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European helicopter deployability is boosted by Special Operations exercise

The European Defence Agency’s Helicopter Training Programme is holding its latest exercise, this time in Belgium; enhancing deployability by training personnel in multinational helicopter missions, while demonstrating the advantages and concrete results of cooperation in the context of Pooling & Sharing efforts. Exercise Green Blade is focusing on helicopter-special forces cooperation, a vital area of modern operations.

Exercise Green Blade runs from 17 September to 5 October 2012, hosted by the Belgian Air Component. Running together with Exercise Pegasus, a Special Operations training exercise, the two groups will work closely together on numerous missions. With helicopters from Belgium, Germany and Italy, the two exercises in total draw together some 800 personnel from seven countries: EDA Member States Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Ireland and Spain (as well as Canada for the Pegasus exercise).

In total 18 helicopters will deploy to Kleine Brogel Airbase, varying from transport (CH47), to utility (A109, UH-1D) and attack helicopters (A129). They will work in concert with other air assets, to maximize the realism of these testing missions; supporting assets will include an AWACS; F16; C130; and UAVs. The Belgian UAV, the B-Hunter, will be integrated for reconnaissance and surveillance of targets in direct support of the Special Forces, as well as for area surveillance during Personnel Recovery scenarios.

The exercise will principally take place in the North of Belgium, with some missions taking place over Southeast Belgium. This vast and challenging training area is characterized by a low population density, a varied geography and a favourable airspace classification.

Helicopters will execute around 65 missions of steadily increasing complexity, from typical Special Operations-related missions, such as insertion/extraction, Direct Action, Personnel Recovery, and Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance, by day and by night, in single or multiship configurations. The exercise will also include more conventional types of missions, such as Airmobile Operations, Recce & Surveillance and Medical Evacuation, as well as non-tactical training missions, such as Night Vision Goggle-flying, Nap of Earth flight and Gun Firing. These missions will add up to around 650 crucial Flying Hours.

The exercise, planning for which began in June 2011, will demonstrate the benefits of cooperation in the context of Pooling & Sharing efforts, delivering an exercise that few EDA Member States could undertake alone, enhancing helicopter deployability and freeing up scarce resources for other investments in the defence sector. Peter Round, EDA Capabilities Director, explained: “We fight together, and so we have to work together, pooling our resources. An exercise like this is the best way to deliver high quality training in these challenging times.”

EDA Helicopter Activity

The exercise is one part of wider ongoing EDA work to boost deployability, as requested by Member States. Green Blade is the latest in a series of increasingly effective helicopter exercises, held in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal since 2009 under the Helicopter Exercise Programme. The programme has so far involved 108 helicopters. Exercise Green Blade will be the first of these exercises run by the new Core Planning Team, which will steer the programme in the long-term, incorporating lessons learned and enhancing helicopter deployability for Member States.

The EDA has also worked with its Member States to create the Helicopter Tactics Course in the UK, with 18 crews trained thus far. A new ‘train-the-trainers’ initiative is planned for this year; the European Qualified Helicopter Tactics Course, which is a joint effort by Sweden and the UK, aims to create a recognised tactics instructor cadre across Europe. Work has also started to harmonize helicopter flying training across participating Member States; trial courses have been delivered in Operational English Language learning and later this year, the EDA will conduct a capability concept demonstration into the use of distributed simulator training.

EDA and Pooling & Sharing

The Agency’s helicopter work sits alongside a succession of EDA programmes to pool and share assets and resources, enhancing the overall military capabilities of the EDA’s Member States in challenging times for defence. Similar programmes include the Tactical Air Transport strand, which recently held a major air exercise in Zaragoza, Spain, the EDA’s work in training Counter-IED professionals, and the recently launched pilot programme to pool demand for efficient procurement. The Agency is currently working on 10 Pooling & Sharing priority areas: Countering Improvised Explosive Devices; Medical support; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Helicopters; Cyber Defence; Multinational logistics support’; Common Security and Development Policy Information Exchange; Strategic & Tactical Airlift Management; and Fuel & Energy. This exercise provides an ideal opportunity to demonstrate the advances made by the EDA’s Pooling & Sharing initiative.

Logo for Exercise Green Blade

Top image credit: Agusta Westland