The APROC was conducted from 14 to 28 June 2017 at Rivolto Air Base, ITA. Some 600 personnel from 12 nations employed 13 Rotary Wing and 4 Fixed Wing aircraft in order to train ‘Personnel Recovery’ operations in an international environment. Furthermore, a NATO and French AWACS in addition to an Italian Command and Control aircraft were involved in the training. This mission set has the aim to rescue personnel that is in distress in a hostile environment and uses techniques to survive and evade from possible hostile personnel. The course participants were faced with a realistic environment where military personnel are employed in a Peace Support mission. Whilst this was the 11th iteration of the Course, this edition was the second one entirely planned and conducted by the EPRC. The main objectives of the Course are to train aircrew and extraction forces with limited or no experience in planning and conducting complex missions (multi-national, multi ship, dissimilar type) and to teach them to plan and conduct such complex PR missions with a focus on the processes and procedures. In preparation for the tactical employment a 2-day academic package is provided to the participants. Afterwards, eight tactical missions were planned with increasing difficulties to allow for a steady learning curve of the trainees. Various threats were simulated in order to create the required scenarios by ground based and airborne support elements such as a Surface to Air Missile systems and Fighter aircraft, testing the participants with increasingly difficult situations. Select personnel of the training audience is tasked to fulfil the Role as the Rescue Mission Commander, that is the person responsible for the planning and conduct of the mission. This task is very demanding, as the multinational formations and different specialisation of the Task Force that is ordered to conduct the recovery require detailed knowledge and tactical finesse. This becomes especially important during the final missions, where supporting aircraft are creating a demanding threat scenario that requires the use of friendly fighter aircraft to create a favourable AIR situation. Moreover, the situation at the survivor’s location can be precarious and requires special attention. Here, the interaction between the survivor and the Rescue Force is critical; the APROC also provides some training in this field. Above all, flight safety considerations have to be honoured in order to keep everybody safe. This approach paid off this year in particular, since a participating helicopter encountered a technical malfunction and sadly was seriously damaged although without injuries, loss of life or collateral damage.
The Course features also a very unique employment of Extraction Forces in combination with the AIR assets. These very specialised forces utilise GROUND tactics to conduct the rescue of the Isolated Personnel in the hostile environment that is simulated during the Course. As these forces are highly trained in medical and force protection issues, they are an indispensable part of the Task Force employed during the course. For the first time ever, this course included a fourth Task Force that utilised wheeled vehicles to conduct the recovery of isolated personnel. Stable weather conditions at Rivolto Air Base, just north of Venice, allowed the conduct of 20 Task Force missions to be flown and 4 Ground Task Force missions to be employed.
Military Forces need to be prepared (trained and equipped) to conduct PR operations, and ideally specialised units should be available to be utilised in this very particular mission set. This course is helping to create these capabilities. However, a multitude of preparatory work has to be completed to allow this to happen. In particular, processes, training and equipment have to be set in place well ahead of time in order to be effective. The APROC is one very effective tool to take one of the first steps in that process.