NATO drone exercise

Madeira Operational Command tested

NATO drone exercise 1

JM reports that the second edition of the 2023 DRONEX exercise took place from May 10 to 12, continuing this series of operational activities dedicated exclusively to the operation of Unmanned Aerial Systems, often referred to by the abbreviation SANT.

This edition had particular characteristics, being planned and carried out within the concept of exercise and “tactical evaluation” of NATO TACEVAL – Tactical Evaluation.

These exercises aim to assess the levels of readiness and efficiency of the forces assigned to NATO according to the standards defined by this organization. These forces, after some time of preparation and training, are subjected to an intense and rigorous evaluation process by the NATO evaluators, in order to assess the capabilities of these units, as well as all the logistics, plans and associated procedures to deploy in an advanced base in a hostile environment. Using a scenario adjusted to the Force’s capabilities, a sequence of incidents is developed in order to verify all the capabilities to carry out the assigned NATO missions, according to how the evaluated unit is declared. The Force must demonstrate sustainability by conducting operations over an extended period of 36 to 54 hours, uninterrupted.

In this type of evaluation, several critical scenarios are set up, involving the simulation of real combat situations, accidents, illnesses, damages and other limitations.

The innovation, in the case of this exercise, was to apply all these evaluation principles to the small drone unit of the Madeira Operational Command. For more than two months, a cell of three soldiers from this Command, secretly planned a set of scenarios and respective contingencies, in order to give the greatest possible realism to the missions. The surprise and unpredictability of the course of actions would thus be the novelties that constituted “the added value” of this exercise.

NATO drone exercise 3
Drones featured earlier this year

Conditions were created to exercise the activation mechanism of the Operational Command’s Operations Center, in operations, through the implementation of the maximum level of provision of positions, the maximum capacities for exercising Command and Control functions, in terms of personnel and equipment. It was also intended to guarantee the connection between the operational level and the tactical level, that is, who was in the Operations Centre with who was in the field.

Four specific objectives were planned, each realized in a dedicated mission. Thus, it began with carrying out a “surveillance” mission, according to the concept of “seeing without being seen”. The actions and movements of a Special Operations team were monitored, which simulated being hidden in the mountains. In a second moment, a “Tracking” mission was carried out. Without the same force knowing, the displacement was followed from the origin unit, to the destination, on the highway, on secondary roads and even in the mountains. It was necessary to commit several drones, and move the teams in order to never lose track of the vehicles. On the second day and in the third moment of evaluation, a Search and Rescue mission was carried out, in support of military operations. An element of the special operations team disappeared during the progress of a trail, and the mission of finding that element was then assigned to the SANT team. Finally, at the last moment, carry out the operational procedures and information flows provided for in the Plans in force, in support of operations in Madeira, in particular in support of the POLEX exercise, by the National Maritime Authority. The SANT contributed with aerial images for the identification and control of a pollution spot.

All these incidents took place in a real context of operation for the drone teams of the Madeira Operational Command, that is, they did not know what was going to happen, nor how things were going to happen.

In this program, carried out for the first time with SANT, to NATO’s objectives of assessing the readiness and capabilities of the assigned forces, the advantages resulting from the validation of plans, training, adequacy of equipment and of all the processes of preparing for the deployment of means and forces of this type.

The TACEVAL to the SANT of the Madeira Operational Command was a demonstration of national capacity to integrate a larger force.

The positive results show the potential achieved by the means in use. The opinion of all stakeholders is unanimous, everyone considers that the missions and exercises carried out so far by the unit have been an accumulation of successes and in most mission reports there are praises for the support provided by the SANT team and the set of services made available to the mission. These results were found in the evaluation of three dimensions: Communication, Information and Operation.

The Command’s eight SANTs, six drone operators were engaged and a 6 hour and 50 minute flight was carried out, one of the missions being carried out in a night flight.

In the end, aware that it was just a simulation of NATO assessment standards for a small drone team, the results were considered very positive, since all objectives were achieved.

It should be noted that during the third day of the exercise, it was necessary to interrupt training so that a drone team could travel to a real request to search for two missing persons at sea on the north coast of Madeira

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