FIRE BLADE 2022 (FB22), the 16th Blade exercise performed under the frame of EDA’s Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP), was hosted at Pápa Airbase, Hungary, from 7-24 June 2022. The exercise, which marked the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Agency’s HEP, achieved all expected national and multinational objectives, including the preparation of aircrews and units for the challenges of modern military operations.
The main objective of FB22 was to improve European interoperability and prepare participating Member States’ helicopter crews for joint and combined military operations in complex and congested environments. For this purpose, 8 Composite Air Operations (COMAO) missions were carried out in a realistic, harsh, and complex environment that included live firing at shooting ranges and employing all available assets.
Furthermore, the participants performed other national and multinational training activities, which included Air Assaults, Special Operation Forces (SOF) training (fast rope and abseiling techniques), Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) training, pick-up and drop off procedures, air-to-surface live firing (helicopter door gunnery and sniper training), combat service support, close air support, convoy/helicopter escorts, reconnaissance and surveillance, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery, medical evacuation and casualty evacuation. In addition, the participants had the opportunity to carry out evasion training against air and ground threats.
Altogether, the exercise accounted for 730 sorties, 425 flight hours and the shooting of 15.700 rounds of ammunition.
This exercise involved a total of 25 air assets from Austria (3x OH-58, 2x AB-212 and 3x PC-7), Belgium (3x A-109 and 2x NH-90), Slovakia (1x UH-60), Slovenia (1x AS-532) and Hungary with (5x H145M, 2x Mi-24, 1x Mi-17, 2x JAS-39) and around 1,000 military personnel. Hungary, as the host nation, provided ground troops which were involved in the planning process and performed their own training using the support of the air assets. In addition, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy and Switzerland sent observers.
A multinational Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC) team and Electronic Warfare (EW) emulator systems from Austria and Slovenia were also involved. Furthermore, the European Air Group (EAG) successfully delivered a Forward Arming Refuelling Point (FARP) Force Integration Training.
Additionally, an international Mentor Team involving Helicopter Tactics Instructors (HTI) from Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden, provided expertise, standardisation and mentoring during the planning and execution of all COMAO missions.
A Distinguished Visitors Day was organized on the 21June, with the participation of military and civilian authorities from the participating countries. It was also an opportunity for media to witness a COMAO mission demonstration, showcasing the capabilities of the assets involved and the outcome of a well-prepared mission. This event was highly appreciated by all the participants, which included several Hungarian and international journalists.
During the closing ceremony, EDA Project Officer Rotary Wing, José Pablo Romera, highlighted the importance of EDA helicopter training activities, and in particular the “Blade” exercises, to improve the European helicopter capabilities to support building a more capable and stronger Europe. He also thanked the Hungarian Defence Forces, including Pápa Airbase, the Hungarian Exercise Control team, and combat and support elements, for the outstanding organisation and execution of the exercise and to 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 Hot Blade 2023, will take place from 7th to 23rd of June 2023 and will be hosted by Portugal, in Beja Air Base No. 11.
Since 2009, 16 Blade exercises have been performed in 8 different European countries (France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Portugal). In addition, 12 helicopter tactics symposiums, 74 Helicopter Tactics Courses, 7 Helicopter Tactics Instructors Courses and several other training activities, as Composite Air Operations (COMAO) planning courses and Electronic Warfare (EW) courses have been carried out under EDA management and involved 15 EDA Member States.
The outcome is a high level of operational interoperability and helicopter cooperation among a large number of EDA MS, and the increase of readiness of European helicopter units to operate together anywhere in the world. Those activities are part of three long lasting, mature and dynamic programmes (HEP, HTC and HTIC) which will be transferred to the future Multinational Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC) starting by end of 2023.