One week into exercise "Hot Blade 2014" launched July 16 in Portugal, EDA Programme Manager Andy Gray discusses the main objectives and operational benefits of the event.
What are the main objectives of Hot Blade 2014 ?
Since we started work on the multinational helicopter exercises in 2009, we’ve always tried to achieve the same basic set of objectives. First, we’re trying to improve interoperability between our Member States’ helicopter crews, because there is a very good chance that they will have to work together on the same battlefield in the years to come – and we truly mean working together, integrating national capabilities into a multination coalition, not the just the deconfliction that has been used in the past. We’re also working on improving individual skills, and in order to achieve that we need a training environment that replicates as closely as possible the conditions that we might find in a given theatre of operations.
Here in Portugal, we naturally focus on “hot, high & dusty” conditions, not unlike the ones you could find in Afghanistan or in some parts of Africa, but we also intend to practice in other environments, for instance extreme cold. The overarching objective is really quite simple. Future operations will be coalition operations and we know we should train the way we fight, so we must train together. We need to learn how to work together today, in a controlled environment, not tomorrow, when we have already been deployed and have hostile forces to worry about.
Are there specific outputs expected from this year’s event ?
We have to be careful not to increase the complexity of each exercise too much as each time it is a new set of crews and you need to build the exercise to suit them. My main output will always be to see the crews experience and competency improve. For Hot Blade, this specifically addresses the ability to lead a large-scale multinational mission – this is very hard for them to organise at home and so the exercise is designed to give them that opportunity. Within that we also have specific individual training objectives: for instance, the Netherlands use Hot Blade for its low visibility landing training – its “dust landing” training. This is particularly important to them, as these are the conditions they are encountering in Mali – the Dutch Detachment Commander here deploys to Mali in September. We are always aware that the exercise should have a direct link to the operational needs of the participants and again this is at the heart of the exercise design.
A particularly pleasing aspect of this year’s exercises is the participation of infantry from Netherlands and Germany. One of the reasons I am so focussed on aircrew training is that on operations we place our soldiers in each other’s aircraft. We need to make sure that all crews on a coalition, no matter what flag they have on their uniform, are capable of completing the mission safely and competently. We have recognised standards for the aircraft, but not for the pilots that fly them. I think this is necessary and that we owe it to our troops to understand the capabilities of our coalition partners. There is no high level agreement in place, so we are trying to build this understanding from the bottom up.
Could you describe some of the missions that have been conducted in Ovar so far in a little more detail?
We have already launched two large scale Composite Air Operations (COMAOs). Each detachment takes a turn in leading the mission; the first was led by Portugal and the latest one by the UK. Today’s main mission is CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) extraction, but there are sub-missions, which have been planned to pull the “enemy” focus away from the main event. These include suppression of a mortar position and a potential seizure of a high value target, possible through a vehicle interdiction. The scenario and the mission are complex and are conducted in a fluid, ill-defined context – very much like real life. The main mission package today shows how integrated the forces are as it involves four Portuguese F-16, providing over-watch and Close Air Support; two Belgian A109 providing escort to a Portuguese EH -101, which will do the CSAR pick up. The diversionary attacks will be carried out by two British Pumas, two Dutch CH-47 Chinooks, three Austrian AB212 and five German UH1-Ds carrying infantry from Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands. And this is only the second COMAO, so the complexity of these missions will increase as the exercise progresses.