NATO program enhances multinational tactical operations

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nick Wilson
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
There are never too many opportunities for pilots of diverse nations to exchange ideas, train and fly together. Each year NATO pilots attend Allied Command Europe's Tactical Leadership Program to develop stratagies and meet training requirements.

This year, six pilots from the 480th Fighter Squadron have completed this training at Albacete-Los Llanos Air Base, Spain for the first time.

"This training is essential for fighter squadrons in Europe that have active participation roles with NATO," said Lt. Col. Andrew Wolcott, 480th FS commander. "It is also important for our entire Air Force that may someday interact with our NATO partners in world events."

The month-long program includes four days of academics and planning, executing and debriefing 15 distinctive flying missions.

"Each mission is completely unique," said Capt. Thomas Young, 480th FS F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. "By the end of one mission you might have it all figured out and say, 'if we flew this tomorrow we'd do great,' but the next day it's a completely new mission. It's a new airspace, new targets and new attacks, so it's 15 unique missions that give a wide array of mission sets."

According to Captain Young, TLP upgrades fighter pilots from flight lead of four to mission commander of a large force.

"That's what this program does," Captain Young said. "It upgrades fighter pilots so they can be the mission commander of a large force in a real war."

Since the number of spots available to U.S. pilots is limited each year, it's a very selective process when deciding who to send. Captain Young and five other pilots were among the few American pilots who attended the program this year.

"A fighter pilot has to have 500 hours in the F-16 and has to be a four-ship flight lead," Captain Young explained. "In this squadron, out of 30-40 pilots, approximately 15-20 are eligible to go and maybe four of those will go."

TLP was formed in 1978 by the Central Region Air Forces to advance tactical capabilities of their own air forces and produce tactics, techniques and procedures that improve multi-national tactical air operations.

The first TLP course was located at Fuerstenfeldbruck Air Base, Germany and has relocated several times before transferring in June 2009 to its current position in Spain.
U.S. Air Forces in Europe considers the most experienced pilots from each base to attend this course.

"This training is designed for experienced flight leads that are able to handle the intense demands of large force employment planning, execution, and debriefing with multi-national participants," Colonel Wolcott said.

Colonel Wolcott also added that the training is critical to understand how NATO operates from an air perspective across a vast number of mission sets, and it increases NATO interoperability.

"Through combined training, we learn from the talent and experience of all partners to enhance our individual Air Force effectiveness," Colonel Wolcott said. "The expertise gained at TLP ensures when diplomacy fails and the NATO air forces are required to provide a military solution, we can work together effectively."

The real significance of the program to USAFE and its pilots lies in the fact that there aren't a lot of opportunities in Europe for fighter pilots to participate in large force exercises or become upgraded from flight lead to mission commander.

TLP is one of the few training opportunities in which NATO allies have to come together in the same setting and spend a month flying together, sharing experiences and learning from each other, Captain Young said.

"It's a training opportunity that isn't very easily replicated," Captain Young said. "We get to know each other both personally and professionally allowing us to share ideas, strengthen our partnerships and improve everyone's tactical ability."