Exercise Italian Blade 2015 saw 30 helicopters from seven nations descend on Viterbo, Italy, from 22 June to 3 July. Roelof-Jan Gort and the Dutch Aviation Photo team report for GAR.
After three successful live-flying events hosted by Portugal from 2012 to 2014, the EDA-developed Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) moved to Italy in 2015. More than 1,000 military personnel and 30 helicopters from seven nations took part in Italian Blade 2015, which was held from 22 June to 3 July 2015.
The exercise was facilitated by the Italian Army Aviation (Aviazione dell’Esercito) in Viterbo, about 80 km North of Rome. Viterbo is often regarded as the home of the Italian Army Aviation and is focused around the Centro Addestramento Aviazone dell’Esercito (Army Aviation Centre). In addition to Italian ground forces, Germany also sent over 170 infantry personnel to take part in the joint missions, as integration of ground forces into the exercise scenarios was one of the focuses of this year’s HEP exercise. Observers from Portugal and Latvia were also attending the event.
Exercise Italian Blade 15 was designed to expose helicopter crews to the training methodology and tactical knowledge of other NATO Member States. The exercise fosters common understanding and helps build trust amongst the European military helicopter community, which is key to the success of future multinational operations.
Italian Blade 2015 was delivered by the Italian Army Aviation as a Multinational Helicopter Exercise organised under the framework of the HEP. The HEP is one of multiple projects undertaken by the European Defence Agency to increase the overall availability of European military helicopters, such as the Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC) or the Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC). These efforts demonstrate that very low-cost, quick operational benefits can be yielded.
Exercise Italian Blade 2015 was designed to allow European helicopter crews to train together by adopting joint procedures and operating as a joint/combined Task Force in crisis response operations simulating a challenging, realistic and dynamic scenario.
Besides the focus on flying in demanding environmental conditions, the exercise was developed to implement “Joint Interoperability Training” and efforts made to maximise integration of joint interoperability tasks, including:
- Air Assault (AA)
- Special Operations Aviation (SOA)
- Combat Service Support (CSS)
- Close Air Support (CAS) including Urban CAS and Emergency CAS
- Convoy/helicopter escorts
- Reconnaissance and Security (R&S) operations
- Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)
- Personnel Recovery (PR)
- Military/Non Military extractions (NEO Ops)
- Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC)
- Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC)
The following aircraft were involved in Italian Blade 2015:
Austria: Four Agusta-Bell 212 from the Leichte Transporthubschrauberstaffel (lTHSSta), based at Hörching.
Belgium: Four Augusta A-109BA multirole helicopters from the 1st Wing that are based at Beauvechain AB.
Czech Republic: Three Mil Mi-24V Hinds from the 22ZVRL, based at Namest nad Oslavou.
Germany: Four NHIndustries NH-90TTH from the Transporthubschrauberregiment 10 “LÜNEBURGER HEIDE” (THR-10) based at Faßberg, four Bell UH-1D from the Transporthubschrauberregiment 30 (THR-30) based at Niederstetten, one Sikorsky CH-53G from Hubschraubergeschwader 64 (HSG 64) based at Standort Laupheim and also 170 special forces of the German Army Division Division Schnelle Kräfte(DSK).
Hungary: One Mil Mi-17 “Hip” helicopter from the MH 86. ‘Szolnok’ Helicopter Ezred, based at Szolnok.
Italy: Two A.129CBT Mangusta that are part of the Aviation School and one A.129D ARH Mangusta from the 48°GruppoSquadroni ‘Pavone’ based at Rimini/Miramare, Agusta-Bell 205A, AB212 and AB412s based at Viterbo, CH-47C and CH-47F Chinooks based at Viterbo and one EH.101 Merlin from Marina Militare based at Luni Sarzana.
Slovenia: One AS.532AL Cougar with KFOR titles, which indicates that it was participating with the NATO’s force in Kosovo.
Aims and objectives
The aim of Italian Blade 2015 was to train European helicopter crews and staff to plan, fly and operate in conditions likely to be faced during possible future operations, adopting joint procedures whilst operating as a joint/combined aviation battalion in CRO.
The exercise also promoted cooperation in helicopter training through the adoption of the pooling and sharing concept, and to develop joint interoperability through the integration of multinational elements, both in the air and on the ground.
The exercise aimed to achieve a number of objectives. Amongst these was to maximise integration of interoperability in operational tasks such as formation, coordination, mutual support and so on. Units flew a diverse set of missions, replicating day and night operations, with a focus on the integration and synchronisation of the participating helicopters as members of a combined unit.
The aircrews also performed missions at high temperature, high altitude and in dusty conditions, in order to increase aircrew skills and qualifications to operate in adverse weather and environmental conditions. The exercise also promoted dialogue and cooperation between EDA participating Member States and the implementation, usage and testing of the validity of a common procedures plan for joint and combined operations, whilst also enhancing the skills of Helicops Command/Units and crews in using standard procedures in the conduct of flight operations.
The exercise involved a scenario whereby forces deployed in a friendly and recent pro-democracy state, where they encountered opposition from insurgent forces with a scenario reflecting military operations other-than-war (MOOTW). The Helicopter Aviation Regiment was tasked to perform several combat, combat support and combat service support operations, acting in the assigned area of responsibility under the authority of a Regional Command (Brigadelevel).
The scenario was helping to simulate EU Crisis Management Mission, endorsed by the UN Security Council, where an EU Combined Joint Task Force was supposed to be deployed.
The exercise delivered tactical training over two weeks, offering participants a unique opportunity to plan and execute missions within a joint combined framework. One of the main challenges was to ask participants to integrate capabilities rather than simply de-conflict operations. The exercise is developed on a ‘building blocks’ design, starting with cross-training activities on small Combined Air Operations (COMAO) missions, in order to build a mutual understanding of each participant’s equipment and standard operational procedures.
The complexity of the missions increases over time. Italian Blade 2015 was based on commonly-agreed SOP (Standing Operating Procedures). During the Italian Blade 2015 planning phase, the SOP were completely reviewed to reflect lessons learned during previous HEP exercises as well as recent operational experience. Staff personnel from the participating nations were embedded in the exercise’s Command & Control structure and held intelligence, operations, logistics or liaison positions.
During Italian Blade 2015, a mentor team of six instructors from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom were supporting multinational crews in the preparation and execution of the challenging COMAO missions. This year’s edition of the HEP exercise introduced the position of Chief Instructor, an active-duty UK Royal Air Force Squadron Leader who will manage the mentor team to ensure consistency of the output and proper exchange of lessons learned during HTC and HTIC events.
This link between HEP, HTIC and HTC ensures involvement of qualified instructors in all three parts of the “triangle”, contribution to an increased exchange of knowledge, and the establishment of a standardised European-wide training pipeline.
Additionally this interaction provides the opportunity to use the HEP for the evaluation of the participating units, as executed by some of the participants on a purely national basis. The next exercise in the HEP is planned to be held in Finland in 2016.
We would like to thank the following people for all their help in completing this report and all the possibilities during IB’15: Lt. Col. Emanuele Pappolla Col. Massimo Meola WO 1 Gabriëlle Rigon and Cap. Carla Brocolini.