One of the largest helicopter exercises in Europe gets under way today. Some 2700 personnel from all three services and seven countries will take part in Exercise Hot Blade from 4-19 July. The exercise forms part of the European Defence Agency’s Helicopter Training Programme.
Exercise Hot Blade draws on forces from Portugal (the hosts), and Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Finland - as well as observers from Sweden and the UK. The exercise area covers almost half of Portugal, and will be based at Ovar Air Base near Porto. Portugal are being supported by Luxembourg. Forces have been arriving over the last few days, by sea, land and air in a tricky logistical operation. Today they will receive briefings and prepare; after this evening’s opening ceremony, flying operations proper will begin tomorrow.
Hot Blade: Mission
Under the overall theme of hot, high and dusty conditions, a broad range of skills will be practiced, including Air Assault, Special Operations Aviation and Casualty Evacuation. In an important innovation, helicopters will work together with F-16 fighters, and crews will train with an embedded civil protection cell. Crews will fly in joint and combined formations, learning to communicate and trust one another in operational scenarios. The mission incorporates lessons learned from recent operations in Afghanistan and Libya.
This takes place under an umbrella scenario designed to test planners and crews in realistic conditions. The scenario is based in the fictional Idrasse Peninsula, where an EU Force is tasked with maintaining security conditions for humanitarian activities, surveilling and suppressing illegal armed groups, and deterring territorial incursions by a neighbouring state.
Hot Blade: Assets
The exercise employs a variety of assets. From Portugal, EH-101 Merlins will fly alongside F-16 fighters and C-160 transport aircraft. These are supported by an Air Force Control and Reporting Centre, a Tactical Air Control Party and a Force Protection Unit. The Portuguese Army have meanwhile contributed a Quick Response Brigade, a Special Operations Troops Centre, and a Commando Troops Centre, while the Portuguese Navy have contributed further Special Operations Forces.
From Belgium, A109 helicopters will participate, while Finland is providing NH90 helicopters. Germany is represented by CH53 Sea Stallions, while The Netherlands is contributing Cougar AS-532U2 and Chinook CH47D helicopters. From Austria come Agusta Bell 212 rotary wing assets. Each country will also contribute crews and support staff, and many are also making contributions-in-kind to the running of the exercise.
The breadth and variety of air assets, from many European states, presents a great opportunity to test and stretch crews and planners, who will learn to work together under operational pressure.
EDA & Helicopter Training Programme
The exercise is part of EDA’s Helicopter Training Programme. Hot Blade is the latest in a series of increasingly effective helicopter exercises, held in France, Spain and Italy since 2009. The exercise programme has delivered training to: 72 helicopters, 152 crews and over 1800 personnel. Over 50% crews that have participated have subsequently deployed to Afghanistan.
The programme has also involved the creation of the Helicopter Tactics Course in the UK, with 18 crews trained thus far, a new ‘train-the-trainers’ initiative to be held this year, work to harmonize helicopter flying training across participating Member States, trial courses in Operational English Language learning and experimentation with distributed simulator training. In this context, EDA looks forward to Exercise Green Blade, to be held in Belgium this Autumn, and to the creation of a core planning team to steer the programme in the long-term.
EDA & Cooperation
The Helicopter Training Programme is one of a number of EDA programmes that pool and share assets and resources, enhancing the overall military capabilities of the EDA’s Member States. Similar programmes include Tactical Air Transport, which recently held a major air exercise in Zaragoza, Spain, and the EDA’s work in training Counter-IED professionals.
Pictures and videos from the exercise are available here.