Helicopter Initiatives

Jul 2, 2017

Start Date: 2009
End Date: n/a.
Participating Member States: AT, BE, CZ, DE, EL, FI, HU, IT, LU, NL, PT, SE, SI, 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 participating Member States (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 2017: 243 helicopters, 1590 aircrew members and over 10,000 infantry have been deployed to the exercises which were held in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Finland,  Belgium and Hungary. 590 aircrew from 12 different countries have graduated from the EDA Helicopter Tactics Course. Total of 59 Tactics Instructors from 5 nations have graduated from Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course.

Detailed description of the project 

1. EDA Helicopter Training

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)
  • COMAO Planning Course
  • Electronic Warfare (EW) Course



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

Eleven 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 other European countries  sending observers. .  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  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  in Florennes, Belgium, focussed on joint interoperability training with SOF Forces.

FIRE BLADE 17 in Papa, Hungary, focussed on live firing. European helicopter units executed national training combined with challenging COMAO scenarios on Hungarian shooting ranges.

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  latest Helicopter Tactics Symposium was held in  Athens in  November  2016. The eight Symposium will be held in the Netherlands in November 2017.

c) Core Planning Team (CPT)

In order to ensure coherence and continuity of the programme, a CPT of two personnel has been appointed in accordance with the Programme Arrangement. Together they form the helicopter team within EDA's Cooperation Planning & Support (CPS) Directorate. The CPT is managed through the EDA Helicopter Programme Manager (will be Project Officer Rotary Wing), 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 simulator tactics training aimed  for whole crews designated for upcoming deployment. It focuses 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 a framework contract (FWC) till the end of 2017 and the evaluation for a new 5 year FWC will start in July 2017. 36 crews per year (150 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). The Helicopter Tactics Instructors are used to form the Mentor Teams during the HEP exercises.


1.4  COMAO Planning Course

The COMAO Planning Course will run for two weeks in the UK and cover the background, theory and application of COMAO planning with a focus on rotary operations.  

Following the theory element, a series of daily missions will be planned and briefed by the course participants.  The trainees will be mentored and instructed by Helicopter Tactics Instructors and other selected specialists.  To expose the trainees to the expert thinking of the other specialisations, the Course will be augmented with aircrew from numerous other platform types including fast-jet, AWACs, Attack Helicopter and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). The daily missions will follow an increasingly complex intelligence-based scenario that will incrementally introduce a full spectrum of capabilities and threats.


1.5 Electronic Warfare (EW) Course

The EW course will run for a 2 week period and aims to provide selected personnel with an understanding of the basic theory of airborne EW systems.  

The syllabus will include basic EW theory and doctrine, Radio Frequency (RF) and Infra Red (IR) threats, warning systems and countermeasures.  

It will also cover general principles of employment of aircraft equipment and Defensive Aids Systems (DAS) including coalition interoperability issues.

Whilst the focus will be on rotary issues, a range of other platforms, both land and air based, will be studied throughout the 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.




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