2006 – Base Aérea de Morón

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Gilles Denis visited Morón AB to see the deployment of the first Spanish Eurofighters

Morón air base is THE place to be for Spanish Air Force fighter pilots. It is the home of the Eurofighter EF-2000 and where all pilots and ground crews are trained on this next-generation strike aircraft. The base also houses the P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft of Grupo 22 and is an important staging base for American air operations.

HISTORY

Morón is situated in southern Spain, approximately 50 km southeast of the city of Seville. EF-2000 C.16-21 11-01 Ala 11 20060926LEMO 0486.jpgIt is a big base: a perimeter of 22 km, an area of 2.000 ha and 37 km of interior roads. Approximately 1.300 men and women work every day on base. Construction of Vázquez Sagastizábal Military Airfield (the original name of the base) began in 1940 and the following year, the Escuela de Caza (Fighter School) was established. It was equipped with Fiat CR-32 on which 500 fighter pilots were trained until 1956. That year, a new unit took over the base: Ala de Bombardeo Ligero núm. 7 (Light Bombardment Wing No. 7) equipped with Heinkel He-111. The German-designed aircraft were transferred to Malaga in 1959 when Ala de Caza núm. 5 (Fighter Wing No. 5) was established at Morón with North American F-86 Sabres.

In 1970, new fighters landed at Morón: the first Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighters built under licence by CASA at its Getafe plant. The following year they were incorporated into Ala Táctica núm. 21 (Tactical Wing No. 21). The unit took a noticeable part in the operations carried out during the decolonization of Sahara. The F-5s operated out of Morón until 1992 when CASA C-101 Aviojets, coming from the Academia General del Aire at Matacán, provisionally replaced them.

SRF-5A AR.9-060 21-55 Preserved 20060926LEMO 01.jpgIn 1993, Morón saw the arrival of the Lockheed P-3 Orions. They came from the disbanded Ala 22 that was based at Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz). They were incorporated as Grupo 22 into Ala 21. In 1995 the C-101s began to return to their original base and Grupo 21 started to train for the arrival of ex-US Navy F/A-18As. The first eight refurbished Hornets arrived at Morón in 1996. Following the closure of Manises air base (Valencia), Ala 21 was renamed Ala 11 on 30 July 1999 in order to keep the historic bequest of this famous unit. The Hornets were moved to Ala 46 at Gando air base, Las Palmas in 2002 and Morón prepared itself for the arrival of the first Eurofighter EF-2000, known as C.16 in the Spanish Ejército del Aire.

EUROFIGHTERS

EF-2000 C.16-22 11-02 Ala 11 20060926LEMO 0330.jpgEurofighter is the result of a joint project between Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom to produce a multi-role strike fighter aircraft. It is built by Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH, which is made up of the major aerospace companies of the four Eurofighter partner nations: EADS-DASA, Alenia Aeronautica, EADS-CASA and BAE Systems. The Spanish company has a 14% share in the programme, corresponding to the 87 aircraft the Spanish Air Force has committed to order.

On 27 May 2004, the first three CE.16 aircraft (Spanish designation for the two-seaters) arrived at Morón. They came together with the first seven qualified pilots and an initial group of maintenance personnel who have followed a nine-month training and conversion course at the EADS-CASA facilities in Getafe where the aircraft are manufactured.

In anticipation of the arrival of the new fighter, a series of improvement works took place at Morón: 05 buildingnew hangars were built and sun sheds were erected on the flight line. New facilities were also built such as an engine test area for the EJ200 engines and a brand new Eurofighter training building. All ground training for pilots and maintenance personnel is done in that facility which contains numerous classrooms and briefing rooms, a cockpit procedures trainer – that allows Eurofighter crews to practice emergency procedures – and a state of the art full-mission simulator housed in a 3,66-metre dome which gives a 360° field of view to the student pilot. A simpler cockpit trainer device is also available to the pilots. It has a limited display system providing a field-of-regard of 220° vertically and 100° horizontally using a back-projected multi-faceted screen. All these equipments allow more training to be done on the ground instead of actually flying a real airplane.

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In September 2006, 15 EF-2000s had been delivered to Ala 11 with the first 14 assigned to 113 Escuadrón, which is the Operational Conversion Unit. The squadron was officially stood up on 23 December 2003. It has a complement of 14 aircraft and 14 instructor pilots. Its mission is to carry out Phase I and II of the Eurofighter pilot training syllabus. Phase I (basic aircraft handling) covers take off and landing techniques, formation and IFR flying. Phase II (basic weapon system employment) teaches intercept procedures and basic combat manoeuvres in 2v1 and 2v2 engagements. When they graduate from the OCU, the pilots are Limited Combat Ready and are qualified as section wingmen. The last two phases of the training will be done at the operational squadrons level..

08 113escAs part of its tasks, 113 Escuadrón is currently developing tactical manuals and operational training programmes to be implemented by the operational squadrons. Phase III of the Eurofighter pilot training (basic operational training) will concentrate on basic combat manoeuvre in 2v1, 2v2, 2v4, 4v4 and multibogey scenarios, including DACT. Section leaders and flight leaders will also be trained during this phase. Phase IV will be the advanced operational training part of the curriculum. It will cover participation of pilots into COMAOs and exercises like TLP or NOMAD. Package commanders will be qualified during this phase. The first participation in the TLP (as ‘externals’) is expected sometime in 2007.

111 Escuadrón was activated at Morón air base on 1 May 2006. 09 111escIt will be the first operational Eurofighter squadron of the Spanish Air Force once it has reached its full complement of 21 pilots and 18 aircraft (16 single-seaters and 2 two-seaters). But first, it will also perform Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) of the new aircraft. The third squadron to fly the EF-2000 at Morón will be 112 Escuadrón, which will be activated in late 2007 or early 2008. Once Ala 11 is fully equipped with its 50 aircraft, it will be the turn of Albacete’s Ala 14 to receive the new EF-2000 in the next decade as a replacement for its venerable Dassault Mirage F.1s. Both 141 and 142 Escuadrones will convert to the Eurofighter.

ORIONS

P-3B P.3-12 22-35 Grupo 22 Escuadron 221 20060926LEMO 0197.jpgOccupying the northeastern corner of the base is Grupo 22. Its only component is 221 Escuadrón, which is equipped with Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The Orions were acquired in several batches with the first three second-hand P-3As being delivered in 1973. They were supplemented by 4 extra P-3As leased from the US Navy in 1978. These four stayed in Spain until 1988 when five P-3Bs were bought from Norway. The Orions were first operated from Jerez air base but were transferred to Morón in October 1993.

Today, the 250 men and women of 221 Escuadrón operate 7 Orions. Two remaining Alphas are mainly used for pilot training and for logistic support missions. The main tasks assigned to Escuadrón 221 are performed by the 5 P-3Bs, which are in the process of being upgraded to P-3M standard. EADS-CASA was awarded a contract in 2002 for an extensive modification programme for the P-3B mission equipment suite with the installation of the Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) and state of the art sensors (360° search radar, IFF interrogator, IR/EO turret, ESM, acoustic system and Link-11 Data Link). Communication and navigation systems are also upgraded and a new ground Mission Support Facility is provided as well. The first upgraded Orion was delivered to Grupo 22 in 2005 and the last P-3M should arrive at Morón in 2007.

The Orions are used for antisubmarine warfare 11 221esc(ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW), maritime patrols, mining operations, search and rescue (SAR), command and control missions, photographic and electronic intelligence and they can act as communications relay. They also perform anti-drug trafficking and illegal immigration control missions. A standard Orion crew is made up of 14 persons who work in close coordination to meet the mission objectives. The Spanish P-3 fleet has already amassed more than 30.000 flying hours with a lot of crewmembers reaching the 5.000-hour mark.

221 Escuadrón has taken part in many major multinational exercises and has participated in NATO and WEU-led peacekeeping operations under UN control. The most recent deployment took place between March 2002 and February 2004 when one P-3B and 50 personnel were based at Djibouti. They performed more than 240 missions over the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and around the Horn of Africa as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

THE AMERICAN PRESENCE

An agreement was signed in September 1953 C-5A 70-0449 164AW 155AS 20060926LEMO 01.jpgfor the use of Spanish air bases by American armed forces. Morón was one of these bases (the other two being Torrejon and Zaragoza) and came under the control of Strategic Air Command. On 13 May 1958, the first flight of Boeing B-47s were assigned to Morón AB to conduct Reflex Action duty: standing nuclear alert on the ground with fully armed aircraft ready to launch in 15 minutes of the order being given. Six weeks later, the first rotational fighter squadron – F-100s from George AFB, CA – arrived for temporary duty to conduct air defence alert missions. The first KC-135 deployed to Morón in April 1963 but the Stratojet presence was halted in March 1965.

In 1966 Morón was transferred to the United States Air Forces in Europe and from then on only supported temporary deployments by RF-4 and RF-101 reconnaissance units. From 1969 until 1983 the base was in a stand-by status supporting only occasional flying activities. A new US-Spanish bilateral agreement was signed in May 1983. It authorized the US to station up to 15 tanker aircraft at Morón and since then the base hosted multiple exercises and has developed into a major peacetime staging base.

Larger deployments took place during international crisis like operations Desert Shield (22 KC-135s and KC-10s between August 1990 and January 1991) and Desert Storm over Iraq (24 B-52s, 3 KC-135s and 2.800 personnel from January to March 1991). In February 1999 Morón became the home of the 92nd AEW with 37 tankers tasked with providing fuel to aircraft involved in operation Allied Force over Kosovo.

KC-135R 63-8045 D 100ARW 351ARS 20060926LEMO 01.jpgSince January 2000, Morón’s mission has matured to make the base a key element in supporting the rotation of Aerospace Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Tankers, fighters from the Air Force and the Marine Corps, and airlifters use Morón as a staging base for AEF operations in EUCOM and CENTCOM areas of responsibilities. As an example, during our visit on 26 September 2006, the following US aircraft were present on the huge ramp: 1 C-5, 1 C-17, 3 KC-10s, 6 KC-135s, 1 E-8, a dozen F-15Es from Seymour Johnson AFB and two F-16s from Canon AFB. The 712th Air Base Group is the USAF host unit at Morón.

Morón is also an emergency landing site for NASA’s space shuttles. The American space agency selected Morón in March 1984 to become a Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) site. The base has been equipped with special navigation and landing aids so that the shuttle could land here should problems occur during the launch sequence from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

With a new state of the art fighter aircraft steadily settling in, a modernized Orion fleet and regular American deployments, Morón is assured of a bright future.

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We would like to thank the Spanish Air Force’s Communication and Social Relationship Office for making this visit possible. We are also grateful to Colonel Machés, Ala 11 and Moron Air Base Commander, and the pilots and ground staff of Ala 11 for escorting us around their air base.

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