Martin Scharenborg and Ramon Wenink visited the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany, a unit equipped with UH-72A Lakotas
JOINT MULTINATIONAL READINESS CENTER
It is a warm and busy day at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, close to the city of Regensburg in southern Bavaria, Germany. While new troops are checking in for Exercise Sabre Junction 2016, a formation of ten Sikorsky UH-60A Blackhawks, led by a UH-72A Lakota of JMRC’s Falcon Team, is doing a familiarisation flight over the vast training areas in preparation for the upcoming exercise. With on average ten to 12 exercises annually and a growing number of international participants, the Falcon Team is busier than ever before.
Following the Cold War period, US Army Europe (USAREUR) initially maintained a strong presence especially in the southern part of Germany. With shifting priorities, budget cuts and conflicts in the Middle East, USAREUR was gradually reduced from 213,000 troops in 1990 to 28,000 in 2015. This transformation included the closure of around 740 sites across Europe, ranging from housing areas to airfields. Currently USAREUR is concentrating its assets in Germany at Ansbach, Baumholder, Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels, Kaiserslautern, Stuttgart and Wiesbaden. Other locations include Vicenza in Italy and a handful of NATO support sites in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The aim is for a smaller but more efficient force that currently consists of two Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), one Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) and supporting units. To maintain a skilled, flexible and efficient combat force that can execute a wide variety of missions ranging from medevac to full scale combat like that undertaken in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, solid and relevant training is essential.
The vast US Army training and gunnery sites in Germany were taken over from the German Wehrmacht after the end of the World War Two. One of them was the Hohenfels Training Area (HTA) which, by 1984, had 52 ranges and multiple Hawk Air Defence Missile Sites. Its primary focus shifted to facilitate training for the annual REFORGER (Return Forces to Germany) exercises. USAREUR’s growing training requirements led eventually in 1987 to the formation of the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) at the HTA, becoming the primary training facility for USAREUR soldiers. After a thorough transformation, the Combat Maneuver Training Center was renamed into the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in 2005.
The JMRC is the only US Army combat training centre outside the United States, and reports to USAREUR’s 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) with headquarters at Grafenwöhr. It trains units, leaders and staff up to Brigade Combat Teams from the United States and partner nations to dominate in the conduct of Unified Land Operations (ULO) anywhere in the world. It provides tailor-made scenarios for units that need special qualifications and validations. It also integrates multinational participation in every rotation or exercise.
The HTA provides a complex and realistic environment for these exercises, including 1,345 buildings, several exercise villages, 319km (198 miles) of roads and trails, two forward arming and refuelling points (FARPs) with a total of 37 parking pads, a 2,188ft (666m) concrete runway, a 3,000ft (914m) short take-off/landing gravel runway and an opposing force (OPFOR).
The 60,000 soldiers passing through JMRC annually are coached and trained by 15 Observer Coach Training (OCT) teams, nicknamed ‘Critter’ teams. The OCT teams train and observe units and personnel during the planning, preparation and execution phases of the exercises and provide evaluation and lessons learned for all military specialties within a US or multinational Brigade Combat Team. Thorough after action reviews are provided to the US Army unit in training with feedback in the form of tactics, techniques and procedures.
There are 15 OCT teams, each of which has its own speciality:
• Adler: coaches Brigade Support Battalions, Combat Sustainment Support Battalions;
• Bullseye: responsible for the integration of close air support into the ‘fight’
• Griffin: responsible for live, virtual, constructive training
• Grizzly: training cavalry or scout squadrons in reconnaissance and security tasks during unified land operations, while executing decisive action training environment exercises
• Minutemen: the National Guard and Reserve Component Office
• Mustang: coaches brigade and division level staff during command post exercises and field training exercises
• Operational Environment: constructs relevant and complex operational environments, develops and executes education and training, replicates interagency and intergovernmental entities, and incorporates lessons learned into publications and doctrine
• Oscar: responsible for providing trained professional role-players for all rotations at JMRC
• Raptor: aligns with a US Army Brigade Engineer Battalion and Brigade Special Troops Battalion elements
• Timberwolf: an infantry and armour battalion that trains US and multinational units, leaders, and staff, up to battalion level
• Vampire: teaches and mentors leaders and staff of field artillery units
• Vipers: the combat camera element
• Warthog: trains leaders and staff in manoeuvres for units up to Battalion Task Force Teams
• Wolverine: aims to improve the interoperability between conventional and special operations forces.
The 15th OCT is team Falcon. As the aviation element of the JMRC, it trains, coaches and observes the participating aviation units and brings aviation elements into the ‘fight’ where necessary to create a realistic scenario, including the use of an OPFOR. The Falcon team is focused primarily on training aviation battalion attack, reconnaissance and security operations, aero-medical evacuation (medevac), air assault planning and operations, downed aircraft recovery, manned-unmanned teaming operations (MUM-T), US and multinational partnered training, and air-to-ground operations. The Falcon team pilots are experienced US Army pilots and most of them instructor pilots on the UH-60 Blackhawk, AH-64 Apache and CH-47 Chinook.
Since the foundation of CMTC in 1987, the UH-1H Huey helicopter was a familiar sight over the HTA. The Falcon OCT team operated ten UH-1H helicopters in a wide variety of tasks and were fitted with special equipment including laser-warning receivers. Four OPFOR UH-1H helicopters were painted in a distinctive camouflage to resemble hostile Mil Mi-24P Hind-F helicopters. These helicopters were initially part of the Raven OCT team that was disestablished in the early 1990s and merged with the Falcon team.
The remaining six UH-1Hs were painted in the standard US Army colour scheme but were fitted with orange doors to act as observer controller/referee aircraft for exercise evaluation. They could also be used for active training by assisting the rotational units to simulate ‘friendly’ helicopters to practise rules of engagement, forward air control, close air support, transportation, medevac and liaison missions.
Preparations for the arrival of the UH- 1H’s successor, the UH-72A Lakota, at the JMRC started in 2008 but the venerable Huey soldiered on until April 2011. On April 27, 2011 a retirement ceremony was held at the JMRC, marking the last flight of an US Army Huey in Germany. A formation of four Hueys flew over the airfield and the HTA before leaving to the North, heading for Ramstein Air Base from where they were flown back to the United States. The remaining aircraft left Hohenfels in the following days. Only one UH-1H Huey remained at Hohenfels and is now preserved next to the Air Traffic Control Tower on Hohenfels Army Airfield to mark more than 40 years of US Army Huey operations over Germany. The last UH-1H left US Army activeduty service on August 18, 2012 at Robert Grey Army Airfield at Fort Hood, Texas.
Introducing the Lakota
The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) programme was set up by the Department of Defense to replace the UH-1, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa and, at a later stage, the Bell TH-67 Creek helicopters in service with the active-duty US Army and US Army National Guard. On June 30, 2006, EADS North America (now Airbus Helicopters Inc) was awarded the LUH contract for the UH-72A helicopter. This militarised version of the EC145 has, amongst other features, a night vision goggles-compatible glass cockpit with five LCD screens, a vehicle and engine management display, a three-axis autopilot, low noise rotor blades and the ARC-231 VHF/UHF tactical radio set.
Initially the US Army Lakotas were delivered in two configurations: medevac and VIP. The medevac version can carry two stretchers, has an environmental control unit (ECU) and can be equipped with a hoist. The VIP version also has the ECU but is equipped with comfortable seats and a carpet. In a later stage, three other mission equipment packages (MEPs) were developed. These are security and support (S&S), observer controller and opposing forces.
The S&S MEP features the EuroNav 5 RN6 Situational Awareness and Mission Management System, the Skyquest/Curtiss Wright VRDV-4010 digital video recorder and the Sierra Nevada Corporation TactiLink- Eagle communications system. The observer controller MEP features an external Power Sonix PSAIR 22A loudspeaker system and a sling-type cargo hook while the OPFOR MEP is equipped with the loudspeaker system and the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System/ Tactical Engagement System (MILES/TES).
The Airbus Helicopters Inc UH-72A assembly line at Columbus, Mississippi, delivered its first UH-72A in December 2006 and full rate production was subsequently approved by the US Army in August 2007 for an initial 345 aircraft. The first US Army UH- 72As were delivered to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin-Bicycle Lake Army Air Field (AAF), California, followed by the Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis-Felker AAF in Virginia. The first Lakotas for the Army National Guard were eventually fielded with the 1/144th Service Battalion at Tupelo AAF, Mississippi in June 2008.
The first US Army Combat Training Center to receive the UH-72A Lakota was the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk AAF in Louisiana. However, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels AAF, Germany was not scheduled to receive its first Lakota before 2010. On April 13, 2010 the first five of eight UH-72A Lakotas destined to serve with the JMRC arrived by C-17A Globemaster III at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
They were re-assembled by the 405th Army Support Brigade/21st Theater Sustainment Command at the Theater Aviation Sustainment facility at Ramstein by personnel from EADS North America and the Utility Helicopters Product Office from Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Test flights were made at Ramstein on April 19 followed by the two-hour delivery flight from Ramstein to Hohenfels on April 28, 2010. At first, the Lakotas operated side by side with the remaining UH-1Hs but gradually the Lakotas took over.
Captain Jeremy Saldana started his flying career in the US Army in 1999, and flew the UH-60 Blackhawk in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and flew the RC-12 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He has more than 2,800 flying hours and is now the Operations Commander with the Falcon OCT team at the JMRC.
Capt Saldana said: “It was very sad to see the Huey go. Everyone loved to fly this iconic helicopter with its distinctive sound and history. However, the Lakota is an excellent successor. We needed a helicopter that could be flown by multiple aviators. This team is made up of Apache, Chinook, and Black Hawk pilots. We needed a common platform that everybody could use and that didn’t take a long time to train in. So it did need to have the power, the range and all the weapon systems that all these other aircraft have and that is why the Lakota is fit for this job.”
The Falcon OCT team currently consists of 55 soldiers, 16 civilians and 13 contractors, and flies eight UH-72A Lakotas. Four of the helicopters are painted in a green colour scheme and four in an eye-catching yellow colour scheme to replicate an enemy rotary wing threat.
Capt Saldana said: “We have nicknamed our yellow birds in the squadron ‘the bruised bananas’. We fly the Lakota with a crew of three. The pilot and co-pilot are both observer/coach and the crew chief is our flying maintainer. Every member of the crew are observer controllers; they are multitasking. They are not only flying the aircraft, they are observing and refereeing the fight as it goes on.
“We also have pilots who will sit in the flight operations room and through their computer-based systems they can see the position of every aircraft in the training area and monitor if they have been shot at, damaged or need, for example, medevac.
After arrival, new units spend five days of training and discuss the tasks they want to go over, followed by the exercise dates, and then we will test and validate them.”
To monitor all those movements on the battlefield, the helicopter crews receive a GPS kit upon arrival. The Lakotas can replicate a number of scenarios.
During White air operations, the team is observing safety of flight, doing aerial engagement adjudication, aircrew training requirements, VIP and key leader transport and reconnaissance missions. The Blue air scenario, for which the green Lakotas are used, comprises reconnaissance, security, attack, assault helicopter battalion, general support battalion aviation battalion replication, medevac, command control, and limited air assault air movement.
The OPFOR scenario, for which the yellow yellow Lakotas are used, simulates enemy helicopter threat over the battlefield. Capt Saldana explained: “Although we do not have shootback capability, we do carry the MILES [multiple integrated laser engagement system] in our yellow birds. When we are illuminated by laser emitters, attached to, for example, rifles; our helicopter is shot. In turn we can use our loudspeaker system and make the sound of guns or rockets and coordinate with the operations room that we have used a certain weapon to down a helicopter or engaged ground targets.
“Our specialised helicopter pilots can replicate any scenario because they are specialists on the Blackhawk, Apache and Chinook and use the same tactics and techniques. We also do MUM-T missions with unmanned aircraft systems like the army’s RQ-7 Shadow over the Hohenfels Training Area.”
With more and more countries training with JMRC at Hohenfels, Lakota pilots fly on average 60 to 80 hours annually, depending on the number of rotations going through. Capt Saldana said: “Just a few weeks ago we trained Czech and Bulgarian helicopter units doing slung loads and medevac and they will return again later this year.
“We train a lot with British and German Forces and other countries are increasingly using the JMRC. On average we have around ten rotations annually and a large number of exercises.”
EXERCISE SABER JUNCTION 2016
Exercise Saber Junction was held from March 31 to April 24, 2016 and prepared the armies of 16 NATO countries for full-scale offensive, defensive and stability operations. Saber Junction is at the same time an annual qualification and certification exercise for one of USAREUR’s combat brigades. This year, no less than 5,000 soldiers participated in and over the Hohenfels Training Area in the exercise. Participants came from Albania, Armenia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
This year’s exercise included para droppings by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, material drops and intensive use of the 3,000ft short take-off and landing (STOL) runway by US Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft. Close air support was given by US Air Forces in Europe F-16 Fighting Falcons from Spangdahlem Air Base and F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath. A large contingent of UH-60 Blackhawks, CH-47 Chinooks and some AH-64 Apaches were deployed to the various FARP locations in the Hohenfels HTA.