HOT BLADE 21 (HB21), the 15th Blade exercise organised under EDA’s Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) came to a close last week at Beja Airbase, Portugal. Over a period of two weeks (16-30 June) and in strict respect of all applicable COVID measures, the exercise involved a total of 21 air assets from Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Portugal as well as some 1,500 military staff.
Observers had been sent by Italy and Slovakia as well as Switzerland and Serbia (two countries which have concluded Administrative Agreements with EDA). Other capabilities involved were a multinational Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC) team and an Electronic Warfare (EW) emulator system from Slovenia. Additionally, a mentor team involving Helicopter Tactics Instructors (HTI) from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden supported the delivery of academic lessons and provided mentoring during the planning and execution of all Composite Air Operations (COMAO) missions.
The main objective of HB21 was the performance of eight day/night COMAO missions in a realistic, harsh and complex environment, with the participation of all countries and assets involved. Furthermore, other national and multinational training activities such as formation flights, evasion manoeuvre training, sling load, helocast, rappelling and fast roping were also trained, resulting in 208 sorties amounting to around 500 flight hours. To maximise the training sorties, two Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARP) were placed, to allow for ‘hot refuelling’ of the helicopters.
A Distinguished Visitors Day was organized on the 24th of June, with the participation of the Portuguese State Secretary of Defense, Human Resources and Veterans, Catarina Sarmento e Castro, as well as other military and civilian authorities.
During the closing ceremony, EDA’s Project Officer for Rotary Wing, José Pablo Romera, thanked the Portuguese Air Force, in particular the Air Command, Airbase Nº11 and the Excon team for the outstanding organisation and execution of the exercise, as well as all the participants for their proactive involvement and cooperative mindset which resulted in the achievement of the expected training objectives.
The next EDA helicopter exercise, the Fire Blade 2022, will take place from 7th to 24th of June 2022 and will be hosted by Hungary, in Papa Air Base.
Since 2009, 15 ‘BLADE’ exercises were held in eight different European countries (France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Portugal). In addition to that, 10 helicopter tactics symposiums, 67 Helicopter Tactics Courses, 6 Helicopter Tactics Instructors Courses and several other training activities, as Composite Air Operations (COMAO) planning courses and the Electronic Warfare (EW) courses have been carried out under EDA management, involving a total of 15 EDA Member States. Those trainings and exercises have contributed to enhancing the level of operational interoperability and helicopter cooperation among the helicopter crews of a large number of EDA Member States. Those programmes (HEP, HTC, HTIC) are now mature enough to be transferred to the future Multinational Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC) by the end of 2023.