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Interview with Bernhard Berset, Chief Test Pilot of armasuisse and Project Leader Evaluation NKF.

ESD: Mr Berset, what is the subject of Swiss flight testing, what does it cover and what is the focus?
Berset: During the test phase, which is part of the regular procedure of a procurement project, the capabilities and characteristics of the combat aircraft are assessed. The basis is the military requirements and the answers to a very long questionnaire, which had to be answered by the manufacturers with the tender. During the flight test, the manufacturer’s specifications are checked. The focus is, above all, on the performance of the sensors, their integration into the combat system and presentation of the information to the pilot. In addition, the flight performance and flight characteristics are examined.

However, this flight test is only one part of it. Equally important is the verification of logistical and operational aspects, such as the provision of aircraft numbers. Daily operations are a major part of the costs.

Prior to the actual flight tests in Switzerland, two-week tests were, therefore, carried out in the simulator in the country of manufacture. Compared to previous evaluations, the number of flight hours flown can be significantly reduced and costs saved. For logistics and operation, product-related audits are also carried out at the manufacturers or air forces of the production countries.

ESD: Why are the new fighters tested in Switzerland and not in the producer‘s country?
Berset: Not all tests take place in Switzerland. Important parts of the soil testing and verification in the simulators take place in the country of manufacture because we can perform them there with less effort and better quality.

However, it was a requirement for the producer countries that the actual flight testing must take place in Switzerland. This is the only way to ensure that all candidates have the same test conditions. This enables, for example, the same target presentation or use of the sensors in the same environment and topography. It also ensures that the new systems function in harmony with the existing systems and infrastructures.

ESD: What are the biggest challenges during the tests? Are there any risks?
Berset: The number of candidates is a challenge. We carefully plan the effort and make sure that the scope and depth of the tests are as comprehensive and efficient as possible. During the entire procurement project, and, thus, also in flight testing, risks are systematically recorded, monitored and, if possible, minimised or eliminated. For example, we schedule reserve blocks for weather-related flight cancellations wherever possible.

ESD: How do you ensure that all types are evaluated the same way?
Berset: On the one hand, all candidates must complete the same examination programme, while on the other hand, the documentation and evaluation is carried out using precisely defined processes and methods. These activities are carried out by mixed teams of air force, army staff, army logistics base, command support base and armasuisse with the involvement of all departments.

ESD: What is the role of armasuisse? What tasks does the Air Force have?
Berset: Basically, armasuisse carries out the evaluation in this procurement phase. However, during the tests, we work as an integrated team. In addition to the organisational units mentioned before, military departments, such as military security, also help with the evaluation. Based on the jointly developed results, the formal responsibility for the general and logistical troop suitability remains with the army staff, the air force or the logistics base of the army and with armasuisse for the ‘maturity’ of the procurement.

ESD: What are your highlights?
Berset: To be able to carry out these tests successfully with a motivated and integrated team.

ESD: You are the chief test pilot. Will you fly the planes personally? Or who will do it instead of you?
Berset: The two-seater candidates will have two Air Force test pilots and two armasuisse test pilots flying together with a manufacturer’s test pilot. For bidders with only single-seater fighters, this task is performed by the manufacturer’s pilots. They fly exactly according to our mission criteria list and all parameters are, nonetheless, recorded. All candidates are evaluated according to the same principles by Swiss test pilots and flight test engineers. As a sub-project manager for testing, I focus on managing these evaluation activities and leave the actual flying to my colleagues.

The interview was conducted by Georg Mader.