Helicopter Initiatives

Jan 17, 2016

Start Date: 2009
End Date: n/a.
Participating Countries: AT, BE, CZ, DE, EL, FI, HU, IT, LU, NL, PT, SE, UK, NO
Other partners:

The helicopter has become a key enabler in modern crisis management operations, especially when countering an asymmetric effect. Despite having significant numbers of rotary-wing aircraft (more than 1700 helicopters in the military inventories) successive operations have been short of vital helicopter support. In consultation with Member States, several key strands were thought to contribute to this non-employability: a lack of training for the crews, a lack of technical equipment for the aircraft, and the difficulties of logistic support to deployed operations. EDA is helping pMS address these issues with the training element being the main focus.

Project goals

  • Capability need: shortage of available helicopters for crisis management operations, where terrain (large distances, deserts, mountains) and lack of security (road-side bombs, etc.) set a high demand on helicopter use.
  • EDA activity: improve immediate output through the pooling and sharing of skills, knowledge and experience among European countries.
  • Means: Multinational exercises, annual symposium, synthetic training, “Train the Trainer” (helicopter instructor training), platform-specific workshops, multinational formations.
  • Results: between 2009 and 2016 : 206 helicopters, 1320 aircrew members and 10000 infantry have deployed to the exercises which were held in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium. 590 aircrew from 12 different countries have graduated from the EDA Helicopter Tactics Course. Total of 43 Tactics Instructors from 5 nations have  graduated from Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course.

Detailed description of the project 


The overall concept was approved at the Ministerial Steering Board in November 2009. Its aim is to provide Member States with a framework to develop, consolidate and share best practices in order to meet the challenges of flying helicopters in a modern operational environment. The European Defence Agency provides several individual and interlinked projects:

- Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP)

- Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC)

- Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC)

- Operational English Language Course (OELC)



The Programme Arrangement (PA), the framework document of the HEP, was signed by the 13 contributing Member States in November 2012. This act formally transitioned the HEP to a Category B programme. By enhancing the operating skills of helicopter crews across Europe, the HEP plays a part in increasing the deployable helicopter capability for contingency operations. The exercises focus on individual, environmental and multinational training, increasing interoperability through practical experiences, sharing operational experience and developing common tactics, techniques and procedures. HEP is a ten-year programme, a concrete indication that training together is an integral part of enhancing European capability and interoperability.

The HEP is built on three main pillars:

a) Exercises

Seven exercises have so far been delivered under the umbrella of the EDA. These exercises met the urgent training requirements for the participating Member States (pMS) and greatly enhanced the helicopter capability available. To date, 14 pMS have actively taken part with another three sending observers.  A total of 206 helicopters, 1320 aircrew and more than 10000 support personnel  have deployed to the exercises which were held in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.  The exercise in Logroño, Spain - EX AZOR 2010, built on the success of the first EDA Exercise in Gap. Much larger, indeed probably the largest multination helicopter exercise in Europe since the Cold War, AZOR 2010 was an ambitious exercise providing hot high and dust training to a significant number of crews before they deployed on operations. This met an urgent training requirement for the pMS concerned and greatly enhanced the helicopter capability available.  The exercise in Italy continued this process, by focussing much more on the interoperability and “coalition” type missions.

HOT BLADE 12 in Portugal introduced COMAO training and included F-16 over-watch missions to replicate current operational practices.

GREEN BLADE 12 in Belgium introduced Special Operations to the programme for the first time, and was an integrated ground and air exercise.

HOT BLADE 13 in Portugal further developed COMAO planning/execution/evaluation. Hot/high/dusty environment. HEP SOP introduced for the first time as common agreed standard. Mentor Team introduced, consisting from HTIC graduates.

HOT BLADE 14 in Portugal focussed on joint interoperability training with a setup similar to previous editions. Mentor team tasks/responsibilities were expanded.

ITALIAN BLADE 15 in Viterbo, Italy, continued  to develop joint interoperability training through the integration of multinational elements, both in the air and on the ground , in a hot and dusty environment.

COLD BLADE 16 will be held in Finland, focusing on flying in demanding environmental conditions. The exercise is developed to test the helicopters, test the aircrew and to teach and learn Technics, Tactics and Procedures in cold and snowy conditions.

BLACK BLADE 16 is in the intensive planning phase, the SOF exercise will start in November 2016 in Belgium.

b) Symposia

Beside the exercises, an integral part of the HEP is the Helicopter Tactics Symposium which was held four times in Luxembourg. It is designed to allow helicopter crews to share experiences, gain knowledge of the current threats they face and discuss tactics, techniques and procedures. The last Helicopter Tactics Symposium was held in Prague in December 2014.

c) Core Planning Team (CPT)

In order to ensure coherence and continuity of the programme, a CPT of two personnel has been appointed (initially DE and CZ filled the CPT in accordance with the PA). Sharing the office with the EDA Helicopter Programme Officers, together they form the helicopter team within EDA's Cooperation Planning & Support (CPS) Directorate. The CPT is managed through the EDA Helicopter Programme Manager, ensuring that the knowledge and experience gained so far transitions into this programme. The CPT is tasked by the Management Committee formed by the representatives of the contributing Member States (cMS). The main tasks are to assist host nations in the delivery of exercises and take any lessons identified and integrate them into future exercises. Additionally, the team is also able to give training advice to cMS to assist with the national training task as required.



 This is a Category B programme involving 7 Member States. It delivers operational helicopter tactics training aimed at crews designated for upcoming deployment. It focusses on the understanding of the fluid and often ill-defined modern operational environment. It concentrates on the judgemental and cognitive training necessary to meet the complex challenges faced. Using commercial off-the-shelf components and serious gaming technologies, the course consists of both theoretical lessons and realistic missions conducted in a synthetic environment. Initially, the programme ran for two years (until the end of 2013) to meet the urgent requirement set by the deployment timelines. Currently, the programme is running under the new framework document, covering three years (2014-2016), with a new set of participating nations.  40 crews per year (160 aircrew members) are being trained in the tactics used on current operations. There is an opportunity for other nations to benefit from this programme if they so wish. 



Despite the outstanding achievement of the HEP and HTC we could never hope to accommodate all the crews across Europe who would benefit from such training. Consequently, we need to also focus on methods to train the trainers. Therefore, the Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (HTIC) has been created.  This course provide aircrew from participating nations with the skills and knowledge to then deliver tactics training within their own organisations and to assist in delivering the HEP, HTC and future HTIC. Successful graduates from the course are awarded a qualification recognised by all the EU Member States (or at least all those participating in the programme if more practicable).



Direct observation of crews operating in complex high-intensity operations quickly leads to the conclusion that the language used in airspace control and the prosecution of opportunity targets, bears little resemblance to the language taught in schools. Consequently, in order to verify the requirement and potential benefits of a more focussed language course, the EDA conducted three trial “Operational English Language Courses”. Funded by Luxembourg and conducted at the UK Defence Language School (UK DLS), 35 students from 11 countries attended a 4-week residential course. 



It is becoming more and more certain that future operations will have to be conducted in a coalition. This requires members of our armed forces to be able to rapidly deliver operational effects together. The HEP provides live-flying and the HTC provides simulator training, but both require assets to be deployed away from home, incurring costs. Therefore, we need to be able to train together while remaining at home and this can be achieved through a distributed network of simulators. 

This has been the subject of work within our pMS and NATO. However, delivery so far has been limited to nodes operated by the same commercial organisation or between high-end simulators using bespoke networks. What is needed is a low-cost but high-value training mechanism. This could be delivered using commercial-off-the-shelf components, open architectures and games-based synthetic environments as used in the EDA HTC. 

In September 2013, the UK conducted a Capability Concept Demonstrator (CCD) using a wide range of simulator nodes.  They will be basing this on the VBS2 software and normal internet connections and protocols. The EDA also wishes to deliver a credible CCD. Consequently, there is an opportunity to realise synergies between the UK, the HTC and the EDA and build a bigger network, with more diversity, thus creating a more comprehensive demonstration.

The project and technical management for the UK side will be provided by NITEWORKS ( a totally UK government funded, non-profit research organisation) and this support will be extend to integrate the EDA assets within the same CCD.

The first demonstration was executed in February 2013 with the link up of the HTC, German and Austrian simulator devices and has already proved its functionality.




Introducing an aircraft to service is a complex and costly process. With many participating Member States currently in the process of fielding the NH90 helicopter, there is an opportunity to reduce introduction times, man-hours expended and ultimately money through the sharing of experiences, processes and data. In order to investigate this potential, and as a result of a request from Germany and Italy, the EDA has already hosted five NH90 users workshops.

These meetings were very positive and the participating experts identified three key areas (Training, Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) and Technical Interoperability) they believed provided the best opportunities to reduce duplication of effort,while  provide substantive savings and increasing effectiveness of the global European NH90 fleet. It was also decided that the formation of an Ad Hoc Project Group (AHPG) for each area was the most appropriate vehicle to exploit these opportunities. NH90 training has been completely integrated into the EDA helicopter training programme. 


The concept is to form a Multinational Helicopter Wing (MHW) consisting of three helicopter elements: heavy-lift, medium-lift and attack. The burden of provision and sustainment, which is prohibitive for many nations acting alone, would be shared across several countries in order to make it affordable and achievable. This Wing could provide a sustained deployment to operations, whilst also providing guaranteed support to EU Battlegroups and, simultaneously, a permanent alert capability for disaster/humanitarian relief. 



Strategic Context:                                     

  • Coalition operations will be the norm
  • They will be Ad Hoc coalitions formed of countries who have a foreign policy alignment at that time and place
  • They will not be standing structures
  • They will not always be under NATO, EU or UN
  • They will be reactive and short notice in creation
  • They will cover the spectrum from humanitarian relief to war-fighting, possibly within the same mission
  • They will be assigned under the background of increasing financial restraints

The military need to provide our decision makers/national leaderships with a plug and play solution, that can be used when and where they chose.

To achieve this skills and knowledge among pMS air crews must be harmonised and comparable at any and all agreed levels. This requires a harmonisation of the currently disparate training syllabi. This should also be coherent with and recognised by the civilian licensing authority. Finally, it is also necessary to define what we mean when we use expressions like e. g. Basic Flying Training, Advanced Flying Training, Combat Ready or Qualified Military Pilot. Crews should not only be viewed as ready for deployment from a national point of view, but also from wider and common European perspective.



Participating Member States

  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech
  • Germany
  • Estonia
  • Ireland
  • Greece
  • Spain
  • France
  • Croatia
  • Italy
  • Cyprus
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Hungary
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Austria
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • UK