Kampagne FULCA 2002R.J. Heard/Focal Plane photography reports from Dübendorf AB on the recent deployment of Luftwaffe MiG-29s to Switzerland for air-combat training.
Background - An unprecedented event recently took place in Switzerland when Luftwaffe MiG-29s, from Laage AB in Germany, deployed to Dübendorf AB near Zurich, for two weeks of air combat training with F/A-18s of the Schweizer Luftwaffe during operation - "Fulcrum Campaign 2002" - or FULCA 2002.
The deployment was unique in many ways; being politically significant due to Switzerland's strict policy of neutrality, and militarily because it was the first occasion in which a foreign air arm was able to conduct Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) over Swiss territory on such a large scale.
As part of a five year Swiss Air Force F/A-18 training programme, the "Campaign" took place between 17 April and 3 May with MiG 29 crews from Jagdstaffel 1 / Jagdgeschwader 73 being hosted by Dübendorf's resident Fliegerstaffel 11.
Like many other Swiss Air Force missions involving NATO countries, such as Operation's NOMAD and NIGHTWAY, the legal basis for FULCA 2002 was provided through a special agreement passed by the Swiss Federal Council. The operation was also conducted in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding, (MoU), signed by both the Swiss and German Air Forces to promote mutual training.
The mission - The primary aim of FULCA 2002 was to provide a mutual air defence training operation for both Air Forces and to broaden the experience of their respective pilots by operating aircraft of two very different types over the unique Alpine environment. For the Swiss F/A-18 crews in particular it provided the first opportunity to gain experience of flying against an ex-'Eastern Bloc' aircraft and to see how the Hornet and the Swiss FLORIDA radar systems would perform against this very potent "Dogfighter". The MiG-29 'Fulcrum', equipped with the superb AA-11 'Archer' missile, coupled to the passive IR detection and helmet mounted fire control system, makes the aircraft a particularly difficult close-in adversary, and this was exploited to the full during training. Conversely the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) system of the F/A-18s, combined with the unique tactical operations in the Alps, also provided the MiG crews with strong training benefits as well.
FULCA 2002 is go! - Following an invitation to train in Switzerland, and initial planning, the first German MiG-29 arrived at Dübendorf on 13 February this year when MiG-29GT s/n 29+22 visited Dübendorf as part of a "pre-campaign" visit to arrange details for the main operation. This duly commenced a couple of months later when, on Wednesday 17 April, four MiG-29s (29+03, 29+15, 29+17 and 29+23) were escorted into Swiss airspace by F/A-18s of FlSt.11 and landed at Dübendorf to begin two weeks of intensive operations. Supporting their arrival were two C-160 "Transall" aircraft, (one on the 17th and the other on the 18th), which brought in necessary personnel and ground equipment, although some of this also arrived by road from Laage.
After their arrival aircrews spent the next day in safety and procedural briefings for familiarisation with operations in Switzerland's unique terrain and airspace. This theme was continued on 19 March when flying operations began with familiarisation flights around Switzerland, including practise approaches to some of the unique Alpine airfields like Meiringen and Sion.
After a weekend break combat training then began in earnest on Monday 22 April with a variety of Hornet v MiG missions taking place from Dübendorf daily. These were primarily 1 v 1 and 2 v 1 packages, with sortie tasking generally between three and four missions per day. However, due to strong environmental considerations, particularly in respect to the effect on the local population, other regular Tiger and Mirage flights were reduced during the course of the campaign so that the normal level of flight activity at Dübendorf effectively remained the same (after-burner departures are also banned at Dübendorf as a normal requirement).
Although initially reported to be a four "core" aircraft operation, i.e. 4 MiG-29s and 4 F/A-18s, by the end of the first week up to eight MiGs could be found on the airfield at anyone time, plus other GAF aircraft such as Heer CH-53s.
The start of the second week saw a shift in training away from Basic Fighter Manoeuvring operations, (BFR), to Beyond Visual Range, (BVR), training - but the tempo of missions remained the same. During this phase larger 4 v 4 sorties were undertaken, plus packages involving F/A-18 and F-5 v MiG combinations. The week also included a chance to do some sight-seeing before the MiGs finally left for home on 3 May.
intensive interest - Throughout the operation the Swiss people, the
Swiss Press and of course the Swiss aviation enthusiasts, all took an
immense interest in this operation. The Press covered the event in depth
both in the Newspapers and on TV, whilst the usual vantage points around
the airfield at times became swamped by people watching and taking photographs.
Naturally this also led to an increase in security and some of the roads
had to be blocked off as there was nowhere to park.
On two occasions during the deployment however the public got a close look at their visitors as a single MiG made a flypast at the "Tag der offenen Ture" day at Payerne AB on 26 April and a single MiG and F/A-18 were displayed on the static at the Airshow held for the new museum opening at Dübendorf on the 27th (see right).
Conclusion and the future - The deployment was a highly successful training operation for both parties and a significant political and military event for the Swiss Air Force in particular. Moreover the mission achieved its primary aim of promoting mutual gain in both training and friendship and to this end it is hoped that a reciprocal visit to Laage AB may be possible next year. For the MiG-29 the future is not so bright as it is likely that this will be phased out of service by 2004, the airframes having been sold to the Polish Air Force for the grand sum of one Euro! On the positive side the aircrews of 1./JG 73 will, however, have the honour of being the first front-line Luftwaffe unit to convert to the Eurofighter Typhoon, thus continuing its famous and proud tradition as a premier fighter unit.
The following two galleries link to high-quality images from the deployment.
The following links can provide more information and details about the units involved in this operation:
The author would like to pay particular thanks to the Swiss Air Force office of Public affairs and Lt.Col.P.Steiniger (GAF) for their help and assistance in the preparation of this article. I would also like to thank the SAF at Dübendorf for their hospitality during my visit and my "friends" in Switzerland for their help with this article.