Fixed Wing contribution to JPR


Historically, classical linear battlefield scenarios forced the Air Component to act autonomously in insertions beyond the Forward Line of Own Troops (FLOT). Consequently, fighter pilots, because of their inherent risk to becoming Isolated Personnel (ISOP) have been always considered among the main ‘potential targets’ for Personnel Recovery missions.

According to the study: “JAPCC / Enhancing NATO JPR Capability Education and Training / May 2014 (NU) ” there are several missions in which Fixed-Wing (FW) aircraft can support JPR missions in NATO. Air Component can thus offer a wide range of possibilities to support JPR missions because of the varied capabilities they are able to put forward. In this article, we will only focus on three of them: Transport aircraft as Recovery vehicles, FW RESCORT and Rescue Mission Commander (RMC).


FW Rescort


Transport aircraft as Recovery Vehicles (RV)

When we refer to Recovery Vehicles, it is normally helicopters that first come to our minds. However, this is not the only option. It is also possible to plan a recovery using Tactical Air Transport (TAT) in certain scenarios. For example, when Combat Control Teams (CCT) are available to set up bare or improvised airfields.
Compared to helicopters, Fixed Wing (FW) aircraft certainly have additional strains for landing. Definitely, their manoeuvrability and radar signature may be an issue if we compare them with RW. Nevertheless, they offer many advantages too. Their unique capabilities should be considered in planning, in order to present different Courses Of Action (COA) to the Commander. Tactical Air Transport (TAT) FW aircraft will, generally, exceed the Rotary Wing (RW) cargo capacity. This will permit the recovery of bigger groups of ISOP instead of allocating a higher number of helicopters. Besides, FW will offer a significant higher speed, reducing en-route times to Objective Area. It is also noteworthy that, likely, they will also have longer range and on-station time that can be enhanced through Air to Air refuelling. Furthermore, FW will make available additional personnel, sanitary equipment and even ground vehicles on board. Lastly, flying faster, deeper and higher means that they may be able to escape out of the range of weapons envelope such as small arms, RPG and some MANPADS… All these capabilities allow FW TAT to carry out long-range missions independently. This may overcome some of the rotary wing inherent limitations and, therefore, they need to be considered for missions that require large groups of isolated personnel far away.

Additional capabilities are provided by tilt rotor aircraft since they offer the advantages of both rotor and fixed wing. For example, they have the advantages of the FW such as speed, endurance and altitude, but they are capable of stationary flight and recovery, as the RW does.

The Commander may consider using fixed-wing as the optimal vehicle for a particular recovery. For example, while employing FW TAT, a greater number of Extraction Forces (EF) may be deployed and, therefore, protection will be enhanced. Moreover, the discrete insertion of these Extraction Forces via High Altitude High Opening (HAHO), navigating long distances in parachute, allows the execution of deferred missions. This may be particularly convenient in situations lacking the exact position of the isolated personnel. EF may carry out a search for several days and, once the ISOP is found, they will proceed to a suitable Designated Area for the Recovery (DAR). Additionally, since they operate at a higher altitude, other options may be put in place with Para-rescue jumpers where the helicopter may not reach.

In short, Fix Wing provides the Commander with an additional array of planning options. This can make a difference between having, or not, the capability to recover our Isolated Personnel. To ensure the success, training and coordination among the different executing actors is essential.


Modern aircraft provide a wide range of integrated capabilities in a single platform and fighter pilots have a challenge in training all of them. Therefore, there is an inherent risk of not being properly trained in all the roles they may have to perform. Additionally, JPR missions are among the most complex missions to plan and execute if carried out in a hostile territory and a high threat environment. Fighter pilots have additional requirements to coordinate with assets that will be moving at low level and at a low speed.

Traditionally, in addition to being a “passive subject” (as ISOP), fighter pilots have been considered for other roles in PR such as RESCAP or RESCORT. Yet, they may not have had enough training and integration with the other required actors.

In general terms, Combat Air Patrol (CAP) is considered among the Defensive Counter Air (DCA) air operations. DCA “consists of all active and passive air defence operations to detect, identify, intercept, and destroy or negate enemy air and missile forces attempting to attack or penetrate friendly battlespace, or to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of such attacks should they escape”. However, the RESCAP mission consist on neutralising any enemy aircraft, and to ensure local air superiority for the Recovery Forces, the PR Task Force and the ISOP. Therefore, notwithstanding the name, it might better be considered as an Offensive Counter Air (OCA) operation.

Fix Wing in NATO JPR Missions

According to JAPCC / Enhancing NATO JPR CAPABILITY Education and Training / May 2014 (NU) FW can support PR missions with the following:

Refuelling Support

Airborne C2 Support


Fire support and neutralization of enemy ground forces

High Value Assets Air Defence Support

Close Air Support



On the other hand, as stated in the ACO Manual 080-071, RESCORT main objective is to protect the Recovery Vehicles, and to neutralise any threat both en-route and on the Objective Area. It is worth noting the specific training needed for this role includes: reconnaissance and “sweep” of the insertion route, being able to cope with en-route threats; join the RVs in route changes; locate and identify the isolated personnel; serve as a communications relay; and operate precisely in the objective area (ISOP position). The main challenge for the jets will be to get and keep visual with the slow movers using reference (Spider) points.

The end of the A-10 Thunderbolt II life-cycle, known for their RESCORT and Rescue Mission Commander (RMC) role as “Sandy”, will leave a gap as the most suitable fixed wing platform for this duties. This gap does not seem to be easily filled-in by any other current aircraft. The USA has a broader range of capabilities than the other nations. They are also seeking an optimal aircraft to replace their A-10s in the near future. They have made some endeavours with other platforms, for example with the F-16, but it looks like they haven’t found yet the formula to grant the role of RESCORT based on other suitable FW aircraft. Most likely, other FW aircraft different from A-10 will have to operate from (at least) medium altitude. Higher altitude and speed may cause positive targets identification to be more difficult, requiring the use of Recce/Targeting pods with weather playing a more severe influence too.

Certainly, RESCORT mission is still a pending challenge for NATO, and Rotary Wing (RW) RESCORT might be foreseen as the most likely option. Indeed, helicopters provide certain advantages. For example, they can keep better visual contact with the RW Recovery Vehicles since they are able to maintain similar speeds. Besides, they normally better fit for passive defence (armouring) and they react quicker to ground targets than fixed wing. On the other hand, fixed-wing aircraft inherent characteristics provide other important advantages. For instance, in certain scenarios, FW offers the capability of show-of-force and/or neutralizing the threats well-ahead of the Recovery Vehicles while operating detached. This prevents the detection of the RV and avoids modifying their planned route. Likewise, FW are normally better equipped with air-to-air weapons. It allows eliminating leakers (enemy fighters able to sneak through RESCAP).

On the other hand, fighters, as some of the RV, may perform air-to-air refuelling while attack helicopters usually lack this capability. This obviously extends the range and duration of missions. Additionally, fighters offer very varied array of weapons compared to that of attack helicopters. This offers a better combination with the RV capabilities to cope more effectively with the ground threats. Consequently, this wide range of capabilities provides the commander with different courses of action for the execution of the mission.

Italy has lately shown great interest in developing their own Personnel Recovery capabilities. For example, their AMX units used to have RESCORT duties as a secondary role. As a consequence, they have taken part in the EPRC Air-Centric Personnel Recovery Operators Course (APROC), formerly European Air Group (EAG) Combined-Joint Personnel Recovery Standardization Course (CJPRSC). With AMX approaching phase-out, Italy has explored the possibility to employ EF-2000 Typhoon to perform RESCORT tasks. Obviously, ITAF EF-2000 capabilities significantly differ from those of the USAF A-10, and procedures have to be modified accordingly. To this purpose, the EPRC has been collaborating with ITAF, providing a tailored theoretical module. In any case, this is just the first step of a more comprehensive study that should include the development of procedures, simulators practices and, eventually, actual sorties for that only purpose. At a first glance, it seems like that, the number EF-2000 carrying the same air-to-ground weaponry of a 4-ships of A-10s, may significantly differ, as well as their operating altitude.

Fixed Wing Aircraft as Rescue Mission Commander (RMC)

Using Fixed Wing aircraft as Rescue Mission Commander (RMC) may arise some controversy. Firstly, the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) has been teaching CSAR Techniques, Tactics and Procedures (TTP) with USAF personnel coming from A-10 units. After flying (a maximum of) two PR missions in the course, and only one of them acting as Mission Commander, the participating aircrafts may be tempted to emulate the A-10 performance, due to the lack of adapted procedures to their own aircraft. Nonetheless, as mentioned above, PR is one of the A-10 main roles within the USAF, and their dedicated aircrews are suitably trained and equipped for this type of mission.

Secondly, the TLP COMAO Flying Course actually offers the possibility of planning and executing one or two PR missions. This training offer aircrews a valuable opportunity to get familiar with the specific challenges of the PR missions. Attendees soon understand that, in PR missions, the focus is not at a high altitude as they’re used to, but on the ground, or just some feet above it. Furthermore, they will acknowledge the need to establish coordination and contracts, not only with the helicopters (slow movers), but also with the Extraction Forces, as the ones who, eventually, will contact the Isolated Personnel. TLP qualified personnel are able to perform as Mission Commander, but because they are not extensively exposed to the PR missions’ specifics, it must be understood that this training doesn’t specifically qualify pilots as RMC. Obviously, we should avoid thinking that these aircrews, after planning and executing a maximum of one, or two, PR missions become RMC experts for future real PR missions. Required proficiency will only be achieved after extensive training.

EPRC offers this training in the APROC provided that participating nations agree to send their FW assets. In the aforementioned APROC, the EPRC designates the fighters (FW RESCORT) and the helicopters (both RV and RW RESCORT) as RMC. Any option can be valid, as long as aircrews have frequent training and a proper coordination for these complex missions. The decision will be made depending on the situation, and if the Ground-to-Air threat is high, and many assets are involved in the PRTF, the experience recommends to designate one Fixed Wing Aircraft as Rescue Mission Commander.


The end of the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II life cycle, and the lack of a similar platform in other air forces, seems to inevitably lead to rely only on Rotary Wing assets to perform some PR missions, particularly in low to medium Ground-to-Air threat. Accordingly, RW will perform not only as the Recovery Vehicles (RV), but will also be responsible to carry out RESCORT duties. However, fixed-wing aircraft should not leave aside the training for PR missions. Their distinctive characteristics provide great added value: longer endurance, greater capacity for transporting people, variety of weapons and systems on board, the possibility of seizing larger areas  are, among others, specific features of fixed wing aircraft. They can be essential for PR missions planning.

In any case, we have to be aware that the “Sandy” TTPs were created for PR duties with this specific aircraft, which was primarily designed for air to ground operations. Other aircraft, with completely different capabilities, such as F-18, EF-2000 or Tornado, should create their own TTP, if to be used for this role.

Regarding the Recovery Vehicles, fix wing offers some operational advantages compared to helicopters. This makes them a perfect counterpart, and provides the Commander with a wider range of options for planning and executing PR missions tailored to specific situations.

In any case, prior preparation and joint training will definitely be a determining factor to grant mission success. This training has to include at least Recovery Vehicles (both fixed and rotary wing) and Extraction Forces. There are some good specific PR training opportunities. The EPRC APROC, the USAF Red Flag Rescue exercise, or the Turkish Anatolian Eagle exercise. Air Forces should take advantage of these opportunities and train their capabilities tailored to different PR scenarios, hence better prepared to offer them in the joint operations spectrum.