Celebrating 20 Years of Improving Interoperability
The EAG has emerged from a multinational recognition that in order for allied air forces to operate effectively together they must first prepare together, not just in strategic terms, but also at tactical and operational levels. This year the EAG celebrates its 20th Anniversary, which is an occasion to reflect on the value and enduring nature of its work to improve interoperability.
The early years – laying the foundations
The origins of the EAG extend back to the 1991 Gulf War, during which the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and France’s Armée de l’Air (French Air Force or FAF) worked closely together on a range of operations. Subsequently, the two Air Forces collaborated again, this time on missions in support of United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia and in operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
As a result of these experiences, both France and the UK realized that in order to improve their level of interoperability, a new organization was needed that would provide focus and momentum. Consequently, the intention to form the Franco-British European Air Group (FBEAG) was announced at the Chartres Summit in 1994 and the FBEAG was formally inaugurated at a joint ceremony involving French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister John Major the following year. From the start, the word ‘European’ was included in the organization’s title, to enable other nations to join the initiative.
Forming the EAG
As the FBEAG evolved, it was decided that other nations would be invited to become ‘correspondent’ members, which became the catalyst for a more permanent arrangement. Italy became the first nation to apply for membership, soon to be followed by others, and on 1 January 1998, the name of the FBEAG was changed to ‘the European Air Group’ (EAG). Shortly afterwards, the new Headquarters Building was formally opened at RAF High Wycombe in June 1998 by the UK Secretary of State for Defence, the Right Honourable George Robertson MP, who the following year became the Secretary General of NATO.
The new EAG was formally endorsed by the Ministers of France and the UK, Alain Richard and George Robertson, who jointly signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement on 06 July 1998. This date marks the formal start point of the EAG, which rapidly expanded under an Amending Protocol signed on 16 June 1999 to allow the accession of new members and reach its current composition of seven Member nations: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the UK.
The success of the EAG-formula, as a small and agile independent organization under the direct control of the seven air chiefs, was proven early on when significant output was achieved in a number of areas.
Air Defence training. In 2000, the ‘EUROFIGHT Technical Arrangement’ was signed, providing a single framework within which aircraft of participating nations can train together to improve operational capabilities and mutual understanding, without the need for further paperwork or legal arrangements. In 2017 alone, 407 sorties were generated under this TA, proving its continuing relevance.
Air Transport. Another prominent achievement of the first years was the establishment in 2001 of the sombrely named ‘Mutual Support through Exchange of Services in the realm of air force activity’. Better known as ‘ATARES’, this Technical Arrangement has enabled the exchange of services in air transport, air-to-air refuelling and other activities. In combination with the decision of the EAG Steering Group in 2001 to establish the European Air Transport Coordination Cell, this provided the basis for today’s European Air Transport Command and the Movement Coordination Centre Europe, both located at Eindhoven Airbase in the Netherlands.
Training and Exercises. Recognizing that training and exercises are amongst the strongest instruments for improving interoperability, organizing multinational exercises has been a core activity of the EAG throughout its history. With one of the first accomplishments of the FBEAG being the organization of a ‘VOLCANEX’ exercise series, all EAG exercises are still conducted under this name, which allegedly stems from an early exercise that was conducted in an area containing volcanic rock. The ‘volcano’ aspect of the exercise title has been maintained ever since then. Some ‘VOLCANEX’ have been larger scale and involved operations across several domains, however, many have typically been more focussed events, linked with other existing exercises and tagged with a specific designator, such as ‘VOLCANEX FP’, ‘VOLCANEX CIS’ and so on.
Force Protection. As an example, the VOLCANEX FP series is now a well-established activity that forms a core part of the annual cycle of EAG Force Protection events, all of which have enabled a strong and mature EAG community to develop common procedures. The success of the EAG’s Force Protection community has expanded beyond the EAG Nations to include Norway, which has signed the ‘Survive to Operate’ Technical Arrangement and is therefore a formal Partner Nation.
The EAG’s outputs have been built up over the years to include new standard operating procedures, training courses, manuals, workshops, seminars and numerous Technical Arrangements, improving interoperability at tactical and operational levels, but also generating positive effects at the strategic level.
Personnel Recovery. A recurring theme in the VOLCANEX exercises was Personnel Recovery. Recognized as an area in which there was much to be gained from an interoperability perspective, experiences from these exercises and engagement with other organizations allowed the EAG to become the leading authority on Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) issues in Europe. Living up to this potential, a preliminary study executed by the EAG PS formed the basis for the decision of the SG in 2013 to establish a European Personnel Recovery Centre, that was subsequently opened at Poggio Renatico in Italy in 2015.
Aviation Medicine. Identifying an interoperability gap in aviation medicine, the EAG has also made significant progress in this area. A Technical Arrangement was originally developed and signed in 2005, enabling the establishment of an Aviation Medicine Coordination Board and also an Advanced Aviation Medicine Course for senior medical staff. These initiatives are unique for aviation medicine personnel within Europe and have been so successful that the 14th Advanced Aviation Medicine Course is scheduled for Autumn this year, the Coordination Board meets for the 35th time in April and courses now routinely include students from non-EAG nations.
Developing an interoperability network
As it has grown the EAG has recognized that, in order to be successful, it has to network with other organizations, so that it can coordinate work, identify synergies and avoid duplication of effort. As a result, the EAG’s wider network has expanded over the years to encompass a dozen multinational organizations, including NATO HQ, HQ NATO Allied Air Command, Joint Air Power Competence Centre, European Defence Agency, the Tactical Leadership Programme and the EU Military Staff. Additionally, it has collaborated with many nations, in order to develop or implement specific projects, including Norway, Australia, Canada, Hungary and Sweden. The EAG has also established links with the USAFE, particularly concerning 4th – 5th Generation interoperability and is currently engaged in a MALE RPAS training project, whose stakeholders include the EDA and the EAG Nations, plus Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Addressing the objective
From the outset, the EAGs’ objective has been ‘to improve the Parties’ operational capabilities to carry out operations in pursuit of shared interests, primarily through mechanisms which enhance interoperability.’ For twenty years the EAG has worked to achieve its objective, principally by generating initiatives and delivering tangible results at tactical and operational levels across a broad spectrum of air power activities. The EAG has engaged with a diverse spectrum of subject matter that includes air operations, communications and information systems (CIS), force protection, air transport operations, logistics, C2, an advanced training and exercises master plan, personnel recovery, aviation medicine and much more.
Much of the EAG’s work has been ‘demand-led’ – in other words, the result of interoperability issues identified by the Member Air Forces. However, a substantial proportion has also been the result of initiatives from within the EAG Permanent Staff, led by a 1-Star Deputy Director and an OF-5 Chief of Staff, and comprising staff drawn from the seven EAG Nations.
Under the direction of the Steering Group, containing the Chiefs of Staff of the seven EAG Air Forces, and also the guidance of the seven-nation EAG Working Group, the Permanent Staff have managed and executed an extensive spectrum of projects, each of which has been aimed at addressing an interoperability issue or requirement. At times, individual aspects of the EAG’s work have taken on a life of their own and grown to become the basis for further initiatives on a considerable scale, such as the European Air Transport Command and the European Personnel Recovery Centre.
An established template
The EAG’s success and track record have only been possible through the combined efforts of air force personnel from all seven EAG nations. Today, at a time of huge changes to the political, economic, technological and security landscapes, new threats are emerging that can only be met if allies cooperate effectively to overcome them. The fact that the EAG’s multinational brand of cooperation has endured and produced numerous, concrete results over a period of twenty years and today continues to lead with new initiatives, demonstrates its true value. The EAG is a compact organization that through its flexible structure, extensive network and output oriented nature is able to create real improvements for interoperability between its member nations and their allies and it is ready to keep on delivering in the next twenty years.