Regional Fighter Partnership
Options for Cooperation and Cost Sharing
“The [financial] crisis makes cooperation between nations no longer a choice. It is a necessity. Today, no European Ally on its own is able to develop the full range of responses to meet all security challenges … I see three ways ahead: pooling and sharing resources; setting the right priorities; and forging closer links with industry and within Europe.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 7 Feb 2011
Some new NATO member nations in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) will struggle in the future to maintain fighter fleets capable of performing Air Policing and other desired missions. Moreover, national sovereignty and the pride in one’s Air Force to remain relevant in the 21st Century create strong desires to recapitalise aging Soviet era fleets whilst producing a generation of professional airmen trained to NATO standards for tactics, techniques and procedures.
Considering the reality of scarce funding, however, national authorities have to cooperate more in today’s environment to procure new fighter aircraft capabilities along with properly trained crews and sustainment activities. Going about this as a single nation through a traditional bilateral procurement arrangement increases the risk of a ‘paper force’, more often grounded due to higher sustainment costs, lack of trained personnel, and a reduced number of aircraft on the ramp. A Regional Fighter Partnership (RFP) is an option to share costs across common fighter aircraft capabilities and their enabling aspects, including logistics, maintenance and training, whilst maintaining national sovereign command over these assets.
With regards to the NATO Secretary General’s quote above, NATO plays an important role in forging closer links through partnerships. The new NATO Strategic Concept states; “These partnerships make a concrete and valued contribution to the success of NATO’s fundamental tasks.”
Since the inception of NATO, nations have sought multinational cooperation in building defence forces. Recent history has seen an increase in NATO partnerships with mutual benefit to the Alliance and participating nations. Given the fiscal austerity that lies ahead, nations will need to pursue additional partnerships to ensure maximum efficiency, interoperability and to maintain or acquire critical capabilities, such as fighter aircraft.
The new NATO Strategic Concept confirms the role of the defence of territories and populations of member states as a core Alliance mission and stresses the importance of visible assurances of security.1 As an example, the Baltic States’ Air Policing mission is the only form of NATO presence in CEE involving the deployment of military forces to secure the territorial integrity of NATO members.2 Whilst other nations conduct their own Air Policing, several CEE regional nations need to recapitalise their Soviet era fighter fleets that are at the end of their useful lifespans, to be able to continue their Air Policing mission. This is a historical crossroads and NATO has a collective understanding to build capability through multinational approaches. Now is the right time to consider a Regional Fighter Partnership (RFP) approach.
The concept goes beyond simply acquisitions; it is a proposal to transform partner states from a collection of small Air Forces into a more robust integrated force, supported by national authorities, NATO organisations, NATO member nations willing to offer assistance and industry, whilst developing a professional, air-mindedness3 that is consistent with NATO standards.
The concept envisions nations, working together, with a new generation of airmen and aircraft able to provide their own Air Policing, precision strike and support to Land Forces produce a strong visible contribution to their populations, the Alliance and the European Union.
The aim of this paper is to describe a RFP concept to share costs across common fighter aircraft capabilities and their enabling aspects, including logistics, maintenance and training, whilst keeping national sovereign command over assets. The focus is on CEE nations willing to pool and share resources that supports basic national requirements for air policing, precision strike and Close Air Support (CAS) of ground forces.
The objectives are to provide considerations for implementing a robust RFP in terms of integration and interoperability. To this end, this paper explored several multinational partnership examples to gain insights in order to articulate strengths and challenges for future endeavours. More specifically, it will describe:
• Organisational options; including roles and responsibilities for NATO, regional-participants, and collaborative opportunities for NATO Member-nations;
• A Multinational Headquarter and facility considerations within the region;
• Sovereignty related concerns and governance issues;
• Cost-sharing opportunities for training, maintenance and logistics to make best use of a multi-role fighter aircraft to develop and sustain capabilities;
• The strengths and challenges associated with this effort.
It is assumed that:
• Nations have a desire to build and sustain fighter aircraft as part of credible Air Power capabilities and as a visible demonstration of national security and collective defence of the Alliance;
• Nations are fiscally constrained;
• Nations are willing, subject to agreed caveats and constraints, to enter multinational agreements;
• Nations will maintain sovereign command over assets, relinquishing control only by mutual agreement;
• Other political and legal obstacles to organising a partnership are surmountable;
• Nations have a minimum level of infrastructure, indigenous training capacity, and ability to provide command and control for a multi-role fighter aircraft;
• Selected airfields have basic services available such as base services, crash and fire rescue, cross servicing, fluid handling, runway operations, Air Traffic Control, and meteorological support.
These assumptions are intentionally broad and are intended to limit the need for this paper to address political issues, although where necessary the political implications of a given situation are identified and discussed.
A Vignette to Set the Scene
Consider the new fighter pilot 5 to 10 years from today ready to step for his Mission Ready Checkride in a multi-role fighter during a deployed exercise; the briefed mission is a 4vX air defence sortie. His Examiner graduated the Instructor and Examiner Pilot Courses at the Regional Fighter Training Centre, formed as a partnership for Conversion and Advanced fighter training for the RFP member nations. As a Regional Fighter Training Centre graduate, he is at the top of his game with the latest tactics and procedures where he cross-pollinates these techniques at his home unit. The deployed Squadron is a mix of four nations with a combined total of 24 aircraft. Each nation deployed six jets to a neighbouring country for Joint Exercise ‘BOLD PARTNERSHIP 20xx’. The Operations Division from the Regional Headquarters planned the exercise with the help of the Training and Exercise, Intel and Ops Support sections. Number 3 and 4 in the flight are from other countries, but they all know each other and have trained together before. English is the common language. The Ops-desk is run by the Detachment Commander (DETCO) from the Lead-Nation of this deployment. In all, there are six nations in the RFP, but only these four decided to participate in this exercise. The other two opted out due to higher national priorities. Intel, life-support, admin, etc. are all shared functions by the participating nations. Including maintenance, there are 250 people deployed, whereas a single nation would have brought 140 people to fly 6 aircraft, on this deployment they only have 60–65 and they are part of a more robust, influential unit of 24 aircraft. Support equipment and spare parts were coordinated in advance by the Logistics Division in coordination with the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA); and are all being shared to reduce the overall footprint and transportation and movement requirements. As the four pilots arrive at the jets, they are met by their respective nations’ crew-chiefs; this is needed to ensure national airworthiness rules and authority to fly. However, the jet was just serviced by members from two other countries. Last night, the radar was repaired in the deployed back-shop by specialists from all four nations; they are all working from the same Technical Orders with the same repair procedures as if they were at their home station. This interoperability is achieved with the help of the Logistics Division, whose job includes establishing policy, procedures, and maintenance and logistics publications for the partnership. Two days ago, the engine was removed and sent to the Regional Fighter Depot Centre for Depot-Level repair. The crew-chief is training his assistant who will launch the jet, he’s a new member of the unit and recently finished his basic crew-chief training at the same Regional Fighter Training Centre where the Instructor Pilot trained. This centralised training hub trains several basic and advanced maintenance and logistic specialties that are used throughout the RFP. The goal is to create common understanding across several nations with regards to training, standards, syllabi, procedures and certification. In the end, the jet was launched, flown and recovered as a combined effort by the regional partnership. This level of interoperability and interdependence requires several key concepts to come together from across NATO.