Over recent years, the operational environment of military operations and civilian missions has become ever complex and volatile. Moreover, fast changing operational situations carry the risk of own deployed troops and civilian staff being trapped, isolated, captured and even maltreated by enemy forces. This can not only jeopardise the security of an operation, but also affect soldier morale and public support for the respective operation or mission. It is therefore imperative to ensure quick recovery and reintegration of own isolated personnel. Hence the importance of having well-equipped and trained PR forces.

Since CSDP operations and other multination deployments involve actors from different countries, interoperability is key for successful joint PR missions. To ensure this interoperability at tactical level, PR forces (rotary & fixed wings aircrews, land extraction forces and PR planners) must know, prior to deployment, how to jointly execute such tasks in a coordinated and synchronised manner. In this regard, joint training is vital. In reality, however, individual Member States tend to struggle to provide their forces with realistic live PR training, even more so in cooperation with other countries, especially due to the high costs related to the participation of specific capabilities (mostly fixed & rotary air, but also land platforms). Hence the need for a less costly PR training solution which would allow Member States’ military forces to conduct joint PR training at an affordable cost.

Tactical Personnel Recovery Mission Simulator

Since 2016, EDA’s Personnel Recovery Project Team has assessed various options for mitigating Europe’s PR training shortfalls. Training by simulation, based on Virtual Reality (VR) technology, was retained as the most cost-efficient solution to be explored. In autumn 2018, the Agency’s dedicated PR Project Team agreed on the need to test and evaluate a “low-cost technical solution that uses the Virtual Reality (VR) technology and simulation-based software” which would allow to create a customisable high-realistic operational environment “anywhere in the world” where PR forces can rehearse PR Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) in a risk-free operational environment.

Some Member States have already been using simulators for helicopter aircrew training. However, those simulators are usually highly specialised and would not allow for upgrades required to deliver joint PR training involving both helicopter aircrews and land forces. Subsequently, in April 2019, EDA launched the Tactical Personnel Recovery Mission Simulator (TPRMS) project as aproof-of-concept demonstrator’, with a two-fold objective: validate an innovative low-cost solution for conducting joint PR training; and develop a baseline architecture for a PR synthetic operational environment.

The aim of EDA’s TPRMS project is to demonstrate that the simulator provides immersive training at an affordable cost, allowing Member States’ PR forces to jointly gear their skills in a safe environment that enables conducting rigorous, realistic and repetitive PR training as often without any further additional cost. Moreover, the risk-free flying environment offered by the TPRMS allows the PR crews to practice techniques, tactics and procedures that would be considered too risky in live training events, such as helicopter night flights under extreme meteorological conditions. The simulator, expected to reach its Full Operational Capability (FOC) in July 2022, is not meant to substitute live PR training, but to complement it.

The TPRMS project is jointly run and co-financed by EDA and the Italian Ministry of Defence (Air Force). Italy acts as the project’s host and lead nation providing the PR expertise required in the set-up of this unique joint PR training capability which was officially inaugurated on 18 November 2021 at Italian Air Base Poggio Renatico. This inauguration was attended by representatives from participating Member States as well as international organisations involved in PR, namely the European Personnel Recovery Centre (EPRC), the Air Operations Centre of Excellence (CASPOA) and the NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC).

  • TPRMS IOC helicopter

Towards a common European PR approach

In the short run, the TPRMS is meant as the first step towards to the development of a common European PR training approach by simulation. To further exploit the simulator’s full potential, a new collaborative EDA capability project is expected to be launched in the near future, aiming to deliver multinational tactical PR training by simulation. This new project, likely to be also led by Italy, has the ambition to become, potentially by 2024, the most important EU platform capable of delivering simulation-based multinational tactical joint PR training. Preparatory work is already underway within the Agency through an EDA TPRMS Pilot Course, scheduled to be launched in November 2022 with two specific objectives: familiarise national PR experts with the simulator’s synthetic environment; and develop a training curriculum.

In the longer term, the ambition is to encourage Member States to replicate the TPRMS as a low-cost joint PR training capability at national level. Once established, those national simulators could be interconnected via Internet to allow the PR forces of all participating countries to train together in a shared common PR operational environment, while being physically in their home locations. The creation of such European network of national joint PR training simulators is expected to be the subject of another EDA collaborative project to be launched in the coming years, potentially by 2026.

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