RAF Mildenhall, England -- The same combination of range, speed and vertical-lift capability that makes the CV-22 Osprey an essential part of U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces in Europe can have an increased complication of putting our Airmen in unfamiliar environments, working with a diverse group of partner nation militaries.
Although Airmen consistently train to increase familiarity with allies and partners, crews from the 7th Special Operations Squadron have taken steps to advance the effort through training at Multinational Aviation Training Center sites in Slovakia Nov. 2016 and Croatia Jan. 25 to Feb. 2, 2017.
“Working with the MATC within these countries has helped open up the use of existing infrastructure and training areas,” said Maj. Aaron Riess, Croatia MATC mission commander. “The result is increased training opportunities while we further build our relationships with host nations.”
A letter of intent aimed at establishing the MATC was signed by Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the U.S. in February 2013, with Hungary formally joining the project in September 2013.
Built out of a combined effort to increase interoperability of military helicopter units, the MATC has grown to establish an official working relationship with NATO, signed in September 2016.
“With MATC, you have four different countries that all line up, touch one another and provide location specific training opportunities,” a CV-22 instructor pilot said. “In the future, they could support large-scale, multi-national force exercises throughout the entire MATC structure.”
For the Airmen of the 352d Special Operations Wing, the benefits are clear.
“The good thing about MATC is it provides multiple training environments we don’t usually get at home station, all in a smaller area,” said a CV-22 Osprey instructor pilot. “In a three-hour sortie, I can train multiple crews in dozens of events … night water operations, low-visibility landings, low-level flights in mountainous terrain, infiltration/exfiltration and more. Our flight engineers even get weapon systems training at the range, with unique targets at varying elevations.”
As CV-22s and their crews typically operate at night, the positives to using the MATC differ depending on the time of year. During the summer, the ability to get nighttime training in the United Kingdom can be very limited. Traveling south, to the MATC, increases that window.
In the winter, the focus shifts to weather.
“During the winter months, we lose a lot of flight time due to weather conditions,” the CV-22 Osprey instructor pilot expanded. “Typically in the Mediterranean and Adriatic, weather conditions can be better. Minimizing lost flight time, training, currencies and proficiencies for crews.”
Another added benefit to the use of the MATC is the coordination with host nation and other militaries. These events wouldn’t be possible without the full cooperation of all parties involved.
“We’re very grateful to the Croatian military and their leadership,” said Riess. “They really worked to provide us a great training environment to meet all of our requirements.”
This coordination doesn’t end with the logistical support given at the base of operations, U.S. aircrews and host nation militaries work together during air operations as well.
“Having [their Joint Terminal Attack Controller] on the ground next to me, to bounce off of, gave us familiarity with the range and helped us complete our mission,” said a special mission aviator and acting range control officer. “A tilt-rotor was different for them to see, but his expertise gave us their standing operating procedure and facilitated the training we wanted to do when we came in.”
Between the two MATC sites the 352d SOW visited so far, differences can be seen. For example, the site in Slovakia provides low-visibility landing locations near a gunnery range, and the Croatia site has the availability of water-based training in the Adriatic Sea.
“The two trips I’ve been on to MATC, we’ve had very permissive environments, great mountain low-level routes, very good gunnery ranges and fantastic host nation support,” a CV-22 pilot said. “These guys have been great to work with – bending over backwards to provide us a place to stay and setup our operations … just outstanding logistical support.”