NAMFI: Speed and Precision

Hawk Hawk Séquence de tir d'un missile "I-Hawk" en Crète. © L.Schmitz.

Firing sequence of a 'I-Hawk' missile in Crete. © L.Schmitz.
In June 1991, I embarked as a Safety Officer for a period of live firing on the island of Crete. After long hours on board of a C-130H Hercules the personnel of the firing squad landed at the NATO Missile Firing Installation (NAMFI), a polygon managed by NATO where the live firing of the missile units was conducted. The next day we took delivery of the equipment that the Greek technicians had provided to us. It would have been too expensive to move our own missiles on location. The Greek radars were notoriously bad and it was with surprise that we conducted all the acceptance tests without the slightest problem. This allowed the battery to save several days, originally planned to repair all the expected defects. The second day was devoted to a dry run, a sort of rehearsal during which the international evaluators ruthlessly checked the quality of our work. Points were lost for each error or mistake. Twenty percent for a serious fault or a ‘major item’ broken, five percent for a defective accessory, one percent for a minor error and a quarter percent for a ‘misuse’, like using a flat screwdriver for a cross screw...

Hawk The heat on the site was unbearable and the only shade available within hundreds meters around was under the missile launcher. We had to wait for hours before all systems were ready. After consulting the security documents, I authorized the team to rest under the launcher in a relative freshness. That was when an American major arrived. The evaluator was a strict looking giant of nearly two meters tall. I expected a severe reprimand and actually, he ordered us out of there immediately. My men emerged from the shadow with a repented expression on their face and an appropriate story to soften the evaluator. But to everyone's surprise, he exhibited a glass jar and he disappeared under the launcher. A moment later he went out, laughing. A huge scorpion had been taken prisoner in the jar... The major, who turned out to be a native from Louisiana, insisted on speaking French. But his accent was so atrocious that we did not understand anything. Out of politeness, I said ’yes’ from time to time, hoping that it fell well into the conversation. After a few minutes he took two umbrellas out of his jeep, tapped me on the shoulder and left us smiling. We all bid him farewell with great signs.

Hawk That evening we discovered that the our team had received an outstanding rating, ‘Excellent - 100%’. Everybody was not so lucky. A radar repairman lost points because he had bitten his pencil: ‘Misuse - lead pencils are not edible!’ Another was so stressed that he drummed with his fingers on the radar console: ‘Misuse - a radar display is not a drum’... On the third day, the gods of the Hawk were with us. After a fast preparation the missile was launched against its target, an unmanned aircraft flying over the Mediterranean. The telemetry indicated a Kill. The missile, of which the explosive charge had been disabled, missed the UAV by six feet only (two meters). Such a result was rarely achieved. The Hawk had not been designed to collide with the target. Its warhead was so effective that any target situated at a distance of less than 300 meters was considered destroyed! The final result of the unit was 95.25%. A score which confirmed the Alpha battery reputation as one of the best of the Belgian Hawk batteries. As the firing campaign had been done within a very short period and as the C-130 would not come back before the end of the week, there was nothing else to do for the team than to celebrate its good score. The traditional ‘Missile Away Party’ held at a local restaurant was also a complete success: it seemed that the tables were littered with bottles of Ouzo. I can’t confirm this, as I didn’t remember anything... The following days were spent on the beach and the nights in several local bars. We found out that at this period of the year, the tourist town of Chania was invaded by female English students in search of sun and adventures...

NATO TacEval

Hawk The TacEval (Tactical Evaluation) meant war! Well, almost. For one week, the whole battalion hosted a detachment of foreign evaluators. The latter provoked ‘incidents’ in a simulated secret scenario. In all cases, at the end of the first day the enemy ‘Red Land’ threatened to attack and the Hawk batteries had to leave their sites to avoid a pre-emptive strike. The movement took place at night and under wartime conditions. Everything was permitted, provided that the security of the men was guaranteed. After the fighting (after the end of the world by nuclear strikes), the battalion received a qualification more or less good according to its ability to shoot down enemy planes, in whatever circumstances. The TacEval was prepared for many months. The Commander of the battalion required perfection! As the Alpha battery was anyway the best, our commander adopted a different philosophy: "To be the best is not the important thing. The important thing is that they think that we are the best...” This implied a certain arrogance that suited us perfectly.

BCC La console principale du BCC du 43A à Brakel. © Collection M.Wyffels.

The BCC main console of the 43A at Brakel. © M.Wyffels collection.
The village of Essentho, where the battalion was housed, was a dead-and-alive hole. So, on the eve of the TacEval, the evaluators arrived at our place in Korbach. They were partly housed in hotels in our beautiful city (for the senior officers) and partly in our comfortable mess. It must be noted that the majority of the Belgian BCO were lieutenants, while in other armies they were often senior officers. The same evening, the barracks experienced a joyous animation while we fraternized with our foreign colleagues. We found out that the Americans did not stand well the delicious Belgian beer. And it was not the pretty female major who walked naked in the corridor of the showers that would have contradicted me... At the same time in Essentho, the bars were closed because everyone had to rest in preparation for this tough week! At dawn, our battery commander had kindly made two minibuses with drivers available to these majors and colonels, to facilitate their movement in this unknown region. So we would know exactly when they would show up ‘unexpectedly’ to control us... As usual, the ‘war’ began with some terrorist acts and soon degenerated into an open conflict. For once, 110% of the personnel and equipment of the battery was on strength. That was normal: what was missing had been requisitioned at the 43rd Battalion, the other Belgian Hawk unit. The evaluators would not see the difference. At about eleven o'clock the High-Power Bravo broke down. The replacement part would not arrive before one hour and it is during that critical period that a German colonel decided to enter the BCC. As I welcomed him politely, my assistant discreetly unscrewed the red bulb indicating the situation. "Alles in Ordnung?" asked the colonel. "Jawohl!" I said pointing towards the blank warning panel. After a few minutes the evaluator left satisfied.

NATO UNCLASSIFIED Le contenu de cet article est basé sur des sources appartenant au domaine public et ne comporte aucun renseignement actuellement classifié.

The content of this article is based on sources in the public domain and it contains no currently classified information.

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