After two weeks of intense training, Hot Blade 2023, EDA’s final multinational helicopter exercise, has drawn to a close. This year's iteration, the 17th edition of the Blade series and the sixth time held in Portugal, has once again showcased the European Defence Agency's (EDA) commitment to enhancing helicopter capabilities and preparing military personnel for future operational challenges.
Since its inception in 2009, EDA has been actively engaged in organising multinational helicopter training activities, fostering cooperation among European nations and achieving substantial advancements in helicopter capabilities. Over the years, these exercises have played a crucial role in honing the skills of hundreds of crews and thousands of other military personnel, ensuring their readiness for multinational operations.
Beja Air Base: hot and dusty
Hot Blade 2023 featured the participation of 25 air assets and approximately 1,100 military personnel from six countries, including Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the host nation, Portugal. The assets comprised 15 helicopters (3 AB-212, 2 NH-90, 3 AS532, 3 Mi-171, 1 UH-60, 1 EH101 and 2 AW119) and 10 fixed-wing aircraft (3 PC-7, 6 F-16 and 1 P3C), providing a diverse training environment for the crews involved. In addition, Slovenia provided an air defence emulator and Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden participated with staff in different roles. Italy and Greece also sent observers to the exercise.
The primary focus of the exercise was to enable crews to practice operations in various challenging environments, both during daylight and night-time sorties. These realistic scenarios aimed to replicate the conditions that participants would encounter in different operational theatres.
Hot Blade 2023 pursued several key objectives, including enhancing tactical interoperability among participating countries' helicopter units, training and common practicing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) with fighter jets and electronic ground warfare threats, and improving interoperability with ground forces in various training and operational tasks.
Held at Beja Air Base, the exercise's comprehensive program included missions such as air assault, air interdiction, special operations aviation, combat service support, close air support, reconnaissance and surveillance, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Special procedures, including fast rope and abseiling techniques, air-to-surface live firing, and training with special operations forces from the air force, army and navy, were also practiced, highlighting the exercise's commitment to fostering joint and multinational interoperability.
The multinational crews received invaluable support from an experienced mentor team comprising instructors from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and EDA's Chief Instructor. Drawing on lessons learned from previous "Blade" exercises and operational experience, the mentor team played a vital role in preparing and guiding the crews through the challenging Composite Air Operations (COMAO) missions.
To showcase the exercise's achievements, a Distinguished Visitors Day was held on June 15, 2023 with the participation of Vice-admiral Jorge Manuel Nobre de Sousa, Chief-of-Staff of the Joint Operations Command of the Portuguese Armed forces, and Lt General José Barros Ferreira, Vice Chief of Staff of the Portuguese Air Force. Representatives from participating EDA Member States, as well as other national and international authorities, witnessed live training sessions, underscoring the significance of this collaborative effort.
New home, same spirit
Looking ahead, Hot Blade 2024 will mark a significant transition as the Multinational Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC) assumes responsibility for delivering the exercise, along with all the EDA helicopter training programs. This transition will mark the beginning of the second life of this dynamic and long-lasting project, which will surely continue support to improving European helicopter capabilities, maintaining the Blade spirit, and keeping its outstanding reputation among the European helicopter community.
With an agreed plan of activities spanning the next decade and involving 14 European countries, the MHTC is poised to become a reference in helicopter military training throughout Europe.
The MHTC will formally assume the responsibility over all the EDA helicopter training activities on the 1st of January 2024. The 1st MHTC Blade exercise (Hot Blade 2024) is expected to commence on the 22nd of May 2024, also at Beja Air Base.