The third and final phase of the ‘Fighter Weapons Instructor Training’ (FWIT) will take place at Leeuwarden airbase (ICAO code EHLW) from Monday 21 October up to and including Thursday 31 October 2019. In this concluding ‘Mission Employment’ (ME) phase, all the lessons learned from the previous 7 months are put into practice.
In the spring this exercise started at Leeuwarden airbase with Dutch, Belgian and Portuguese pilots of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) in their F-16s, where the pilots are trained as weapons instructors. The FWIT course is organised by the Dutch 322 TACTESS squadron.
The Air-Air components of the FWIT syllabus were trained before the summer holidays. With the help of German Eurofighters, American F-15s and American F-35s, the FWIT pilots have practiced various forms of air combat. With the Eurofighters and F-15s as opponents and with the F-35s as supporting aircraft . Because even though only F-16 pilots are present in the FWIT, in connection with the upcoming transition to the F-35 at the Royal Netherlands Air Force, this last aircraft has also become an important player in this exercise. The FWIT is an excellent opportunity to integrate 4th generation combat aircraft such as the F-15 and the F-16 with the latest 5th generation such as the F-35. The F-35 has many sensors and cameras making this aircraft the eyes and ears of a mixed group of combat aircraft.
After the summer holidays, attention was focused on the Air-Ground warfare, with various practice bombs being dropped on the nearby Vliehors range on the island of Vlieland. German Tornado planes have been used to disable enemy air defense systems ‘Suppression Enemy Air Defense’ (SEAD). And in the final phase (ME) the pilots are examined on theoretical and practical knowledge. And if the pilots are successful, from November 14th 2019 onwards, they can proudly wear the much wanted blue badge of ‘weapons instructor’.
5 Dutch pilots, 3 Belgian pilots and 2 Portuguese pilots participate in this FWIT 2019.
During the ME phase, 2 Royal Air Force Hawks will fly from Leeuwarden airbase in the aggressor role in the RED AIR, while German Eurofighters will do the same but they will fly from their homebase Witmund.
A weapon instructor ‘Fighter Weapons Instructor’ is the theoretical and practical knowledge holder within a squadron. Current weapon instructors have the knowledge to optimally deploy the F-16, in cooperation with other types of fighter aircraft from NATO partners, but also with other weapon systems such as flying radar stations (E-3 AWACS), anti-aircraft systems, ships, flying electronic reconnaissance aircraft (like RC -135 RivetJoint and J-STARS) but also with transport aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules. These weapons instructors are also called the ‘Masters of Integration’, because they must and can integrate all types of weapon systems into an effective combat force. Lessons from other exercises and from operational deployment in the past such as operations above Libya and Iraq are combined into a large knowledge base.
At the end of the 7-month course, the weapon instructors in the operational squadron will start working again to train young pilots, but also to coach experienced pilots in their progression towards leadership and supervision roles.
The FWIT also integrates the training instructor for transport aircraft ‘Transport Weapons Instructor Course’ (TWIC) of the C-130 Hercules pilots. For a few weeks, C-130 Hercules aircraft from the Netherlands and Belgium take part in the FWIT, in which complexmissions are flown together with the F-16s. The slow C-130s are then protected by the fast F-16s, both in the air and on the ground to, for example, deliver soldiers or pick them up again. During this combined phase, a C-130 pilot can also perform the role of mission commander for the entire group of aircraft of the TWIC/FWIT.
4 Dutch and 2 Belgian future weapons instructors participated in the TWIC
EPAF FIGHTER WEAPONS SCHOOL (EPAF)
EPAF is a collaboration between initially the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Denmark; the Portuguese Air Force joined in 2001. The EPAF was set up to jointly deliver F-16 weapon instructors every 2 years. Over the years, the focus has shifted from a technically oriented weapon instructor for the F-16, to a broadly oriented integrator of various weapon systems that can transfer knowledge well to a varied audience, but who also has the right leadership qualities to be able to make the right choices during complex air operations
Major Dennis of the Dutch Air Force is the supervisor of FWIT 2019. Previously he participated as a student, as an operations officer and as an instructor in the FWIT, this time he is the supervisor of this exercise.
He indicates that the current FWIT may not be the very last FWIT for the F-16 EPAF community. His advice to the Dutch Air Force staff would be to organize another FWIT in a smaller setup in 2 years. Because the F-16s will remain in service for a few years at vlb Volkel and then there will still be a need for F-16 weapons instructors.
With the arrival of the F-35, the Weapons Instructor Course (WIC) will take over the role of the FWIT. But since knowledge of the F-35 as a weapon system is still growing, the F-16 will continue to be flown in the intervening period, next to the F-35.
Together, the FWIT and the WIC will continue to provide future weapons instructors for the EPAF countries.Major Dennis indicates that the participating pilots must be at least a leader of a group of 4 aircraft (‘four-ship lead’) with at least 800 flight hours on the F-16. In addition, the squadron must nominate the pilot for the FWIT course. With his many years of experience, Major Dennis will also help the new weapon instructors after the FWIT course.The Norwegian and Danish Air Forces do not participate in this FWIT, the Norwegian Air Force because it is already in the middle of the transition to the F-35. But in the upcoming WIC in 2021 with the F-35s, these countries will participate again.Parts of the FWIT were previously carried out at various airports, such as the Monte-Real Portuguese airbase. But this time it does not apply because this puts too much strain on the ground support.During the Air-Ground phase, practice bombs were dropped because real bombs would completely destroy the target area after the first time.
Text: Joris van Boven and Alex van Noye
Photos: Joris van Boven and Frank Swinkels