our ISR capabilities lies in realizing a system where collection assets and sensors are integrated into a managed cycle and the appropriate level of resources are allocated to the Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination functions, with the ultimate goal to satisfy the informational requirements in support of the conduct of operations. The degree of success is to be measured against the satisfaction of those information requirements and that requires a high degree of specialization across all professional figures that contribute to this cycle, from ISR planners to RPAS and exploitation crews.
The complexity of the task at hand is self-explanatory. The Italian Air Force is applying a construct that is quite similar to what NATO has been relying on through its JISR initiative. The three pillars of Training and Education, Doctrine and Networking describe at best the main efforts that need to be exercised constantly in order to support JISR as an enduring capability. In fact, as we are striving to fulfil the goals I mentioned above, we are fully integrated in NATO’s effort to achieve JISR Initial Operational Capability, which should coincide with the ITA JFAC period of standby in support of NRF-16.
Moreover, Italy is deeply involved in the NATO AGS program that will soon begin operations from one of our Air Force Bases, Sigonella. Being the Host Nation for this very challenging and demanding program is not only a demonstration of the capability that Italy has achieved in managing complex RPA Systems, but also of the firm commitment and clear intent that we have in increasing the information sharing among the Alliance. Not only do NATO processes and procedures need to be improved, but also the Nations’ overall understanding of the value that a better and more tailored information sharing could bring to the Alliance decision-making process.
However, from a policymaking perspective, probably the biggest challenge lies in the modalities for sharing information and in particular for sharing Intelligence information, in an alliance, multinational or coalition environment, in which each Nation is constrained by different national legal obligations. The Air Force certainly recognizes the value of information sharing and will continue to be a driving force inside the Italian MOD to promote all those policies and frameworks that can help increase information availability through multilateral or bilateral agreements.
Continuing with NATO identified ‘Short Falls’, both the limited European ‘Tanker’ availability and the scarce number of ‘Cat3’ type AAR Clearances have to be addressed. What measures do you foresee that will facilitate the processes of certification and release?
The Italian Air Force has worked for several years in EU / NATO / COE fora (i.e. NATO AARWG, EDA, ARSAG, etc.) to find reasonable solutions for this NATO capability gap.
Since we all know that Air to Air Refuelling is a critical enabler for air power projection, our Subject Matter Experts worked closely with JAPCC, custodian of the STANAG ATP 184.108.40.206 ‘Air to Air Refuelling’, to find reasonable solutions to overcome the status quo.
Italy was the first country in the western world, alongside the Japan Air Self-Defence Force, to operate a new generation tanker, the KC-767A, beginning in Operation Unified Protection in Libya through today’s missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Doing so, we were the first Air Force to face the problem associated with the high number of certifications required when you have new tankers as well as new receivers.
To solve the problem, we initially tried, within EDA, to explore the possibility of collective clearances with some positive results but we switched soon to a bilateral approach that proved, at the end, the best option.
Italy has gained a lot of experience in this field that we wanted to share at the highest level. This was done at the last EURAC conference, held in Milan, where our aim was to engage European Air Chiefs on sustainable as well as cost-effective air power projection by AAR in present and future NATO / EU / COW operations. Since AAR is a typical pooling and sharing capability, with present budgets and human resources’ constraints, only few Air Forces, especially in Europe, can afford not to cooperate. With this situation in mind and thanks to a comprehensive approach in the STANAG application, we were recently able to certify France’s E3-F and NATO’s E3-A AWACS on KC-767A, opening future possibilities for other Air Forces and / or organization.
Concerning industrial policies regarding new tankers (i.e. A330 and KC46 family) we have already seen, especially in the EDA forum, that the lessons identified / lessons learned from the ITAF were taken in account by new tanker customers, requiring industry to provide the airplane ready with some specific AAR clearances before the delivery to the Air Force.
With decreasing defence budgets and an increased number of operations requiring AAR, the future calls for an evolution of the current version of the NATO STANAG, especially from the European side, to permit safe AAR operations while decreasing the human / operational / financial effort required today to achieve a full CAT. 3 AAR clearance. Nowadays, that drives many operators to request cheaper CAT. 1 ‘urgent clearances’ when the operational needs arise. In this respect, assertive leadership from the US to facilitate the process of certification of other Alliance Nations tanker and receivers would be extremely useful due to the overwhelming magnitude of its AAR capability.
The new Italian Defence Strategy, the ‘White Book for International Security and Defence’, was recently published and defines Armed Forces human capital as a strategic element that is vital to effectively contribute to the achievement of national and international goals being pursued in upcoming years. In general, do you feel the ‘White Book 2015’ requires radical changes for the Italian Air Force?
The Italian Air Force is ready to achieve the medium /
long term the goals outlined by the ‘White Paper 2015’. However, the highly specialized components that characterize the service make it necessary to develop an organisation that does not disperse the valuable professional skills already existing. These highly specialized professionals will be entrusted with the delicate task of channelling expertise to the younger generation. In turn, the new Air Force staff will be recruited according to specific criteria, geared to finding the best human resources made available by our nation.
A deep assessment of the macro-level trends affecting our Air Force is underway in order to promote the reorganization of structures and procedures. The goal is that of avoiding unnecessary duplications and redundancy as well as to improve our operational capability and our aptitude in order to be interoperable.
It is an effort to be implemented without changing the structure of the Air Force and without calling for additional resources from the country, in addition to providing special attention to the legitimate aspirations of staff and ensuring the continuity of the operations in progress. ‘Reorganize while working’: this always was and remains our path to improvement!
In a time of economic constraints, multinational cooperation has grown to be a high priority both within NATO and European Union; concepts such as ‘smart defence’ and ‘pooling and sharing’ are more and more encouraged. Nevertheless, with the exception of ENJJPT, almost every Nation has both a national pilot training Centre and bilateral agreements for training. Do you think that the creation of a multinational flight training syllabus, both basic and advanced, for fighter crews, conventional fixed wing transport aircraft and helicopters, is a pursuable path or do you suspect the benefits derived from resource pooling would be in turn spent on increased management costs of this type of pooling concept?
Budget reviews in all our countries require a suitable policy that matches economic context and security requirements. Nowadays, finding out and exploring new synergies and opportunities of cooperation is becoming more crucial than ever. The creation of a multinational flight training syllabus is undoubtedly a way not only to reduce costs of training but also to share experiences with partners in order to comply with the statement ‘fight together, train together, educate together’, which I do believe is always valid.
The issue of common defence and security is as imperative to all NATO and European countries as it is to Italy. These countries, and their armed forces, taken individually, are unlikely to achieve results that are able to meet the new challenges of a changing world. To win we must be a Team! To be a Team we must share. Share to win is the key for success!
At the EURAC 2015 conference, Brigadier General Kraak, RNLAF, in view of developing the European Air Crew Training Center (EACTC), mentioned the 61° Wing in Lecce and the new T-346 as a possible solution to fill in the European aircrew training gaps. He envisages the solution of a common EACTC in Lecce with the aim of reducing costs and maximizing and downloading operational training so as to have more combat aircraft available for ops. With that in mind, Lecce Airbase’s capabilities fulfil the RNLAF commitments for pilot training, as recently formalized in a T.A. with ITAF. The 61° Wing is a mature reality where flying instructors and trainees of eight nations already train together.
Today, the T-346 is the most advanced lead-in fighter trainer and it is representative of 4th and 5th generation fighters. The T-346 is part of an Italian-built Integrated Training System optimized for the different phases of the training syllabus, which also includes Academic Training System, Flight Training Devices and Full Mission Simulators. With this Integrated Training System, which is capable of further optimizing training time, increasing security and improving overall pilots’ skills, the Italian Air Force will enhance the quality and the quantity of its training potential in order to offer it to a major number of foreign customers / partners and continue its long tradition of training pilots from other countries.
Do you feel NATO should review the process of scheduling and executing its Air Exercises in a Joint and Combined manner in an effort to make them more attuned to the real world and if so, how?
Exercises are the main tools through which NATO tests and validates its concepts, procedures, systems and tactics. Furthermore, they enable militaries and civilian organizations deployed in theatres of operation to practice working together. In that sense, the NATO Connected Force Initiative allows the Alliance to move from a ‘campaign-oriented’ to a ‘preparedness-oriented’ posture, increasing collective training through exercises. In order to provide Joint and Combined events enabling forces capable to fight present and future threats, the planning and programming system needs to permit the execution of short-notice exercises. That is the way to increase NATO’s visible assurance. Specifically, the Readiness Action Plan implementation will be a crucial step for the Air Component to affirm to the world NATO’s determination in assuring the Allies training of the standby NRF elements. Of course, it will be vital to extend common funding coverage to include the strategic lift for supporting the deployment of the forces in exercises. It will show a credible and evident resolution in NATO actions.
As a Senior Airman, with vast experience ranging from the full-fledged Cold War to a period of diverse crises, what advice do you have for contemporary NATO Airmen?
Contemporary NATO Airman, today more than ever, are operating in a much broader, complex and ever changing asymmetric scenario worldwide. Despite the economic constraints and budget reviews that are affecting all our countries, the strength of the organisation has always been the willingness and the ability to operate and cooperate together. Hence, if the pooling and sharing has recently become one of NATO’s most important capabilities, the human resource has always been at the core of its joint air power capabilities.
My advice to contemporary NATO Airmen is to continue to share experiences, educating, training and fighting together in order to pursue the issue of common defence and security for each country and for all the NATO. The achievement and results of a well-performing team are likely to be much more successful than the work of the single individual. Continuing to look for new synergies is the key for success, not only to reducing the costs of training and military expenses, but, most importantly, to exploiting each capability with the awareness of being part of a great and professional joint team, in which the Air component is a relevant and important tile of the entire framework.