On 19 November 2013, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland signed a Letter of Intent to establish a European MALE RPAS Community with the intent to facilitate information sharing, collaboration and to share operational experience in the MALE RPAS domain. With an initial focus on training, the Community was also charged with identifying areas for possible pooling and sharing in maintenance, logistics, doctrine and concepts, operated within the European Defence Agency’s (EDA) 27-Member State framework. The Agency is also active in several other areas of RPAS technical and policy development but developed very strong synergies with the European Air Group who maintained a unique focus on operator level interoperability improvement among the frontline users of its contributing Member States. In 2016, the collaboration was brought together in a joint approach in which EDA develops a simple networked RPAS procedural Training Technology Demonstrator (RTTD) to examine improved harmonisation of training approaches and EAG delivers a synergistic initiative of its own to improve the user experience of European MALE RPAS crews called the Interoperable MALE RPA ISR Training (IMRIT) project. Despite the mixed lexicon, the benefits to the Member States are clear and with the possible addition of UK and Belgium to the LoI project the combined effort can cater for up to 9 connected sites, with the possibility of others joining in due course.

MALE RPAS have without doubt caused a revolution in creating and maintaining situational awareness in recent operations.

However, the distribution of air assets able to provide this capability in Europe is still limited and the same can be said of the level of interoperability and mutual cooperation between their users. But this situation is expected to improve considerably in the coming years, as the EAG’s collaboration with the EDA and the European MALE RPAS Community to develop this unique training solution reaches maturity and delivers the intended step change in operator level interoperability. With a delivery schedule of just two years, the MALE RPAS ISR Training programme will introduce the first multinational synthetic training capability that could become a template for other networked initiatives.

System Development

In early 2016, EAG visits to three Un-Manned Air System schools in Spain, France and Italy provided a baseline understanding of the challenges involved in training of MALE RPAS ISR crews that contributed to the programme development. The MALE RPAS ISR Training programme formally began in September 2016, following an exchange of letters between the EDA and EAG. In consultation with the EAG, the EDA MALE RPAS Community drew up the Tender Specification for the networked RPAS Training Technology Demonstrator (RTTD) that will be the technical equipment on which the programme is based. Following an acquisition process by the EDA of only three months, including submission of the tender and evaluation of industry proposals, the contract was awarded in January 2017 to a DCI/DIGINEXT consortium from France. 

The RTTD programme is scheduled to run for four years, with the installation of the first two systems, in France and Italy, expected towards the end of 2017, providing an Initial Operational Capability before the end of this year. RTTD systems will then be delivered two at a time to the other nations plus Poland and Greece. Final deliveries are expected in the second half of 2018, after which the system will be at Full Operational Capability. The EAG will coordinate the delivery of the training objectives, syllabus and scenarios, to enable the training to begin at the earliest opportunity and EDA will continue to provide technical support to the system deployment  and to initiate a MALE RPAS exercise programme. In addition, further collaboration with the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) will generate realistic operational scenarios to cover both over-land and maritime missions, and may even touch on training activities in support of the initiative in the context of Single European Sky to enable RPAS traffic insertion into non-segregated airspace

  • EAG Library image, courtesy of DCI/DIGINEXT

Networked Training

Once the RTTD systems have been installed, they will be networked to provide collaborative training within a synchronised common environment. MALE RPAS operators will be able to operate within this environment at their own training station, while communicating multinationally to coordinate their mission. 

The ability to collectively plan, execute and debrief common missions will significantly improve interoperability and foster a multi-national understanding of MALE RPAS ISR operations. In turn, this can translate into a more capable and effective MALE RPAS operational community and build a solid foundation for combined European MALE RPAS ventures in the future.

Future Potential

Perhaps the greatest significance of the programme lies in the fact that it will lead to the establishment of the first multinational synthetic training network in Europe. This will not only provide RPAS operators from different nations with a unique opportunity to improve their operational effectiveness, but also enable them to share best practices and collaborate in training and the development of common procedures. If proven to be successful, it could turn out to be the first step in establishing comparable low cost solutions for multinational interoperability training of other operators, such as fighter and helicopter pilots, thereby filling a major gap in the training activities of the air forces of the future.

This article was initially published in the EAG Annual Review 2017, with courtesy of EAG