NATO

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Ramstein, Germany - NATO air refuelling experts have been using an innovative computer software programme, JIGSAW, to plan tanker missions during Ramstein Ambition 21. NATO purchased the new technology in late 2020 and this is the first time air-to-air refuelling specialists have trained with the new planning tool.

"Using the software processing power of JIGSAW to plan air-to-air refuelling missions has significantly reduced the time and staff needed to plan these complex flights. Exploiting technological advances like this is critical to maintaining NATO’s innovative edge," said Brigadier General Andrew Hansen, Director Joint Force Air Component at Allied Air Command. “The major benefit JIGSAW has offered to our air operations staff is increased agility and speed to re-plan flights to meet changing operational objectives," he added.

Currently, air-to-air refuelling is a complex and time-consuming process that requires highly trained staff to manually calculate fuel loads and plot flight paths to bring aircraft together over vast distances for refuelling. During exercise Ramstein Ambition 21 over 600 sorties per day were being planned and consequently, the tanker support required was dynamic and demanding.

"A last minute change to a specific mission necessitated a re-plan of six hours’ worth of refuelling in a particular area. I was able to re-plan the tanker sorties within ten minutes," said Squadron Leader David Bennett, air-to-air refuelling Staff Officer. "The ability of the system to quickly allow us to adapt is game changing," he added.

Allied Command Transformation lead innovation and experimentation on behalf of NATO and were requested by Allied Air Command to explore options to overcome the manpower intensive air-to-air refuelling planning process. Allied Command Transformation was able to procure the JIGSAW software for NATO Air Operations Centres around the world from the US Department of Defence. An Allied Command Transformation team attended the two-week Ramstein Ambition 21 exercise to trial the use of JIGSAW and to provide training for air-to-air refuelling planners from a number of Allied nations.

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Clow is the Allied Command Transformation Innovation lead for the JIGSAW project. “To keep our nations safe in such an unpredictable environment, we need to keep our Alliance strong. Innovation and experimentation are critical components of NATO’s future defence, security, and deterrence,” said Clow. “A culture of experimentation at Allied Command Transformation allows us to consistently revamp and develop our capabilities and embrace new concepts to make our Alliance more successful.”

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office. Original version here.