BLACK BLADE: Prepare, train and operate together
Since its launch, 9 training exercises have taken place under the umbrella of the HEP (See chart 1). For its 10th edition, a total of 14 air assets from 4 Member States (13 helicopters from Belgium, Slovenia and Austria and one Falcon aircraft from the UK) were deployed across the three week duration of BLACK BLADE. An average of 400 personnel (Helicopter Exercise Forces, Special Operation Forces, Exercise Direction, Logistical and Medical Support), plus observers (Italy) and mentors were welcomed by the host nation Belgium at Florennes Airbase.
The EDA Core Planning Team, comprised of two experienced helicopter pilots who are responsible for organising the annual HEP exercise with the host nation, supported the Belgian Exercise Directors during the planning, preparation and execution phase of the exercise. With the participants and teams in place an ambitious programme was created for BLACK BLADE. The programme was based on combined, joint and realistic scenarios following the overall exercise objectives of teaching and learning helicopter Techniques, Tactics and Procedures (TTP). During BLACK BLADE participants executed a range of operational tasks (low flying, formation, gunnery, etc.) and flew a diverse set of day and night training missions. Several national training and Composite Air Operations (COMAO) missions were also planned and executed by the participants.
The added dimension of BLACK BLADE was its designation as a Special Operations Forces (SOF) oriented helicopter exercise. The deployment and integration of 70 personnel from the Belgian SOF allowed the participants to undertake SOF operations and develop cooperation both in the air and on the ground.
The crews and personnel were further challenged by the aims of the exercise, planning, preparing and flying two COMAO missions on some days and undertaking personnel recovery and MEDEVAC missions. Pilots and aircrews also received the latest training on mission planning, night flying and air gunnery.
BLACK BLADE: Achieve and succeed together
Over the three week period, the combined air assets flew in excess of 360 mission hours across a combined 175 aircraft sorties. Enhanced interoperability at a tactical level was one of the major outcomes as Exercise Director Lieutenant-colonel Stéphane Roobroek outlined, “BLACK BLADE was an excellent demonstration of cooperation between helicopter units and land forces in the planning and execution of a COMAO in support of Special Forces. Interoperability at tactical level between helicopter units has been considerably optimised.”
The exercise demonstrated a real-world example of what can be achieved through European defence cooperation and highlights that at very low cost, immediate operational output can be realised. BLACK BLADE marked another step forward for enhancing training skills among European nations for flying in different environments, and to train for future European crisis management operations.
As the exercise concluded, participants praised the usefulness of BLACK BLADE in building trust among multinational crews, strengthening operational interoperability and enhancing European helicopter capabilities in view of future multinational operations. The participants also pointed to the benefits obtained on a tactical and operational level. Special thanks were expressed to Belgium as the host nation. The results of the exercise will now be thoroughly analysed and adopted into future planning by the EDA. The exercise demonstrated a real-world example of what can be achieved through European defence cooperation and highlights that at very low cost, immediate operational output can be realised. BLACK BLADE marked another step forward for enhancing training skills among European nations for flying in different environments, and to train for future European crisis management operations.