The helicopter has become a key enabler in modern crisis management operations. Despite having significant numbers of rotary-wing aircraft, military operations have been short of vital helicopter support. In consultation with Member States, several key strands were thought to contribute to this non-employability: a lack of training for the crews, a lack of technical equipment for the aircraft, and the difficulties of logistic support to deployed operations. EDA is helping participating Member States (pMS) address these issues with the training element being the main focus.
- Capability need: shortage of available helicopters for crisis management operations, where terrain (large distances, deserts, mountains) and lack of security (road-side bombs, etc.) set a high demand on helicopter use.
- EDA activity: improve immediate output through the pooling and sharing of skills, experience and training among European countries.
- Means: Multinational exercises, tactics symposia, synthetic training, helicopter instructor training ('Train the trainer'), Electronic Warfare (EW) and Composite Air Operations (COMAO) planning courses and other training activities required by Member States.
- Results: between 2009 and March 2022: 304 helicopters, 2.150 aircrew members and over 13.500 military personnel have been deployed to the exercises which were held in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Finland, Belgium, Czech Republic and Hungary. 907 aircrew members from 17 different countries have graduated from the EDA Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC). In addition, 138 helicopter crew members from 8 different countries have graduated from the Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (HTIC).
EDA Helicopter Training
The overall concept was approved at the Ministerial Steering Board in November 2009. Its aim has been to provide Member States with a framework to develop, consolidate and share best practices in order to meet the challenges of flying helicopters in a modern and challenging operational environment. The European Defence Agency provides several individual and interlinked projects:
- Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP), including as subprojects the COMAO Planning Course and Electronic Warfare (EW) Course
- Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC)
- Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC)
1.Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP)
The Programme Arrangement (PA), the framework document of the HEP, was signed by the 13 contributing Member States in November 2012. This act formally transitioned the HEP to a Category B programme. In addition, Slovenia joined the programme in 2016 and Switzerland joined in 2022. UK formally left the programme in 2020, following the BREXIT agreement.
By enhancing the operating skills of helicopter crews across Europe, the HEP has played a part in increasing the deployable helicopter capability for contingency operations. The HEP focus on environmental and multinational training, increasing interoperability through practical experiences, standardization and through the use of a multinational Mentor Team composed by Helicopter Tactics Instructors (HTI), by sharing operational experience and by developing common tactics, techniques and procedures. HEP is an eleven-year programme (2012-2023), a concrete indication that training together is an integral part of enhancing European helicopter capability and interoperability.
Fifteen exercises have so far been delivered under the umbrella of the EDA. These exercises meet the training requirements for the participating Member States (pMS) and greatly enhance the helicopter capability available and the interoperability levels among those countries. To date, 14 pMS have actively taken part with other European countries having participated with observers.
At early stages of the programme, the main objective was tackling training capability gaps and prepare helicopter crews for deployment, mainly focused in the Afghan theatre of operations. With the years, the goal progressively changed, aiming at improving interoperability levels and the capability to carry out joint and combined missions, and fostering the common use of the common European helicopter TTPs, the HEP Standard Operating Procedures (HEP SOP).
- GAP 09 in France. It was the 1st HEP exercise attended by five European countries (BE, CZ, ES, FR and HU). The exercise was focused on the multinanional helicopter crew training in a “hot and high” environment.
- AZOR 10 in Logroño, Spain. Probably the largest multination helicopter exercise in Europe since the Cold War, AZOR 2010 was an ambitious exercise providing hot, high and dust training to a significant number of crews before they deployed on operations, mainly to Afghan theatre of operations.
- ITALIAN CALL 11 in Viterbo Italy. The aim of this exercise was to train European Helicopter crews and staff to operate in hot, dry and dusty environment adopting common procedures. The focus was laid on Crisis Response Operations with the ISAF theatre used as Exercise scenario.
- HOT BLADE 12 in Portugal introduced COMAO training and included F-16 over-watch missions to replicate current operational practices.
- GREEN BLADE 12 in Belgium introduced Special Operations to the programme for the first time, and was an integrated ground and air exercise.
- HOT BLADE 13 in Portugal further developed COMAO planning/ execution/evaluation. Hot/high/dusty environment. HEP SOP was introduced for the first time as a common agreed standard. A Mentor Team consisting from HTIC graduates was used to provide expertise and standardisation.
- HOT BLADE 14 in Portugal focussed on joint interoperability training with a setup similar to previous editions. Mentor Team tasks/responsibilities were expanded.
- ITALIAN BLADE 15 in Viterbo, Italy, continued to develop joint interoperability training through the integration of multinational elements, both in the air and on the ground, in a hot and dusty environment.
- COLD BLADE 16in Finland, focused on flying in demanding environmental conditions. The exercise is developed to test the helicopters, test the aircrew and to teach and learn Technics, Tactics and Procedures in cold and snowy conditions.
- BLACK BLADE 16in Florennes, Belgium, focussed on joint interoperability training with SOF Forces.
- FIRE BLADE 17 in Papa, Hungary, focussed on live firing. European helicopter units executed national training combined with challenging COMAO scenarios in Hungarian training and shooting ranges.
- HOT BLADE 18 in Beja, Portugal, continued to focus on COMAO training in hot and dusty environment and included also evasive training from F-16 and EW threats.
- DARK BLADE 19 in Namest, Czech Republic continued to enhance multinational interoperability on COMAO with the performance of complex mission involving multiple threats on air and ground, and with the use of HEP Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and support by EDA Mentor Team.
Besides the exercises, an integral part of the HEP is the Helicopter Tactics Symposium (HTS). It is designed to allow helicopter crews to share training and operational experience, gain knowledge of the current threats and discuss tactics, techniques and procedures. The annual HTS is an itinerant event, already performed in six different locations during its twelve editions. The latest one took place, in the city of Ostrava, Czech Republic in November 2021. The 2022 HTS will be held in Austria, in the city of Salzburg, mid of November 2022.
c) Core Planning Team (CPT)
In order to ensure coherence and continuity of the programme, a CPT composed by 2 experienced helicopter pilots has been appointed in accordance with the HEP Programme Arrangement. The CPT is managed by the EDA Helicopter Project Officer Rotary Wing and together conform EDA helicopter team, ensuring that the knowledge and training/operational experience gained so far transitions into the HEP or other EDA helicopter programme.
The CPT is tasked by the Management Committee formed by the representatives of the HEP contributing Member States (cMS). The main tasks are to assist host nations in the delivery of exercises and other EDA helicopter training and to build up a repository of lessons identified and integrate them into future training activities. Additionally, the team is also able to give training advice to cMS to assist with their national helicopter training tasks, as required.
2. Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC)
This is a Category B programme involving 7 Member States. It delivers operational helicopter simulator tactics training aimed for whole crews to improve their tactical skills and support preparation for future international deployment. It focuses on the understanding of the demanding and changing modern operational environment. It concentrates on the judgmental and cognitive training necessary to meet those complex challenges. The course consists of both theoretical lessons and realistic missions conducted in a synthetic environment, using commercial off-the-shelf components and serious gaming technologies. They apply the same the tactics, technics and procedures used in EDA exercises, the HEP SOP.
Initially, the programme ran for two years (until the end of 2013) to meet the urgent requirement set by the deployment timelines. In 2014, the HTC Programme Arrangement was signed which formalised the creation of the project. It is currently expected to finalised late 2023. 907 crewmembers had been trained until end of March 2022.
3. Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC)
Despite the outstanding achievement of the HEP and HTC, there was no possibility to accommodate all the crews across Europe who would have the need from such training. Consequently, it was necessary to focus on methods to train the trainers, and the Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (HTIC) was created. This course provides aircrews from participating nations with the skills and knowledge to deliver tactics and training within their own organisations (silver or gold level) and to assist in the delivery of the HEP, HTC and HTIC. Successful graduates from the course are awarded a qualification commonly recognised by Member States. The best of them can be part of the EDA Chief Instructor Team, who delivers or manages some of EDA helicopter training, provides standardisation and expertise, leads the Mentor Team during the exercises, together with other HTIC graduates, and update the HEP SOP.
Until end of 2021, 7 HTIC courses have been successfully delivered, with 138 instructors qualified in bronze, silver or gold levels.
4. COMAO Planning Course
The COMAO Planning Course is run for two weeks and covers the background, theory and application of COMAO planning with a focus on rotary operations.
Following the theory element, a series of daily missions are planned and briefed by the course participants. The trainees are mentored and instructed by Helicopter Tactics Instructors and other selected specialists. To expose the trainees to the expert thinking of the other specialisations, the course is augmented with aircrew and specialists from numerous other platform types including fast-jets, AWACs, attack helicopters and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). The daily missions follow an increasingly complex intelligence-based scenario that incrementally introduce a full spectrum of capabilities and threats. By the end of 2021, 6 COMAO courses have been delivered.
5. Electronic Warfare (EW) Course
The EW course is running for a 2-week period and aims to provide selected personnel with an understanding of the basic theory of on ground and airborne EW systems and threats.
The syllabus includes basic EW theory and doctrine, Radio Frequency (RF) and Infra-Red (IR) threats, warning systems and countermeasures.
It also covers general principles of employment of aircraft equipment and Defensive Aids Systems (DAS) and addresses interoperability issues.
Whilst the focus is on rotary issues, a range of other platforms, both land and air based, are studied throughout the course. By the end of 2021, 6 EW courses have been delivered.
6. The Multinational Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC)
EDA does not have the vocation to be a training institute, but rather a catalyst for cooperative training. We launch initiatives that can provide added value to Member States and when these are consolidated and have reached a sufficient level of maturity, we look for a Member State or multinational organisation willing to take over the administrative and organisational responsibility of the activities, allowing the EDA to free-up resources and focus on developing new initiatives.
EDA has been managing successfully the helicopter programmes for over a decade, and during the next 5-year period, they will progressively be transferred outside EDA to the future Multinational Helicopter Training Centre (MHTC) to be created in Sintra, Portugal.
On this respect, the MHTC Cat-B project was approved at the end of August 2019 and joined by 18 different countries.