Up Close to the Arctic Circle
(Source: Bundeswehr; English translation issued Oct 10, 2017)
German Eurofighters arriving at Vidsel airfield in Swedish Lapland, where they tested the integration of the GBU‑48 laser‑ and GPS‑guided precision weapon into the Eurofighter system. (Luftwaffe photo)
VIDSEL TEST RANGE, Sweden --- Eurofighters belonging to the German Air Force have been flown to the test range at Vidsel in Sweden to test their air-to-surface capability. The verification work with the three aircraft is being carried out by 31 Tactical Air Wing Boelcke under the aegis of the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment.

In northern Sweden, about 1,000 km north of Stockholm, the landscape boasts vast tracts of forest with countless lakes and rivers transecting rolling hills and steep mountains. Part of the Swedish side of Lapland, this unpopulated area on the Arctic Circle has been used by the Swedish armed forces since the 1950s to house the Vidsel Test Range and its airfield, which lies at the south-eastern end of the 1,650 km2 facility. As Michael Gauckler explains, “In addition to the Swedes, other countries often bring their land and air forces here for testing.”

Some 8,000 km2 of airspace

Michael Gauckler of the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment, based near the Bavarian town of Manching, is heading the testing campaign. He has been to Vidsel several times before and appreciates the facilities:

“This uninhabited shooting range just south of the Arctic Circle has a core area of 70x35 km surrounded by reserved airspace of around 8,000 km2. That gives us ideal conditions in which to conduct the latest functionality tests on the GBU‑48, the Eurofighter’s laser‑ and GPS‑guided precision bomb. Only once we’ve done that can it be approved for use in service,” he says to explain the purpose of the campaign.

Integrating a weapons system

There are several elements to the campaign, which all feed into the greater whole. Representing section K4.1 of the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support, which commissioned this testing campaign, the project manager for the GBU‑48 precision weapon is chiefly interested in verifying that the product fulfils the requirements set out in the procurement contract.

For the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment, the goal is to check how well it fits in with the Eurofighter weapons system and ensure it can be approved for use by the troops. Considering the national tactical evaluation coming up in October and the air-to-air and air-to-surface roles which the Eurofighters will play in the NATO Response Force from 2018 onwards, 31 Tactical Air Wing Boelcke is focusing on operational matters.

An MOT test for military aircraft

The Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment is responsible for conducting technical evaluations of military aircraft and associated equipment, just like MOT tests for road vehicles, to ensure that the systems can run safely. Due to run until October, the testing campaign will begin with flights geared towards familiarisation and orientation, which will allow the testers to check the aircraft’s internal weapon electronics and software. They will also review the telemetry systems that will enable them to analyse the missions in detail. Only after that can the planned series of different bomb drops begin. They will include drops targeting horizontal and vertical objectives as well as missions with multiple targets.

A mixed team

The testing campaign is being conducted by nearly 100 military and civilian personnel. Around 60 technicians and range personnel from the Nörvenich-based 31 Tactical Air Wing Boelcke are assisting the 35 specialists from the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment. Master Aircrew Volker Enders of Flight-Line Maintenance and Armament Squadron, 31 Tactical Air Wing Boelcke, arrived in northern Sweden a whole week before the start of the testing campaign.

He and a number of other airmen and ‑women from Nörvenich and Manching made up the advance party which travelled to Lapland to prepare supplies, accommodation, transport and IT networks for the testing campaign. Within 31 Tactical Air Wing Boelcke, Master Aircrew Enders serves as a company sergeant major and is responsible for administrative issues within his unit.

On the team, he also takes care of all non-technical and non-flying matters. When asked what the mood is like at Vidsel, he sounds confident: “Things can finally get started. Once the three Eurofighters landed at the Vidsel air base last Friday, the team in northern Sweden was complete, and the first day of the testing campaign has been a success,” he says. With the good September weather continuing, four flights have already been conducted.

This is the translation of an article by Ulrich Metternich published on www.luftwaffe.de


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