"We have witnessed excellent civil-military cooperation"

Civil-military cooperation

As a consequence of Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine, airspace operations have become increasingly challenging, reports Brigadier General Christoph Pliet, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at NATO's Headquarters Allied Air Command, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Can you briefly explain what has been the impact of Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine on airspace operations across Europe?

While not a party to the brutal war that Russia is waging in Ukraine, NATO stands united and in full solidarity with the Government and people of Ukraine in the defence of their country. NATO nations are providing unprecedented support to help Ukraine uphold its right to self-defence. At the same time, NATO remains vigilant, calm and closely coordinated, and will always do what is necessary to protect and defend all Allies. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has been an increased use of missiles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and combat aircraft close to the borders of NATO nations. This increases the air and missile threat to NATO territory and populations, primarily due to miscalculation or loss of guidance or control.

For NATO, it meant increasing its presence along the eastern flank; more fighter and reconnaissance flights in a busy airspace. We set up a Joint Force Air Component to plan, organise, coordinate and control these missions, which are conducted in addition to our enduring Air Policing mission overseen by our two Combined Air Operations Centres. All measures are closely deconflicted and harmonised with civilian air traffic ensuring safety of the airspace and its users.

What can you tell us about the cooperation between civil and military authorities and the increased military requirements due to the ongoing conflict?

Airspace operations have become increasingly challenging due to these additional activities. It has proven highly beneficial that close relations exist between both Allied 22 Insight and national military control entities and their civilian counterparts. Russia's war in Ukraine demonstrated the capability and willingness of EUROCONTROL and national air traffic control authorities to work together to protect NATO allies. During the last 10 months, we have witnessed excellent civil-military cooperation. With a clear direction to using airspace more flexibly, commercial civilian organisations did their best to support the Alliance’s endeavour to protect the nations. We should seize the initiative from this common experience and lessons learned and adopt this standard of cooperation for the future.

Since the start of the operations across the eastern flank of NATO, we established relationships directly with the national airspace aviation authorities. We always have received full cooperation from them, also for any very short-notice airspace requirements.

One initiative we developed for the medium to long term with support from the Aviation Committee in NATO HQ is the implementation of a network of Operational Air Traffic (OAT) corridors. This system connects military airfields in the central part of Europe with eastern NATO member countries to ensure we can fly missions without cross-border restrictions. In addition, we established dedicated portions of airspace within eastern NATO member countries for military air activity. The procedure to achieve this systematically included thorough coordination with the nations regarding air traffic safety and in application of the Flexible Use of Airspace (FUA) concept. In all cases, the responsiveness of the nations, both from the military and civilian stakeholders, was outstanding. We were able to implement and execute planned activities expeditiously and turn them swiftly into assurance and deterrence effects.

What would you say are the key challenges for European aviation in the short and medium term?

The main challenge is to deconflict military air traffic in European airspace, efficiently enabling air surveillance and protection of NATO nations without jeopardising civilian flight safety. At the same time, we need to grant a sufficient number of commercial flights enabling freedom of movement for people and goods.

For civilian aviation, the restrictions over Ukraine and Russia will continue to increase flight time and fuel consumption and, consequently, increase the cost of travel.

The entry into service of next-generation fighter aircraft will change the way military aviation will train in European airspace. For some types of training and exercises, the air traffic management (ATM) system will be challenged by reservation requests for significantly larger airspace than today. Both civil and military ATM specialists and decisionmakers need to enhance their cooperation in order to identify optimal solutions to accommodate that need.

"The main challenge is to deconflict military air traffic in European airspace, efficiently enabling air surveillance and protection of NATO nations without jeopardising civilian flight safety"

How do you see the cooperation between NATO and EUROCONTROL moving forward?

We have established long-time and lasting close relations, especially the ComLoss (communications loss) Task Force, but also coordination and cooperation to ensure we further enhance airspace safety; it is crucial we have exchanges between our two organisations, for example, EUROCONTROL leadership attending our biannual NATO Air Chiefs Symposium and other bilateral civil-military forums at NATO and national air force levels. Furthermore, since we activated the Joint Force Air Component (JFAC) at AIRCOM (Allied Air Command), a EUROCONTROL representative participates in military flight activity planning and debriefing on a daily basis. This ensures constant awareness of evolving situations that may require liaison with the entire EUROCONTROL organisation to resolve upcoming issues.

The establishment of a permanent liaison between AIRCOM and EUROCONTROL will be instrumental for effective information exchange. This is especially essential when it comes to planning and conducting multinational exercises and to providing ATM advice on military decisions ensuring integration of military needs into the European ATM network.

NATO has initiated a series of working groups involving both civil and military stakeholders. We assess that these interactions need to continue and will set the ground for an enhanced civil-military cooperation that will provide outstanding results for both sides. Good examples are the establishment of the Civil Military Airspace Safety Team (CMAST) at the level of NATO HQ and the Military Airspace Users Meeting (MAUM) at AIRCOM.

What do you think is EUROCONTROL’s added value when it comes to supporting civil-military cooperation in Europe?

"With this unique civil-military international orientation, EUROCONTROL is best placed to enable effective cooperation among various civil and military, national and international players in European Aviation"

Close coordination and flexibility between civil and military authorities is essential to meet both sides' expectations and needs. In this context, EUROCONTROL plays a crucial role especially in these very challenging times when we have to deal with a crisis situation in airspace management while we are formally in a peacetime airspace structure. All the airspace issues at national and international level between civil and military stakeholders are raised to EUROCONTROL. This requires an assessment on civilian air traffic and finding solutions to minimise this impact. Whenever an acceptable solution for military and civilian stakeholders has been found and verified, this new training airspace is published in national aeronautical information publications.

The final product supports both needs, and the process itself is a good example of how civilian and military aviation can coexist and operate in the same airspace, applying the concept of Flexible Use of Airspace. With this unique civil-military international orientation, EUROCONTROL is best placed to enable effective cooperation among various civil and military, national and international players in European aviation. A key contribution consists of solutions and guidance for harmonising ATM procedures among European States in support of both civilmilitary and military-military interoperability.

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