Text: Serge Van Heertum & Alain Debras - Translation: David Niemegeerts & Marc Arys  © sbap 2016
Pictures: Serge Van Heertum, BAF Adjt Jo Vanden Broeck & Alain Debras
 

From Monday November 14 till Wednesday November 30, 2016, various aerial and terrestrial units from various European countries, trained within the domain of their interoperability during the European Defense Agency (EDA) international exercise "Black Blade" held at Florennes air base.
"Black Blade" marks the 10th helicopter exercise under the umbrella of the Helicopter Exercise Program (HEP).
The goal of this this kind of exercise is the standardization and synergy of the aerial tactical operations of the various participating countries in a realistic manner.
"Black Blade" delivers tactical training, over a three week period, offering participants a unique opportunity to plan and execute missions within a joint combined framework. The seamless coordination and integration of the Belgian Special Operations Ground Forces into individual scenarios for the benefit of training will be one of the specific focuses of the exercise.
The actual contract wherein Belgium is integrated will end in 2022 and the goal to achieve by this date is a common intervention capability of the different European forces working on the same standards, in short all speaking the same language in relation to helicopter-borne operations regardless which type of operation. The ultimate objective is the capability to work together in a common operational theatre implementing the same procedures allowing a quick deployment and efficient interoperability.
The Air Component already took part in various exercises of this kind and considers future participations: Hot Blade in Portugal, Italian Blade in Italy, Green Blade in Belgium, currently Black Blade (black being the colour of the Special Forces) and Fire Blade which will be held in Hungary in 2017 emphasizing on firing techniques.
The next exercise to be organized in Belgium or Holland is foreseen in 2020. Indeed, the trend for the 2020 exercise is based on the partnership with the Dutch Forces.
Exercise Black Blade started off on Monday November 14 with the setting up of the troops, the aerial means and the personnel headed by the organizing country, Belgium. The exercise ran on until November 30th, and staged 25 combined missions of which 10 were at night. December 1st and 2nd was dedicated to the dismantling of the forces and the return to their respective units and countries.
The theme of exercise Black Blade was the tactical transport, a.o. of the Special Forces, hence the participation of the American Headquarters of the Special Forces in Europe (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe - SHAPE); supplying the troops and the evacuation of the injured out of the combat zone.
Eleven nations were involved at various levels such as observation, mission planning, coaching, supervision, technical assistance, etc... The aerial means were provided by Belgium, Slovenia and Austria. Also participating were Hungary, Sweden, Germany, Italy, England, Czech Republic and as non-European country, the United States as mentioned above.
All the means of Black Blade gathered during these three weeks at the Ardennes airbase of Florennes where everything was coordinated and implemented without the participation of other bases or external units.
The aerial means consisted in 2 NH-90 TTH, 5 Agusta A109BA, 2 S-70A-42 Black Hawk, 3 Agusta-Bell AB 212 and 1 Eurocopter AS532 Cougar, totaling 13 machines. Some of the helicopters were simulated being armed as to execute reconnaissance missions, the protection of convoys or the protection of the tactical transport helicopters.
Around 375 men were also deployed at Florennes to bring all the planned missions within Black Blade to a good end, including the necessary logistical and medical support for such an exercise.
Various missions, some involving supplying, were flown in different parts of the country allowing among other things, to be flown at low or very low altitude necessary to this kind of exercises. The Helicopter Training Areas (HTA) were set around Arlon, Marche-en-Famenne, Elsenborn, Arendonk and Gielre and were the theatre of unusual activities for the local people, but the authorities did their best to reduce the nuisance to a maximum by announcements through the various media, no missions planned on Sunday and limitation to the night flights (no later than 2200 hrs - very practical during wintertime's as darkness sets in from 1700 - 1800 hrs)
The Composite Air Operations (COMAO) saw the combined participation of about ten helicopters together on the same target to acquire this necessary interoperability within modern conflicts. During the final part of the exercise, some traditional aerial means were added, like a DA20 Falcon - as an electronic jammer - and F-16AM fighters.
It was quite evident that the participating crews already had to held various operational qualifications for example technical qualifications to fly in the Special Forces (harsh terrain landing, fast roping,...), qualifications for medical evacuations and night vision goggle (NVG) qualifications.
(Serge Van Heertum)

Gunners in action
(Courtesy EDA)
Special forces
(Courtesy EDA)
   
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Eurocopter AS532 Cougar Slovenian Air Force
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) Agusta-Bell AB 212 Austrian Bundesheer
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Agusta A109BA Belgian Air Force
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Agusta A109BA MEDEVAC  Belgian Air Force
(© Serge Van Heertum)
S-70A-42 Black Hawk Austrian Bundesheer
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Some F-16 missions...
(© Serge Van Heertum)
...but real bad weather
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Back from mission
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Preparing the Black Hawk
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) They will flew the morning mission
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Last checks
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Run up
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) Taxi
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) Take off
(© Serge Van Heertum)
 
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum)
 
What is the HEP?

The HEP is one of the European Defence Agency helicopter training projects and programs. By enhancing the operating skills of helicopter crews across Europe, the HEP plays a part in increasing the deployable helicopter capability for contingency operations. The exercises focus on individual, environmental and multinational training, increasing interoperability through practical experiences, sharing operational experience and developing common tactics, techniques and procedures. HEP is a ten-year program, a concrete indication that training together is an integral part of enhancing European capability and interoperability.

Detailed description of the project

EUROPEAN DEFENCE AGENCY HELICOPTER TRAINING

The overall concept was approved at the Ministerial Steering Board in November 2009. Its aim is 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 operational environment. The European Defence Agency provides several individual and interlinked projects:

- Helicopter Exercise Program (HEP)
- Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC)
- Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC)
- Operational English Language Course (OELC)

HELICOPTER EXERCISE PROGRAMME (HEP)

The Program 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 program. By enhancing the operating skills of helicopter crews across Europe, the HEP plays a part in increasing the deployable helicopter capability for contingency operations. The exercises focus on individual, environmental and multinational training, increasing interoperability through practical experiences, sharing operational experience and developing common tactics, techniques and procedures. HEP is a ten-year program, a concrete indication that training together is an integral part of enhancing European capability and interoperability.

The HEP is built on three main pillars:

a) Exercises
Seven exercises have so far been delivered under the umbrella of the EDA. These exercises met the urgent training requirements for the participating Member States (pMS) and greatly enhanced the helicopter capability available. To date, 14 pMS have actively taken part with another three sending observers. A total of 206 helicopters, 1320 aircrew and more than 10000 support personnel have deployed to the exercises which were held in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.

AZOR 2010 was an ambitious exercise providing hot high and dust training to a significant number of crews before they deployed on operations. This met an urgent training requirement for the pMS concerned and greatly enhanced the helicopter capability available. The exercise in Italy continued this process, by focusing much more on the interoperability and "coalition" type missions.

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 program for the first time, and was an integrated ground and air exercise.

HOT BLADE 13 in Portugal further developed COMAO planning/execution/evaluation in hot, high or dusty environment. HEP SOP introduced for the first time as common agreed standard. Mentor Team introduced, consisting from HTIC graduates.

HOT BLADE 14 in Portugal focused 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 16 will be held in Finland, focusing 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 16 is in the intensive planning phase, the SOF exercise will start in November 2016 in Belgium.

b) Symposia

Beside the exercises, an integral part of the HEP is the Helicopter Tactics Symposium which was held four times in Luxembourg. It is designed to allow helicopter crews to share experiences, gain knowledge of the current threats they face and discuss tactics, techniques and procedures. The last Helicopter Tactics Symposium was held in Prague in December 2014.

c) Core Planning Team (CPT)

In order to ensure coherence and continuity of the program, a CPT of two personnel has been appointed (initially Germany and Czech Republic filled the CPT in accordance with the Program Arrangement). Sharing the office with the EDA Helicopter Program Officers, together they form the helicopter team within EDA's Cooperation Planning & Support (CPS) Directorate. The CPT is managed through the EDA Helicopter Program Manager, ensuring that the knowledge and experience gained so far transitions into this program. The CPT is tasked by the Management Committee formed by the representatives of the contributing Member States (cMS). The main tasks are to assist host nations in the delivery of exercises and take any lessons identified and integrate them into future exercises. Additionally, the team is also able to give training advice to cMS to assist with the national training task as required.

HELICOPTER TACTICS COURSE (HTC)

This is a Category B program involving 7 Member States. It delivers operational helicopter tactics training aimed at crews designated for upcoming deployment. It focusses on the understanding of the fluid and often ill-defined modern operational environment. It concentrates on the judgmental and cognitive training necessary to meet the complex challenges faced. Using commercial off-the-shelf components and serious gaming technologies, the course consists of both theoretical lessons and realistic missions conducted in a synthetic environment. Initially, the program ran for two years (until the end of 2013) to meet the urgent requirement set by the deployment timelines. Currently, the program is running under the new framework document, covering three years (2014-2016), with a new set of participating nations. 40 crews per year (160 aircrew members) are being trained in the tactics used on current operations. There is an opportunity for other nations to benefit from this program if they so wish.

HELICOPTER TACTICS INSTRUCTOR TRAINING (HTIC)

Despite the outstanding achievement of the HEP and HTC we could never hope to accommodate all the crews across Europe who would benefit from such training. Consequently, we need to also focus on methods to train the trainers. Therefore, the Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (HTIC) has been created. This course provide aircrew from participating nations with the skills and knowledge to then deliver tactics training within their own organizations and to assist in delivering the HEP, HTC and future HTIC. Successful graduates from the course are awarded a qualification recognized by all the EU Member States (or at least all those participating in the program if more practicable).

OPERATIONAL ENGLISH LANGUAGE COURSE (OELC)

Direct observation of crews operating in complex high-intensity operations quickly leads to the conclusion that the language used in airspace control and the prosecution of opportunity targets, bears little resemblance to the language taught in schools. Consequently, in order to verify the requirement and potential benefits of a more focused language course, the EDA conducted three trials "Operational English Language Courses". Funded by Luxembourg and conducted at the UK Defence Language School (UK DLS), 35 students from 11 countries attended a 4 week residential course.

DISTRIBUTED SIMULATION
It is becoming more and more certain that future operations will have to be conducted in a coalition. This requires members of our armed forces to be able to rapidly deliver operational effects together. The HEP provides live-flying and the HTC provides simulator training, but both require assets to be deployed away from home, incurring costs. Therefore, we need to be able to train together while remaining at home and this can be achieved through a distributed network of simulators.
This has been the subject of work within our pMS and NATO. However, delivery so far has been limited to nodes operated by the same commercial organization or between high-end simulators using bespoke networks. What is needed is a low-cost but high-value training mechanism. This could be delivered using commercial-off-the-shelf components, open architectures and games-based synthetic environments as used in the EDA HTC.
In September 2013, the UK conducted a Capability Concept Demonstrator (CCD) using a wide range of simulator nodes. They will be basing this on the VBS2 software and normal internet connections and protocols. The EDA also wishes to deliver a credible CCD. Consequently, there is an opportunity to realize synergies between the UK, the HTC and the EDA and build a bigger network, with more diversity, thus creating a more comprehensive demonstration.
The project and technical management for the UK side will be provided by NITEWORKS ( a totally UK government funded, non-profit research organization) and this support will be extend to integrate the EDA assets within the same CCD.
The first demonstration was executed in February 2013 with the link up of the HTC, German and Austrian simulator devices and has already proved its functionality.

OTHER STRANDS

NH90 PROJECTS
Introducing an aircraft to service is a complex and costly process. With many participating Member States currently in the process of fielding the NH90 helicopter, there is an opportunity to reduce introduction times, man-hours expended and ultimately money through the sharing of experiences, processes and data. In order to investigate this potential, and as a result of a request from Germany and Italy, the EDA has already hosted five NH90 users workshops.
These meetings were very positive and the participating experts identified three key areas (Training, Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) and Technical Interoperability) they believed provided the best opportunities to reduce duplication of effort, while provide substantive savings and increasing effectiveness of the global European NH90 fleet. It was also decided that the formation of an Ad Hoc Project Group (AHPG) for each area was the most appropriate vehicle to exploit these opportunities. NH90 training has been completely integrated into the EDA helicopter training program.

MULTINATIONAL HELICOPTER WING (MHW)
The concept is to form a Multinational Helicopter Wing (MHW) consisting of three helicopter elements: heavy-lift, medium-lift and attack. The burden of provision and sustainment, which is prohibitive for many nations acting alone, would be shared across several countries in order to make it affordable and achievable. This Wing could provide a sustained deployment to operations, whilst also providing guaranteed support to EU Battlegroups and, simultaneously, a permanent alert capability for disaster/humanitarian relief.

HELICOPTER BASIC FLYING TRAINING (HBFT)

Strategic Context:
Coalition operations will be the norm
They will be Ad Hoc coalitions formed of countries that have a foreign policy alignment at that time and place
They will not be standing structures
They will not always be under NATO, EU or UN
They will be reactive and short notice in creation
They will cover the spectrum from humanitarian relief to war-fighting, possibly within the same mission
They will be assigned under the background of increasing financial restraints
The military need to provide our decision makers/national leaderships with a plug and play solution, that can be used when and where they chose.
To achieve this skills and knowledge among pMS air crews must be harmonized and comparable at any and all agreed levels. This requires a harmonization of the currently disparate training syllabi. This should also be coherent with and recognized by the civilian licensing authority. Finally, it is also necessary to define what we mean when we use expressions like e. g. Basic Flying Training, Advanced Flying Training, Combat Ready or Qualified Military Pilot. Crews should not only be viewed as ready for deployment from a national point of view, but also from wider and common European perspective.

(Serge Van Heertum with Information's from the European Defence Agency)

 
(© Serge Van Heertum)
 

Mission of the day
A suspicious hut with potential terrorists was spotted and the paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion of Tielen, momentarily at Florennes were sent to clean up and secure the zone. The deployment was a joint operation with the Belgian Air Force and the Austrian Bundesheer.
At 15:30 local time, troops were brought in by aerial means. The attack and cleansing of the target lasted half an hour following which the troops secured the landing zone for the helicopters to proceed to the recovery. Around 16:00 hours, the helicopters recover the men of the 3rd Battalion and take-off bound for Florennes.

 
Arrival of the 3rd Batalion troops
(© Serge Van Heertum)
The Black Hawk prepare for a fast roping
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) Combined forces between Belgium and Austria
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
Go for the mission
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
On the way to the objective
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Back in the landing zone
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Securing the landing area
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) Extraction of the troops
(© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
(© Serge Van Heertum) (© Serge Van Heertum)
Operation was a success
(© Serge Van Heertum)
Some few minutes later the area is clean
(© Serge Van Heertum)
 
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck) 
 

Mission of the day
Politicians were abducted by a group of terrorists. After some investigations and research, the den where they are held as hostage was identified and the extraction mission planned.
The intervention forces are flown into the zone by helicopters in a combined task with the Belgian Air Force and the Austrian Bundesheer.
Deployed at once, the interventions forces went in and succeded in putting down the terrorists and freeing the hostages.
The missions is concluded by the evacuation by aerial means including the men injured during the intervention.
Some minutes later the zone near the German border, is cleared and the quietness of the countryside settled back in.

Arrival of the troops...
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
...by a S-70A-42 Black Hawk of the austrian Bundesheer
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
 (© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck) (© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
Another contingent at other side of the objective...
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
...ensured by a belgian NH-90 TTH Caiman
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
Troops in action...
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
... helped with dogs
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
Nothing is left to chance...
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
Austrian Agusta Bell AB212 under A109BA protection
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck) (© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck) (© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck) (© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck) (© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
 
(© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck) (© BAF / Adjt Jozef Vanden Broeck)
 
 (© Alain Debras)

As part of exercise "Black Blade", the press was invited to the VIP Day which was held on Wednesday November 30 at the airbase of Florennes. The High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica MOGHERINI, took part to this afternoon.
Organized by the EDA (European Defense Agency) presented by Mr Roland VAN REYBROECK - Planning and Support Directorate) and by the DEFENSE presented by LtCol Avi Stéphane ROOBROEK - Exercise Director "Black Blade".
The presentation focused on the aims and principles of the EDA and more particularly on the interest of organizing multi-national exercises involving complementary forces, troops and equipment.
The objective is to train for the implementation of resources of various origins in multitasking operations in order to co-ordinate the materials, communications, tactics and to be able to carry out interventions at the initiative from Europe.

The visit to the static display made it possible to approach the different models of aircraft that participated in the exercise:
- an Austrian Black Hawk
- a Slovenian Cougar
- a Belgian medevac A109
- a Belgian A109 (display 1 Wing)
- a Belgian NH90-TTH
- an Austrian AB212-UH1

The opportunity was also given to approach the crews and share their experiences as a result of these two weeks of exercise (under detestable weather conditions - which made the tests even more delicate).

The High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica MOGHERINI arrived at the scheduled time aboard a NH90-TTH from the Beauvechain airbase, accompanied by General Marc COMPERNOL (CHOD), and was welcomed by General Major aviator Frederik VANSINA (Commander of the Air Component) and by Colonel aviator Didier POLOMÉ (Commander of 2 Wing Tac de Florennes).
She attended a briefing presenting the exercise.
Following the briefing, Ms MOGHERINI went through the static display, surveying the crews, visiting the aircraft and then gave a short presentation and answered some questions from the press.

The organizers then planned an exemplary exercise involving several helicopters from the plateau and Special Forces troops.
Troops called in to arrest a group of terrorists were flown in by two helicopters, intercepting and arresting the terrorist's vehicle who was also neutralized whilst another section proceeded to the extraction of a hostage.

During these operations, aircraft flew supports mission overhead the zone providing fire protection to the troops on the ground.
Following the operation a man was wounded. Care of him was taken by his teammates and sheltered while awaiting the rescue which was called in by a smoke flare. The wounded man was evacuated by an A109 "Medevac".
On-site troops recalled the aircraft through flare and were flown out by the helicopters.

This exercise implemented all the means available, each with its own specificity and was a perfect success thanks to the good coordination of the technical and human assets.
(Alain Debras)

Black Blade presentation and results
(© Alain Debras)
Mr Roland VAN REYBROECK and LtCol Avi Stéphane ROOBROEK
(© Alain Debras)
Static presentaion of the Black Blade assets
(© Alain Debras)
S-70A-42 Black Hawk
(© Alain Debras)
Eurocopter AS532 Cougar
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) Agusta A109BA Medevac
(© Alain Debras)
 
Agusta A109BA
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) Agusta Bell AB 212
(© Alain Debras)
Arrival of the High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission, 
Mrs Federica MOGHERINI   (© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) Welcomed by General Major Frederik VANSINA
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) Airbus Helicopter NH-90 TTH
(© Alain Debras)
The base activities still ongoing during the event...
(© Alain Debras)
...some Fighting Falcon's at take off
(© Alain Debras)
General Marc COMPERNOL (CHOD)
(© Alain Debras)
Mrs Federica MOGHERINI meets some participant
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) Some TV broadcast interview
(© Alain Debras)
The live demonstration started...
(© Alain Debras)
...with the special forces arrival in the impacted zone
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) (© Alain Debras)
Taking position
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
Potential terorist vehicle intercepted
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) Under the gunners protection
(© Alain Debras)
Second wave and fast roping
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
A wounded soldier is evacuated
(© Alain Debras)
Smoke to guide the Medevac helicopter
(© Alain Debras)
 (© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) (© Alain Debras)
Fast evacuation
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
Area is cleaned...
(© Alain Debras)
...time to evacuate the intervention zone
(© Alain Debras)
Fast removal technic
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras)
Still securing the landing zone
(© Alain Debras)
The transport are back
(© Alain Debras)
Boarding of the troops in the Cougar...
(© Alain Debras)
...and in the Caiman
(© Alain Debras)
(© Alain Debras) Mission accomplished!
(© Alain Debras)
The exercise was concluded by a fly-by of all participating helicopters
(© Alain Debras)
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SBAP team wishes to thank warmly the European Defence Agency, Florennes Air Base authorities, the Belgian Officers involved in the exercises for the rich explanations and the all ComOpsAir IPR team for the various possibilities offered for our report all along the Black Blade exercise and they're always efficient support.

  
 

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