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Live Exercise Brings 10th EDA Helicopter Training Programme To A Close

Brussels, 30 November 2016. Exercise BLACK BLADE ended its major training exercises today with a live demonstration which was attended by Head of the EDA, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini. Since the 14th of November an average of 400 personnel have taken part in the 10th EDA Helicopter Training Exercise which is hosted by Belgium at Florennes Airbase.

BLACK BLADE: Training Together, Succeeding Together

A total of 14 air assets from 4 Member States (13 helicopters from Belgium, Slovenia and Austria and one Falcon aircraft from the UK) have been deployed. Over a three week period, the combined air assets flew in excess of 300 mission hours across a combined 175 aircraft sorties. The exercise will officially end on the 2nd of December. 

BLACK BLADE is a Special Operations Forces (SOF) oriented helicopter exercise, featuring 70 members of the Belgian Special Forces who participated directly in the training missions. The exercise aimed to develop cooperation with SOF both in the air and on the ground.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) is working to provide Member States (MS) with a framework to develop, consolidate and share best practices in order to meet the challenges of flying helicopters in a modern operational environment. In consultation with MS, several factors were identified which were thought to contribute to the non-employability of helicopters; a lack of training for the crews, a lack of technical equipment for the aircraft, and the challenges of logistic support to deployed operations.

The EDA is helping participating MS address these issues with the training element being the main focus. Director of the EDA’s Cooperation Planning & Support Directorate, Mr. Roland Van Reybroeck outlined that: “since the inception of the HEP, the EDA has worked to integrate the lessons learned and experiences from each training exercise into the planning stages of subsequent HEP editions to increase their value and scope. By putting interoperability to the fore of our planning, we have seen tangible outcomes in the increased capacity of Member States and participating crews to successfully prepare, train and operate together.”

Distinguished Visitors Day

The Distinguished Visitors Day (DVD) for Exercise BLACK BLADE was held on November 30. It was attended by Head of the EDA, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini. Ms. Mogherini witnessed at first hand the latest developments in joint European helicopter training. The Head of the Agency also met with some of the BLACK BLADE participants and attended a live exercise demonstration.

Speaking at the DVD of exercise BLACK BLADE, EDA Chief Executive, Jorge Domecq said:

I am especially grateful to the Belgian defence and Florennes airbase for hosting Exercise BLACK BLADE. The 10th edition of the Helicopter Training Exercise Programme (HEP) is truly a milestone for the EDA. The HEP has a proud track record in enhancing helicopter crews skills,  interoperability and contributing to the readiness to deploy. The added value of the HEP is clear as practicing large-scale joint and combined missions just could not have been achieved by working alone. It is also a cost effective and efficient way to share best practice and learn enhanced helicopter techniques, tactics and procedures for joint operations."

The DVD was also attended by representatives of the EDA Member States, the European Parliament, the EU Military Committee and Belgian Defence as the host nation.

Lessons Learned & Next Steps

An ambitious programme was created for the exercise, several national training and Composite Air Operations (COMAO) were planned and executed by the participants. The participants were further challenged by planning, preparing and flying two COMAO missions on some days. Pilots and aircrews also received the latest training on mission planning, night flying and air gunnery.

An international Mentor Team was created for Exercise BLACK BLADE, composed of Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC) trained and experienced Helicopter Tactics Instructors. These mentors were invaluable in supporting the EDA Chief Instructor in providing the participants with support and input during the planning, execution and debrief phases of the exercise.

The results of the exercise will now be thoroughly analysed and adopted into future planning. However, initial feedback from participants was very positive, highlighting especially the benefits obtained on a tactical and operational level.

The EDA will continue to support the development of a European training framework among MS, focusing on high-end capabilities based on harmonised training curricula and making best use of national training centers. Having developed the rationale and activities of the HEP in consultation with the participating MS, the EDA has supported the HEP to ensure it reaches a level of maturity whereby its training objectives and value to MS are well established. 

The next step will be for the EDA to explore the possibility of a MS adopting and running the HEP, ensuring its long term continuity. This progression will allow the EDA to develop and launch future training initiatives in consultation with its MS. This logic was already applied to fixed-wing exercises, with the progressive transfer as of 2017 of the European Air Transport Fleet project (EATF) to the European Tactical Airlift Centre (ETAC) in Zaragoza, Spain.

EDA Helicopter Training In Numbers

Between 2009 and 2016 : 206 helicopters, 1320 aircrew members and almost 13,000 military personnel in supporting roles from 19 MS have deployed to the exercises which were held in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Finland and Belgium.

Future Events

Future editions of the EDA HEP are expected to take place in Hungary (2017 - Exercise FIRE BLADE), Portugal (2018) and the Czech Republic (2019).


The HEP is one of the EDA’s training projects and programmes. Launched in 2009, a formal programme arrangement was signed in November 2012, the HEP now has 14 participating MS (AT, BE, CZ, DE, EL, FI, HU, IT, LU, NL, PT, SE, SI, UK). 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, and has become an integral part of enhancing European capability and interoperability.

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