TACTICAL WEAPONS SCHOOL – THE GREEK TOP GUN
“TRAIN LIKE YOU FIGHT”
The Tactical Weapons School was founded in 1976 as a training center for providing advanced operational flight training in aerial combat. The significant changes brought by the introduction to service of the newer and more capable aircraft which the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) was receiving at that time (F-4E, Mirage F-1CG, A-7) along with the lessons that were learned from the recent Vietnam War, led the HAF’s officials to establish the Tactical Weapons School.
The first training course, involved pilots from F-4E, F-5A and F-1CG aircraft and focused only on interception tactics. But a year later, bomber pilots, coming from A-7 and F-104G aircraft, also joined the course in order to receive training for their specific missions. Later on these two different concepts of aerial warfare were blended into one larger scale joint course which required the participation of all the types of aircraft from the HAF’s inventory.
During the last 20 years, many great technological developments have been achieved in the field of aerial weapons. Air warfare now takes place in a multidimensional and complex arena, involving massive formations of dissimilar fighter types operating in a powerful electronic warfare environment. The aim of the Tactical Weapon School (TWS) is to enhance the level of tactics training that pilots will receive and develop that capability in order to operate within large formations in demanding scenarios under strict time frames. Trainees of the school are expected to train their colleagues, imparting the lessons learned when they return to their squadrons.
Nowadays, this joint fighter’s course is attended mostly by pilots but also by other officers, directly associated with operations, like Air Defense Controllers, Air Base’s Security personnel and Intelligence officers. Course participation demands special inclination and experience in the tactical operation field. The duration of the course is three months. It starts every September and ends around December. This year, for the first time a foreign air force, the Egyptian one, attended the course, which deployed four F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 272 Tactical Fighter Wing, 77 Tactical Fighter Squadron.
The mission of Tactical Weapons School (TWS) is:
- The provision of academic training on weapon systems, Electronic Warfare means (EW) and on Air-to-Air and Air-to-Surface tactics.
- The advanced/operational in-flight and in-practice training on tactical air operations and on the use of weapons and electronic warfare systems, according to the threat.
- The operational structure and evaluation of air tactics and of the use of HAF’s weapons and electronic warfare systems.
- The control of test flights and of weapon and electronic warfare systems tests.
- The participation in the promotion and dissemination of constructive tactical thinking in all HAF’s staff, by producing relevant manuals and training notes.
- The assistance and support of flight test programs, during the implementation phase.
The initial phase of the training course includes lectures relevant to modern air battle, covering both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations and developments in Ground Based Air Defense Systems that the trainees will be called to face. Further to this, current composite air operations (COMAO) are analyzed, including specializations to account for the trainees assigned roles.
Flying begins in the second phase and during this phase the first air-to-air encounters are also being introduced. Air combat training scenarios include engagements of 2v4 and 4v4, developing later on into more demanding ones of 4v8 and 6v8! Beginning at higher altitudes, the instructors encourage trainees to fly increasingly lower, where the degree of difficulty increases together with the realism of the missions. Many major air forces around the world are no longer practicing low level engagements and they rely more on their presumed air superiority. In the HAF, however, low level flying and fighting are fundamental. Trainees are trained to face these kinds of scenarios and they are obliged to operate effectively!
As the training program progresses, missions become more complex and demanding, challenging the trainees to face unexpected situations and scenarios as they would in real combat. The instructors not only fly as “aggressors” (a role that is known as “Kaberos” in the HAF – the first known Greek fighter pilot) with their own jets, but they also control fighters that take off from other bases and introduce surprise threats for the unaware trainees…
The basic concept behind composite air operations involves the offensive assets of the friendly forces (Blue Air) being pitched against targets on the ground and at sea, as well as efforts to intercept the hostile forces (Red Air). This latter can involve a “classical” encounter of a COMAO against the opponent’s defensive assets. Along with the primary missions, other scenarios can be expected to take place (side-events). These side-events provide an extra level of realism, just as in real operations.
Some of these complex missions are:
- Counter Air Operations
- Fighter Sweep
- Anti-Surface Force Air Operations.
- Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR).
- Interdiction of Air Defenses
- Air strikes against high value targets
In a typical warfare scenario, force protection will be provided by the HAF’s 341 and 343 Squadrons that are assigned SEAD duties. These will be followed by the air superiority jets, fighter sweeps and escorts, charged with cleaning the path trough potential aerial threats. For this task any of the air-to-air (330, 337 and 339) but also multi-role squadrons (331, 332, 335, 340, 341, 343 and 347) may be involved with positions exchanged within the COMAO form sortie to sortie. The main formation follows, carrying the special weapons for the destruction of each specific target. Like 332 Squadron with anti-ship missiles, or 335, 338 Squadrons with air-to-ground “smart bombs” and missiles. Within the formation, there also aircraft assigned for battle damage assessment.
In most cases the formations are required to pass through an air defense network within an enemy territory or over naval assets such as air defense frigates. All the trainees have to assume both roles of the attacker and the defender, as both roles offer benefits to their training. All information from the missions are brought together and being analyzed and evaluated for the debriefing which might take 8-12 hours for all the battle parameters to be assessed in order to gain conclusions before the next “battle”!
Pilots that have participated in large-scale exercises abroad confirm that the training scenarios in the Tactical Weapons School courses are much more complex and demanding. Such a degree of difficulty is not found in other NATO exercises, at least not in Europe. The benefits of such demanding scenarios are clear. The trainees simulate their missions as real as possible in order to become capable of succeeding and surviving into the real battle!
The mighty Phantom
Article and Pictures by