After last years "horror" visit to the South of Germany, were each year the ELITE "Electronic Warfare Live Training Exercise" exercise is held, with only a grey cloud overcast and rain and the morning mission being cancelled. Did I want to try my luck again this year with visiting the Lechfeld airfield, in the neighbourhood of Munchen. The media/spotter days at Lechfeld are well known for the excellent organisation and flexibility of the Public Relations. Which was showcased last year, when the morning mission being cancelled, was everything put into work to get all the photographers to visit the flight lines with all the participants. This year on the other hand, was the weather forecast very good. With a blue sky, moderate temperature and a slight breeze over the airfield, where the perfect circumstances born for photographing fast jets. The position to photograph the aircraft is as always excellent, due the fact you are standing next to the taxiway, and +/- 25 meters away is the runway.
Each year a select group of squadrons from all over Europe are participating in the ELITE exercise, which stands for "Electronic Warfare Live Training Exercise". This exercise is specifically designed to train units in the role of disabling ground based air defence, which is held at the Heuberg Range in southern Germany. Air operations will be performed using 37 different weapon systems, including jets, transport aircraft, support aircraft and helicopters. Which are deployed from nine different bases in Germany and France. The NATO base Geilenkirchen deployed a E-3A AWACS for airspace surveillance and as Mission Control Centre. While from Avord, France a E-3F AWACS was deployed. Other bases that deployed a large amount of aircraft where Neuburg, Landsberg, Laupheim and Spangdahlem. The base with most of the fighters stationed, was Lechfeld. Germany participated with four Tornado ECR's of the JBG 32 and three Tornado IDS of the AG51.
This year again, a great list of foreign participants was present for the ELITE exercise, including: Four Hellenic F-16C/D-50 Fighting Falcons of the 341 Mira (HARM) "Velos", normally based at Néa Anghialos, Greece where present. Turkey was present with three F-4E 2020 Phantom's of the 111 Filo "Panter", normally based at Eskisehir, and three F-16C/D Fighting Falcons (LANTIRN) of the 181 Filo "Leopard", normally based at Diyarbakir. Italy had five Tornado ECR/IDS of the 155 Grupo (ETS) "Black Panthers" , normally based at Piacenza - San Damiano, stationed at Lechfeld. The Tornado jets of the Italian 155 Grupo can always be distinguished by the aggressive looking shark mouths underneath the cockpit. And this time also present was a special painted Tornado in the shape of the MM7027, which celebrated the 50° Stormo "G. Graffer" 70 years of its constitution and the 65 year anniversary of the 155° Gruppo in 2006. In a beautiful silver and blue looking paint scheme. Furthermore was Spain present with three EF-18A Hornets of the Ala 15, normally based at Zaragoza.
And last but not least was Poland present with the three highlights, in the shape of the SU-22UM-3K Fitter normally based at Miroslawiec. Special visitor during this day was a German Navy Br1150 Atlantic of the "Graf Zeppelin" MFG 3, normally based at Nordholz. This aircraft flew in the SIGINT "Signals Intelligence role" role during the ELITE mission of this day, as all "regular" versions are replaced by the Dutch P-3C Orion. And always nice to see and to photograph are the jets coming to a stand with brake chutes. Which was the case with the Turkish F-16's and F-4E Phantoms and the SU-22's from Poland. One of the single seat SU-22 came just after take-off again quickly in for the landing, with the fire department positioned beside the runway. But this must have been a minor problem, as was showed by the thumbs up of the pilot when taxiing in front of us.
While providing a training field with main emphasis on electronic warfare ("EW") for ground based and air based weapon systems ELITE’s goal is; to improve combat success and the sustainability of electronic combat, to train joint and combined operations, to raise the confidence levels of combat crews and last but not least to analyse the multiple techniques that have been used during the missions.
The history of the ELITE goes back to 1991 when the JaboG32 in Lechfeld together with the Flugabwehrraketengruppe 43 organized an exercise, which should serve as preparation for RED FLAG in the USA. The exercise was repeated in 1992 and up to 1995 more and more German units took part. In 1995 it became an international exercise.
As aircraft and their weapon systems advance, so do aircraft tracking stations and radar equipment. Entering enemy airspace without assistance is as dangerous as ever. The purpose of electronic warfare is to degrade enemy air defenses so that the chances of survival for following waves of strike aircraft increase.
Transmitting signals of interference corrupt sensitive electronic devices and they may malfunction providing incorrect data or cease providing information. This tactic is nicknamed 'jamming' and is often used in the first days of a conflict. This was normally a role dedicated for specific types of aircraft, however are the fighter aircraft of these days multi role, and can handle most of these tasks on their own.
Basic tactics and the specialty in interfering and/or destroying enemy radar and defence systems, is going back to the early days of the USAF "Wild Weasels. Aircraft like the F-4G Phantom, were tasked in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role. In brief, the job of a Wild Weasel aircraft is; "to bait enemy anti-aircraft defenses into targeting it with their radars, whereupon the radar waves are traced back to their source so that the Weasel or its teammates can precisely target it for destruction." Today a large diversaty of complicated systems and electronics is in use, with every squadron dedicated to a specific role. The Turkish F-16C/D of the 181 Filo "Leopard" are for example equiped with the LANTIRN, which means: "Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night". LANTIRN significantly increases the combat effectiveness of these aircraft, allowing them to fly at low altitudes, at night and under-the-weather to attack ground targets with a variety of precision-guided weapons. While the Greek F-16C/D are equiped with the HARM missele, the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) is an air-to-surface tactical missile designed to home in on electronic transmissions associated with surface-to-air missile radar systems. And the Italian 155 Grupo with the Tornado IT-ECR, carries out also the SEAD role due the fact the IT-ECR is the "Italian Electronic Combat Reconnaissance" variant of the Tornado equipped with the "AGM-88 HARM" anti-radiation missile.
ELITE is as real as it gets. Hostile threat will not decrease and due the fact that this is worldwide the only electronic warfare exercise of this kind will surely guarantee its existence well into the future for many fighter pilots to come.
The author wishes to thank the JBG 31 PRO and Public Relations, and everyone else who contributed in making this feature possible.