Remus Lacatus

EUROCONTROL’s Civil-Military Cooperation Division is at the forefront of implementing new technological and operational measures to cater for a wide range of new airspace users, both civil and military, reports Remus Lacatus, Innovation, Architecture and ATM Operations expert.

As European air traffic management (ATM) undergoes modernisation, the number of new entrants performing civil and military operations is increasing dramatically.

On the military side, the impetus for change is trig- gered by security and defence requirements, leading to next-generation fighter aircraft and weapon systems. At the same time, there is an overlap between civil and military realms because of the steady rise in manned and unmanned aerial vehicles operating beyond the boundaries of conventional airspace.

The rapidly evolving extension of airspace usage to higher altitudes and the development of U-space operations demand advanced cooperation and inter- operability between civil and military aviation stakeholders.

It is crucial that progress is made on the implementation of technological and operational measures that enhance the flexibility and dynamism of airspace and traffic management through civil-military collabo- ration. Consistent civil-military solutions are key to reducing the impact of the increasingly complex aviation environment for both aircraft operators and the European ATM network.

"Enhancing the versatility of civil-military cooperation stands as pivotal in addressing the complexity inherent in the future European ATM ecosystem."

As new entrants emerge, adapted air traffic services are needed to support higher airspace operations (typically above flight level 600) and U-space operations (typically occurring in airspace below 500ft). Furthermore, cutting-edge technologies and air vehicle concepts call for increasing levels of digitalisation and automation in terms of both vehicle operation and service provision, for which the early development of system support and operational procedures is essential.

Considering that a significant number of vehicles engaged in these operations will not adhere to conventional ATM procedures, the overarching challenge for the European ATM system is to ensure that future operations of these new entrants are seamlessly integrated into ATM network operations, with no adverse effects on safety and a minimum impact on civil and military activities.

The deployment of next-generation aircraft will drastically transform military training and live operations. New training scenarios requiring larger volumes of airspace will exert pressure on airspace organisation (new airspace design principles) and management (enhanced airspace management – ASM – procedures), affecting airspace from the ground up to higher airspace.

It is imperative for civil and military ATM experts and decision-makers to intensify their collaboration to modernise current ASM mechanisms and to pinpoint optimal solutions that can effectively accommodate these changes. In particular, increased dynamism, flexibility and civil-military collaborative use of airspace are key requirements.

Higher airspace will no longer be the exclusive domain of space and military operations; it will need to accommodate a diverse range of vehicles, from slow-moving high-altitude platform stations (HAPS) or long-endurance balloons, to very high-speed vehicles, such as supersonic and hypersonic aircraft.

The behaviour and flight performance of these en- trants might introduce additional uncertainties in ATM, specifically when transiting conventional air- space on their ascent and descent. Emphasis should be given to interfaces with conventional airspace to guarantee the secure and seamless integration of di- verse vehicle types.

Moreover, although the sovereignty of States over their airspace is indisputable, from a purely opera- tional standpoint the ASM approach to operations in higher airspace should ideally be less fragmented, focusing on user requirements rather than geo- graphical boundaries. The challenge is to maintain uniformity in applying advanced ASM principles across both conventional and higher airspace, including at their interface.

With safety, cost and efficiency as the main drivers for their deployment, unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely piloted systems, generally called drones, operate from very low levels or from uncontrolled airspace up to the higher limits of controlled airspace. There is also growing demand for drones to be able to use segregated and non-segregated airspace.

These vehicles, poised to provide advanced data- driven services and to operate anywhere between 500ft and 60,000ft, will have to comply with air traffic management rules. This entails a profound shift in the management of airspace and trajectories, as well as in collaboration between civil and military entities, with the aim of reconfiguring airspace in a dynamic and flexible manner. This evolution is essential to ensuring that air traffic control services can safely oversee manned and unmanned operations.

It is very likely that the integration of new entrants will necessitate enhanced levels of digitalisation and automation, in terms of the operation of vehicles and the provision of services. A key issue that needs consideration is interoperability from system and user perspectives.

Developments in ASM support systems and services should keep pace with the integration of state-of-the- art technologies into newly established platforms, meet the demands of existing legacy equipment and ensure a balance between the needs of civil and military operations.

Like traditional aircraft operators, new entrants must be capable of informing the authorities responsible for the airspace that they will use about their flight/mission intentions and be able to exchange information appropriately during the execution phase. Seamless access to and exchange of information among all providers and users of ATM information and services must be achieved via fully interoperable systems and/or procedures.

"It is very likely that the integration of new entrants will necessitate enhanced levels of digitalisation and automation, in terms of the operation of vehicles and the provision of services."

Moreover, the extensive spectrum of users, encompassing private, State and international entities – civilian and military – underscores the need to move away from existing fragmented approaches in ASM and service provision and to evolve towards greater harmonisation.

Advancing the concept of flexible use of airspace (FUA) is a process that has already started with the implementation of rolling airspace use plans, some local real-time airspace data exchanges, enhanced network impact assessment, ASM solutions and ASM performance assessments. But the goal of achieving effective and coordinated FUA among (local and regional) ATM stakeholders while ensuring optimal use of available airspace has yet to be achieved.

The configuration of cross-border modular airspace blocks in areas with lower traffic demand but which are suited to operational needs, supported by enhanced civil-military collaborative decision-making (CDM) at network level, could make larger airspace volumes available for military training and exercises, while minimising the impact on traffic flows, especially in core areas.

Improved operational interactions between the Network Manager and tactical military commands responsible for large-scale events and operation planning have proved to be an effective solution in preventing disruptions to general air traffic. The new permanent liaison officer posted at NATO Air Command is a first response to the need to continuously adapt civil and military airspace and flight planning to the reality of the “new normal”, characterised by dynamic changes and new operational requirements.

Nevertheless, enhancing the system support provided by the EUROCONTROL military liaison officer (MILO) function, within the Network Manager (NM) and NATO, with the capability to assess in real time the status of airspace and the implementation of FUA at network level, will be key to ensuring the efficiency of NM. Integrated ASM system support as well as the use of artificial intelligence (e.g. heat maps, predictive tools) for performance assessments are two options available when it comes to bringing about the required enhancements.

While the sharing of sensitive mission data with the ATM network will certainly continue to be limited by the need-to-know principle, the sharing of harmonised information would not only enhance the predictability and effectiveness of traffic flow management but would also support military cross-border operations, with no impact on sovereignty.

Eurodrone

An important step is the adoption and sharing with NM of the new harmonised OAT Flight Plan to facilitate military mobility across Europe. It is imperative that NM and the pilot States successfully complete the first phase of the iOAT FPL  implementation project in order to provide the basis for its expansion at ECAC level.

The sharing of real-time airspace planning and activation/deactivation information between all local and regional actors will be another critical step to achieving optimised business and mission trajectories.

Civil and military operational stakeholders, together with NM, should strive to implement relevant and mature operating methods delivered by the SESAR programme.

The dynamic mobile area (DMA) design principles allow for state-of-the-art integration of the concepts of mission trajectory and advanced flexible use of airspace in dynamic and flexible solutions for airspace reservation management in the future dynamic airspace configuration environment.

Following the successful validation of geographically dependent dynamic mobile areas, SESAR 3 is now validating the concept of moving and flexible “protection bubbles” for different types of military missions. This is expected to streamline flexibility in the tactical phase of ATM network operations by ensuring integration through safe separation of flights in situations characterised by a high degree of uncertainty.

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