The Air Centric Personnel Recovery Operatives’ Course (APROC) 2018 was successfully completed on 7 June 2018 at the Dutch Main Operating Base of Gilze Rijen near Breda in the southern part of the Netherlands. This was the 12th iteration of this series of courses held annually at different locations throughout Europe.
For this year’s course 577 personnel from 12 countries deployed during the period from 23 May to 7 June to the Dutch base which is the home of the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC) of the Royal Dutch Armed Forces. For the Course, Spain, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Poland and Sweden deployed personnel and aircraft. The aircraft deployed for this iteration were F-16 (NLD) and EF-2000 (ITA) in the Fixed Wing RESCORT role, AS-555 (FRA), AH-64 (NLD) and MI-24 (POL) in the Rotary Wing RESCORT role and CH-47 (NLD), AS-332(ESP), NH-90 (FRA), Merlin (GBR), EH-101 (ITA), HH-101 (ITA) and UH-60 (SWE) in the Extraction Vehicle role. Moreover, an Italian Conformal Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft (CAEW) deployed to Gilze-Rijen in the Airborne Mission Coordinator (AMC) role. This turned out to be very beneficial, as all AWACS AMC missions in support of the course were cancelled for aircraft availability reasons. In addition to the aircrew, also Extraction Forces from ITA, ESP, GBR, FRA and SWE joined the course as members of the primary training audience. Members of the armed forces of Belgium, Canada, Germany, Denmark and the United States of America deployed personnel in support of the course conduct.
The course aims to educate and train Aircrews and Extraction Forces in the implementation of internationally agreed techniques and procedures for Personnel Recovery operations as a member of a combined and joint force contingent. The result of this kind of training will be an interoperable force that will be able to provide a viable PR capability for future contingencies. The course aims were achieved by planning and conducting 26 missions in 9 flying days, resulting in more than 140 sorties and 300 flight hours of the participating 20 aircraft. This training opportunity enables the participants to train the Personnel Recovery mission profile in a realistic and international environment that uses the processes and structures found in international operations. The APROC is currently the only European opportunity that focuses entirely on this mission set and attracts great interest in many countries.
There are multiple incentives to ensure the wellbeing of the most important resource of military operations, the personnel. Therefore, Personnel Recovery has recently experienced a boost in importance and nations now acknowledge the requirement to invest in the establishment of this capability. The presence of 15 General Officers during the Distinguished Visitors’ Day on 31 May at Gilze Rijen Air Base is proof of this development. The organizer of the course, the European Personnel Recovery Centre (EPRC) is a small HQ consisting of 15 PR experts and was formed in 2015 to foster the development of a PR capability in Europe. It has now conducted the course for the 4th time within its work portfolio and a marked improvement in its capability to prepare and conduct such a huge event was seen. Needless to say, the Host nation and the DHC were instrumental in the preparation process e.g. the provision of the Host Nation Support (HNS) without which, there would have been no possibility to organize this event. For the first time, a HN elicited support from a 3rd party and asked the 3rd Wing of the ITA Air Force to provide the working accommodation for the course. As this ITA unit already successfully supported APROC 2017 at Rivolto Air Base, ITA, the proven concepts could be reused in NLD. Finally, the preparations that were conducted over more than one year payed off and the excellent cooperation between the HN, to include the 3rd Wing, and the EPRC provided an ideal framework for the Course. For the flying phase of the course, the central European location of the host base restricted the freedom of movement of the course participants. These challenges were tackled and, in most cases, resolved. However, the integration of Fixed Wing and Rotary Wing assets in a PR scenario like it is planned in the APROC remains an organisational challenge to be considered in the future.
The APROC is a ‘follow on’ course from the Combined Joint Personnel Standardisation Course and the Combined Joint Combat Search and Rescue Standardisation course, a series of courses that started in 2007. To date, BEL, FRA, DEU, ITA, HUN and NLD hosted this course at various locations. In June 2019 the Course will be conducted at the Spanish Air Force Base Zaragoza for the 13th time.