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Ministers of Defence and EDA's Chief Executive pay visit to exercise HOT BLADE

One of the largest helicopter exercises in Europe is taking place at Ovar, Portugal . Some 36 helicopters and 3000 personnel from seven countries are taking part. Today, the Portuguese Minister of Defence, Mr. José Pedro Aguiar-Branco, welcomed Mr. Jean-Marie Halsdorf, Luxembourg Minister of Defence, and Ms. Claude France-Arnould, European Defence Agency's Chief Executive at Ovar Air Base.

Portugal hosts HOT BLADE 12 multinational helicopter exercise, from 9 to 19 July 2012, based at Ovar Military Airfield, near Porto, Portugal. Delivered by the Portuguese Air Force and supported by Luxembourg, HOT BLADE 2012 is part of the European Defence Agency's Helicopter Training Program. 3000 military and 36 helicopters from Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, and Netherlands participate in the exercise, with Sweden and United Kingdom sending observers.

The exercise allows European helicopter crews to practice operations in a hot, high and dusty environment, simulating the challenge and the dynamic conditions that participant forces will encounter when they deploy to a current theatres of operation, taking into consideration the lessons learned from recent scenarios like Afghanistan and Libya.

Recognising the importance of the Helicopter Training Programme, the Portuguese Minister of Defence, Mr. José Pedro Aguiar-Branco welcomed today Mr. Jean-Marie Halsdorf, Luxembourg Minister of Defence, and Ms. Claude France-Arnould, European Defence Agency's Chief Executive, at Ovar Air Base.

Participating forces demonstrated a typical joint tasks mission, including Air Assault (AA), Special Operations Aviation (SOA), Close Air Support (CAS), Convoy protection, Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) and logistic resupply.

Thanking the Portuguese authorities, Ms. Arnould stressed how successful the exercise is, saying "this builds up into a coordinated EDA effort to address Europe’s helicopter shortfall. And this in turn fits into a still broader campaign – to provide all of our member states with the aerial capabilities they need".


Background information

Hot Blade: Mission

Under the overall theme of hot, high and dusty conditions, a broad range of skills will be practiced, including Air Assault, Special Operations Aviation and Casualty Evacuation. In an important innovation, helicopters will work together with F-16 fighters, and crews will train with an embedded civil protection cell. Crews will fly in joint and combined formations, and where possible within national regulations, with mixed-nationality aircrews, learning to communicate and trust one another in operational scenarios. The mission incorporates lessons learned from recent operations in Afghanistan and Libya.

This takes place under an umbrella scenario designed to test planners and crews in realistic conditions. The scenario is based in the fictional Idrasse Peninsula, where an EU Force is tasked with maintaining security conditions for humanitarian activities, monitoring and suppressing illegal armed groups, and deterring territorial incursions by a neighbouring state.

Hot Blade: Assets

The exercise employs a variety of assets. From Portugal, EH-101 Merlins will fly, alongside F-16 fighters. These are supported by an Air Force Control and Reporting Centre, a Tactical Air Control Party and a Force Protection Unit. The Portuguese Army have meanwhile contributed a Quick Response Brigade, a Special Operations Troops Centre, and a Commando Troops Centre, while the Portuguese Navy have contributed further Special Operations Forces.

From Belgium, A109 helicopters will attend, while Finland is providing NH90 helicopters. Germany is represented by CH53 Sea Stallions, while The Netherlands is contributing Cougar AS-532U2 and Chinook CH47D helicopters. From Austria come Agusta Bell 212 rotary wing assets. Each country will also contribute crews and relevant support staff, and many are also making contributions-in-kind to the running of the exercise.

The breadth and variety of air assets, from such a range of European states, presents a great opportunity to test and stretch crews and planners, who will learn to work together under operational pressure.

EDA & Helicopter Training Programme

The exercise builds on EDA’s Helicopter Training Programme, run by Wing Commander Andy Gray. Hot Blade is only the latest in a succession of increasingly effective helicopter exercises, held in France, Spain and Italy since 2009. The exercise programme has delivered training to: 72 helicopters, 152 crews and over 1800 personnel. Over 50% crews that have attended these exercises and then subsequently deployed to Afghanistan.

The programme has also involved the creation of the Helicopter Tactics Course in the UK, with 18 crews trained thus far, a new ‘train-the-trainers’ initiative to be held this year, work to harmonize helicopter flying training across participating Member States, trial courses in Operational English Language learning and experimentation with distributed simulator training. In this context, EDA looks forward to Exercise Green Blade, to be held in Belgium this Autumn, and to the creation of a core planning team to steer the programme in the long-term.

EDA & Pooling & Sharing

The Helicopter Training Programme since alongside a succession of EDA programmes that 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, and the EDA’s work in training Counter-IED professionals.

Further information is available here.