A NATO Response Force (NRF) Air Exercise, Brilliant Ardent 2010, is the latest casualty of the Icelandic volcanocovering large parts of Europe. Civilian airliners were first grounded in the UK at midday on 15 April amid fears particles in the ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano could cause engines to shut down. Airspace closures were then extended across much of Europe.
Brilliant Ardent 2010 is a two-week (12-22 April) NRF training exercise hosted by Germany and controlled from Izmir in Turkey, involving air forces from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Turkey and the United States. Around 60 aircraft ranging from fighters, attack aircraft, helicopters, tanker and airborne early warning aircraft, as well as tactical employment of Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) and Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) assets, are being extensively exercised. The aim is to train, test, integrate and validate the interoperability, readiness and capabilities of NRF air forces and associated command structures by exercising NRF missions and tasks in a challenging and realistic scenario.
The exercise scenario is based around a UN mandated NATO-led Crisis Response Operation (CRO) in a fictitious geo-political setting. However, according to the Luftwaffe a large number of yesterday’s exercise flight activities had to be cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud passing over Northern Germany. The only aircraft to take off yesterday afternoon were the Italian Eurofighter aircraft starting out of Laage Air Base.
The NATO exercise planning staff at Izmir are said to be working flat out to include this unplanned disruptive factor into the exercise scenario.
However, at his monthly press briefing yesterday NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO operations including supply routes to Afghanistan have not been affected by the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland. "The Icelandic volcano does not have any effect on either our operations, or our territorial defence," he told reporters in Brussels, after a senior US official had earlier said that a glass build-up been found in an F-16 fighter jet engine. "I have no information about the F-16s", Rasmussen added.
But the Associated Press reported that a NATO F-16 aircraft, thought to be part of the Belgian Air Force, suffered engine damage after flying through the volcanic ash cloud. The Finnish Air Force has also reported damage to one of its Boeing F-18 Hornet fighter jet that flew through the ash plume just hours before the imposition of airspace restrictions. And NATO officials did acknowledge that two AWACS radar planes were moved from Germany to southern Italy last week from where they are able to operate.