Texto: Paulo Mata
Article published in Air Forces Monthly Oct.2012
Fotos publicadas na revista Mais Alto Set/Out 2012

 The EDA and the international helicopters exercises

Hot Blade took place between July 4th and 18th 2012 and became the fourth exercise held by the European Defence Agency (EDA), aimed at the training of helicopters' crews, from the various armed forces of the European Union (EU) plus Norway and Switzerland.

Mostly after the end of the Cold War, defence budgets of the various European states have been knowing substantial and increasing cuts. The present generalized scenario of economical crisis, largely helped to worsen this situation, cutting to the bone already thinned budgets.

Within this context, and after identifying the main flaws by some of the forces involved in the operations with rotary wings aircraft in course in Afghanistan, conclusion was taken that something had to be done, in order to make the most out of the existing means. In fact, in Afghanistan, although the numbers were correct, regarding the attributed means, they weren't fit for the purposes they were expected to fulfil, nor the crews had the necessary training for the conditions they had to face with, ending with the infrastructures and logistic support, also inappropriate.

Facing this scenario and struggling with the already spoken budget handicap, plus the urgency of coping with on-going missions like Afghanistan, "it became clear that training was the available force multiplier" said Andy Gray, the Helicopter Project Manager of EDA to its official magazine.

The EDA emerged from the EU will to start a stronger policy regarding common defence and as a counterbalance to the state of things. Therefore, its main objectives were from the beginning, the increase of cooperation between its members, identifying each individual capacities and objectives, promoting the harmonization of operative methods and multilateral projects that can fulfil common objectives.

If multinational military equipment developing amongst some European states has been happening for the past decades, although normally directed towards occasional and specific objectives, the EDA has compromised itself on replicating that procedure, systematize it, enlarge it and extend it to the operational ground, including also the crews training.

Decision was taken to promote specific simulation courses for the operations in contemporary combat conditions, and to organize a real exercise that would emulate conditions similar to those expected in the current operations theatres.

Hot Blade 2012

After Gap (2009), Azor (2010) and Italian Call (Italy 2011), helicopter training in a hot, high and dusty environment, knew a whole new dimensional level of comprisement with Hot Blade. Through the introduction of more complex and realistic scenarios, from the mirrored situations, to the interoperability with the ground forces, for the first time fixed wing aircraft were used - F-16 fighters provided air covering and support and the C295 further cargo capabilities, hence training also Composite Air Operations (COMAO).

Backed in the recognized abilities of the Portuguese Armed Forces to organize this kind of exercises, such as Real Thaw (Close Air Support exercise) annually held in the country, helicopters, crews and technicians of participant countries were able to enjoy and use the Portuguese natural conditions, infrastructures and human means provided.

 Being the organization assumed by the Portuguese Air Force based in the Aerodromo de Manobra nº1 in Ovar, Navy troops were also used (Destacamento de Acções Especiais - Special Forces Detachment) and from the Army (Brigada de Reacção Rápida - Quick Reaction Brigade and Brigada Mecanizada - Mechanized Brigade). In fact, Apolo exercise, annually driven by the Army, was fully integrated in Hot Blade, in a perfect example of resources maximization, with advantages to all parts: the Army was able to use Hot Blade resources in its exercise, and the helicopters crews could make a realistic training with genuine troops in the field.

Germany (5 CH-53), Austria (6 AB-212), Belgium (3 A-109), Holland (1 AS532 and 3 CH-47) and Portugal (2 EH101)  provided a total of 23 helicopters, with missions being commanded alternately by the different crews. UK and Sweden also attended as observers.

Trained situations included: Air Assault; Special operations; Air cargo transportation; Close Air Support (in urban environment and emergency situations); humanitarian vehicles protection; Security and reconnaissance operations; combat search and rescue; VIP rescue; military and civilian extraction; medical evacuations.

Being the helicopter an essential mean in operations of crisis management and asymmetrical scenarios, such as those the world has been watching for the past decades, with a prospect of continuity for the forthcoming times, training like the one provided by the EDA in these exercises, has already prepared around 160 helicopter crews, 63 of which meanwhile deployed to Afghanistan.

Hot Blade 2012 was the most complex helicopter exercise ever carried out in Europe, and was considered by the PAF Air Commander an enormous achievement in terms of organization and interoperability of the diverse countries and forces involved. In total, more than 700 hours were flown in over 300 sorties, in an area of approximately half  Portugal main land. 700 military were involved in air operations as well as 2300 troops from the Army and Navy.

In 2012, the EDA has also scheduled Green Blade to Belgium, another helicopter exercise, that will have as primary goal the training of special operations and is considered an integrated air-surface exercise.

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