Helicopter training exercise HOT BLADE 2018, organised in May under the European Defence Agency’s Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) and hosted by the Portuguese Air Force at Beja airbase, was officially closed on 23 May by the Director of the Portuguese Air Operations, Brigadier General Rui de Freitas and José Pablo Romera, EDA Project Officer Rotary Wing.
With 29 air assets flying a total of more than 550 hours and around 1,200 military participants, the exercise (the 12th held under the HEP umbrella) demonstrated once again the immense added value of collaborative multinational training for participating States’ aircrews, maintenance staff, troops and support personnel under very demanding (hot, dusty, mountainous) conditions.
Six Member States (Belgium, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Slovenia and Portugal) deployed assets, including 21 helicopters of 7 different types (A-109, AS-532, EH-101, CH-47, MI-17, NH-90, SA-316). The first week included a complete day of briefings covering flight safety, expected battle rhythm, host nation support, and a helicopter academics session to refresh COMAO Mission Planning procedures. This theoretical element was followed by operational briefings designed to familiarise aircrews with Beja airbase, rehearse emergency procedures with firefighters and Special Operations Forces (SOF), get familiar with the different helicopter types and ensure high safety levels. The first week was completed with individual trainings, helicopter operations flown by day and by night, fighter evasion missions carried out with Portuguese F-16 fighter jets and helicopter firing drills. All participating Member States were able to reach their national training objectives.
During the second week, flying crews performed complex missions in a demanding but realistic environment, making full use of the dusty and mountainous surroundings and shooting ranges. As the exercise advanced, the multinational crews conducted ever more complex coalition level trainings culminating in the planning and execution of several Composite Air Operation (COMAO) missions. These covered a spectrum of advanced helicopter manoeuvre tactics including a large formation of helicopters with embarked troops, integration of Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) teams and paratroopers jumping from a Mi-17 helicopter and a C-295 aircraft, all set against complex threats such as SA-8 SAM, missiles and F-16 fighter jets.
Six instructors from Austria, Germany, Sweden and the UK, previously trained in EDA’s Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (HTIC), formed the HOT BLADE 2018 Mentor Team. It supported the multinational crews in the preparation and execution of the COMAO missions and identified valuable Lessons Learned to be applied in future exercises. Other lessons will be drawn from a more in-depth analysis of the exercise results which is currently underway.
The experience of planning, preparing and flying together in combined and joint missions is a critical requirement for maintaining operational readiness at a realistic level. With most nations facing budgetary constraints, such level of advanced training is almost impossible to achieve on a national basis. In addition to the cost benefits, the exercise also considerably improves interoperability which has become the trademark of the Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) and which was also underlined by the Exercise Director in his closing remarks: “Together we are stronger”.
HOT BLADE 2018 proved to be another important milestone on the way to meeting the HEP’s objective, namely to continuously improve Europe’s operational helicopter capability. The next ‘Blade’ exercise is scheduled to take place in the Czech Republic in May 2019.