report by : Frank Boucot
MACOM (for MAndo Aereo de COMbate – Air Combat Command) is in charge of training, deploying and securing operational status for every units of Spanish Air Force (Ejercito del Aire – EdA).This command organizes a yearly exercise, DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) in Gando (Gran Canaria, Canary Islands).
Canary Islands – An Aircraft Carrier, with Africa in sight
Canarias Archipelago is composed of 6 Islands, under spanish sovereignty (La Palma, Hierro, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote), located in Atlantic Ocean, 1500 kms away from southern Spain, and off south Western coast of Morocco.Being relatively isolated with only water around, Canary islands, are consequently an ideal location for training, with no altitude or speed limitations, and possibility of dropping flares. Gando Air Base (in fact the name of a rocky cliff around) is located on Gran Canaria Island, 25 kms southwards Las Palmas, Capital City.
Ala 46 is the local unit, operating from the military section of the local international Airport, and usually using a runway parallel to the one for the liners.It comprises two Escadruons (Eons) : Eon 802, operating CASA CN 235 and AS – 532 Super puma, for SAR and support missions, and Eon 462, Flying second – Hand F/A 18 A Hornet, handed over in the early 2000s from US Navy and Marine Corps.These particular planes, not being as advanced as their counterparts from other spanish units, were previously operated by Ala 21 (Then 11), in Moron.
Eon 46 is under the authority of a specific EdA’s Command : MACAN (MAndo Aereo Canarias).Its main mission is peace – keeping the area, and protecting local maritime transit.Being off African Coasts, Gando is the designated forward operating base for African operations.So was the case in the seventies, when tensions in western Sahara occured.In the beginning of twentieth century, Spain Gained Authority over territories in Sahara and Rif. Those were handed over to Morocco in 1975. But immediatly, independantists with a Libyan and Algerian back – up set up an uprising, for oil – related reasons, among others.
Peace – keeping missions were consequently performed by various spanish units, operating from Gando.War is over now, but Gando’s units are still in Cold War Status, with Morocco, this time.Indeed, in 2002 Morocco sent landing forces to Persil Island, off Gibraltar, officially to deter drug – traficking in the area.Since Spain claims sovereignty over this small rock, special forces and Armada were sent. The americans managed to settle the issue, before it gets hot.Nowadays, Gando is used for operations in Mali, and was proposed to host the US AFRICOM (African Command). As a matter of fact, another location was finally chosen : Stuttgart, Germany…..
DACT 2016 : Multinational Air to AirThis year, DACT
(Dissimilar Air Combat Training) was organised from february 29th to March 11th.Exclusively Air – to – Air oriented, this exercise trains participants to complex Air – operations, involving multiple assets, in an international context.The missions, located within training areas around the Archipelago, can be Offensive Counter Air or Defensive Counter Air, Beyond Visual Range (BWR), or Within Visual Range (WVR).In fact, the scenarios are set several months before, in accordance with the requests and objectives expressed by participants.Missions get more and more complex as the exercise goes on, involving as far as 20 fighters, among High Value Assets, such as tankers, Awacs, or Slow movers.Thus, the tempo is very high, two waves or 20 + planes being launched, twice a day.A good challenge for mechanics, serviceability, in a context of deployment overseas, being the key.
Almost every spanish fighter unit attend the event, being the big yearly EdA’s exercise.Noteworthy so were the Hornets from Ala 12 (Torrejon), Ala 15 (Zaragoza) and of course the locals from Ala 46.Six Tifon from Ala 11 (Moron) flew on a daily basis, whereas Ala 14 (Albacete) only flew a few missions, being largely deployed in Lithuania, for Baltic Air Policing.To maximise the value of the exercise, foreign participation is highly encouraged, most of modern air operations being largely multi – national.Consequently, 7 F16 from 1ere Escadrille, 2ND Tactical Fighter Wing deployed from Florennes.Such was also the case for 4 french Mirage (2 X 2000 – 5, from Luxeuil, 2 X 2000 B Twin seaters, from Orange), and several Eurofighters from TAktLwG 73, Laage Air Base (eastern Germany).To end up with the fighters, the exercise was also blessed with the attendance of two A4 N from Discovery Air. Operating from Wittmund, this Company is now in charge of Target Towing and Ground Control Intercept missions for Luftwaffe.
Previously, this mission was performed by Flight Systems, flying the same type of aircraft.To support the fighters, an Awacs from Geilenkirchen flew daily, along with an Hercules from Zaragoza and several Learjet from GFD, for jamming.At the end of the first week, two B52 H from 96th BS/2ND BW from Barksdale were involved in one mission, on their way to Moron, where they were due to deploy for a few weeks.DACT tends to become one of the major european exercises, along with Frisian Flag and Tiger Meet.Nonetheless it is specific as it is only air – to air oriented, when the others are about COMAOs. A little Top Gun of sorts……