Training pilots for electronic combat

1st Lt. Jenny Lovett
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Situated in an open field about 20 minutes south of Ramstein is a mission to implement a realistic electronic combat threat training environment, and it belongs to the 86th Airlift Wing.

Detachment 2, or Multinational Electronic Warfare Tactics Facility Polygone, is charged with training pilots on how to avoid surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, jamming devices and other like defense mechanisms, said Lt. Col. Jess Palmer, Det. 2 commander.

Based on a 1979 agreement, the unit is jointly hosted by the U.S. Air Force, the French air force and the German air force and “exists to develop and test tactics, verify those tactics, evaluate and validate equipment and increase aircrew proficiency,” said Colonel Palmer.
“The customer calls in a request for training against a certain type of threat, and we provide it,” he said.

They perform this mission on seven fixed sites and more than 7,000 square miles, ranging from Spangdahlem Air Base in the north to Epinal, France, in the south.

“We don’t actually control the airspace over the 7,000 miles,” he said. “We just control the devices that jam the radar of the aircraft flying over.”
The evaluation systems at Polygone test and validate airborne electronic counter measure systems, threat signals and recognition of the air picture on radar.

“It’s important for pilots to learn defensive techniques against real threats,” said Colonel Palmer.

“The training is essential,” said an F-16 pilot at Spangdahlem. “The primary role of the F-16CJ is suppression of enemy air defenses so we have to train against SAM sites like Polygone replicates.”

On average, pilots from Spangdahlem train at Polygone at least two times a week and Ramstein C-130 pilots train at least once.

“We try to go once a week to practice threat reaction, responding with the right maneuver,” said Maj. Jessica Nichol, 37th Airlift Squadron navigator. “It’s what we need to practice every day for when we’re downrange.”
In 2004, Polygone trained approximately 5,000 aircraft on about 2,000 missions from countries all over Europe.

“Anyone in NATO can use the facility,” said Chuck Kesterson, Polygone’s American scheduler. Because the signatory nations are the largest customers at Polygone, each of the three has one person sitting in each section of Polygone, he said.

“This way each nation can focus on the needs of its nation, and we’re all here to alleviate confusion.”