The testing of missiles and other weapons at the Denel Overberg Test Range (OTR) by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) has contributed significantly to the economy of the small southern Cape region.
Germany deployed four Tornado fighter-bombers, along with 160 personnel, to AFB Overberg in the southern Cape for an exercise named Two Oceans 2017, enjoying the epithet of “Power Play.”
The three week campaign, commencing on March 13 and concluding on March 31, involved Tornados from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 (Tactical Air Force Wing 33), based at Buechel Air Base near the city of Cochem. The eight aircrew (each with a pilot and a Weapon System Officer) are a mixture of experienced and inexperienced personnel.
Located alongside Air Force Base Overberg, home to the South African Air Force’s Test Flight Development Centre (TFDC), the OTR facilities at the site include tracking radar, optical missile tracking systems, cinetheodolites and a variety of land and sea-based targets.
“We have been coming to Overberg every second year since 2001,” German deputy defence attaché Commander Kai Brand said, adding “billions of Rand” had been spent by the visiting air force over that time. This figure not only includes the costs of using the OTR, but also logistics, accommodation and other ancillary expenses.
As one of the main customers at the OTR, the German contingent has no other agenda other than testing their weapon systems following upgrades.
As the Commanding Officer for the campaign explained, “At OTR we have the unique chance to evaluate the tactics and procedures we developed back home. A range with this big variety of targets (buildings, vehicles, moving targets, sea targets) and available airspace cannot be found anywhere else and gives a chance to practice different attack procedures and modes. Here we can expend weapons with a guidance kit which is not possible in Germany and the airspace gives us the flexibility to operate at all altitudes and directions.”
The Tornados involved in the tests have been upgraded with software and hardware to the latest ASSTA 3.0 (Avionics System Software Tornado in Ada) variant, meaning the aircraft are capable of using laser-targeted Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).
The primary objective of the test campaign is to test the upgraded Taurus KEPD 350 (Kinetic Energy Penetration Destroyer) long-range air-to-surface missile.
They also made use of the OTR capabilities to drop guided munitions like the GBU-24 laser-guided and GBU-54 (JDAM) laser and GPS guided bombs, something which is not possible in Germany. Another objective was the firing of the Tornado’s Mauser BK-27 cannon.
The Taurus expert responsible for the readiness of the system has been planning the test campaign for the past two years.
Although the Taurus has been tested in South Africa and elsewhere many times, he notes that the recent tests were special as the Taurus recently underwent a mid-life upgrade with new hardware and software. Thus, the Germans are confirming the various uses of the upgraded missile, including the planning and programing processes which depend on the type of target.
“So that’s what we test, will the software do the correct calculations, will we reach and hit the target in the proper way, what can we expect? It’s the first time we really test this to see that everything is good and effective and that the system runs properly.”
Prior to the live firing exercises, an inert captive missile was flown under a Tornado, ensuring that all the systems and safeguards were in place. Thereafter followed four missile firings, with each identical missile containing a 500 kg (1,100 lb) warhead.
Speaking prior to the fourth and final missile firing, he said that the first three tests “went very well, it worked the way we expected.”
Although only static targets were used, the OTR team provided numerous targets, simulating buildings, a bunker, aircraft and vehicles.
For the bomb and gunnery exercises, both land based and sea-borne targets were used. For the first time in a local live firing exercise, the OTR team developed full-scale remote controlled vehicles which were also used as targets.
The detail planning for Two Oceans 2017 started more than a year in advance, with items such as site surveys, financing and logistics requiring attention.
At least four transport missions were flown by the large Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft, with a Luftwaffe Airbus A310 providing additional logistic and personnel transport.
The four Tornados were flown from Buechel Air Base to AFB Overberg via Gran Canaria (Canary Islands) and Ascension Island, supported by a USAF KC-10A tanker. The trip took three days with a flying time of about 16 hours.
The Germans are clearly happy with the support they have received from Denel and the OTR.
Says the Commanding Officer: “The support we get from Denel and the setup is the best you can have. The aims of our training objectives have been more than achieved.”
This is reinforced by the Taurus expert, who has experience using other test ranges internationally. “What we see is absolutely perfect: the friendliness, the accommodation, the feeling from OTR that they are here to support us. That makes it very easy compared with other ranges.”
The closeness of the airbase, test facilities with low air and marine traffic and accommodation all “makes it very easy for us to use the range.”
“It’s been very successful for us,” the Commanding Officer concludes, “we used all the possibilities we can have here at the test range. We enjoyed it.”