The European Defence Agency’s (EDA) annual Hot Blade exercise is taking place in July this year and will be centered on the Ovar air base close to Porto in northern Portugal.
Wing Commander Andrew Gray, the EDA’s helicopter program manager, is particularly pleased that an agreement between participating nations finally resulted in a 10-year funding plan. “We now have longevity, staffing and budget. I have two new team members who have been recruited from member states,” he said. With the combined cost of each full Hot Blade exercise estimated to cost between €25-30 million (roughly $38.8-46.6 million), Gray feels that the overhead cost of €550,000 (around $855,000) to manage the exercise from conception through to delivery is well worth it. The last Hot Blade 2012 was roundly praised with the funding committed as one of the results of its success.
The EDA’s helicopter initiatives not only encompass an annual multinational three-week exercise (Hot Blade), but are also directed in training and encouraging experienced leaders for the future through the European Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC).
Photo courtesy EDA
From April to the end of May this spring, the EDA ran its first EHTIC course for 14 German and Swedish students, together with four observers from Austria and Hungary. The course was held in two parts, the first being at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire, UK, and was a classroom and simulator phase (April 8-28l). The students were then put through what they had learned at the Vidsel Test Range in Sweden (May 6-24).
This flying phase used a German Sikorsky CH-53 and two Bell UH-1Ds, together with a Swedish Eurocopter AS332, against "red air" opponents in the form of two RAF Hawks and a Swedish Grippen. The tactical elements of the course included: electronic warfare training (EW); evasion training; airspace battle management (ATO, ACO, SPINS); manpads/SA; helicopter escort techniques; vehicle interdiction and a wide range of mission planning techniques.
The reasoning behind the course is to create a sustainable flow of well trained aircrew with tactical depth and the ability to operate with multinational forces. The first batch, on completion, return to their home countries and help train their own aircrew. They can also deploy with their home forces to get operational experience, and their HTIC training can help ‘cut down the trauma’ of multinational operations, states Gray. After this they will be welcomed back to the HTIC course, but this time as instructors themselves.
Although the initial instruction team was drawn from the UK’s Rotary Wing Operational Evaluation and Trials Unit (ROWETU) and the first syllabus came from the UK’s Qualified Helicopter Tactics Instructor (QHTI) course, which the UK has been using to train its own aircrew for more than 20 years, it will be adapted over time to suit the international nature of the EDA students. Gray described the development of the course as a "living document" with a long-term future.
According to Gray, the challenge ahead is to ensure that a high standard is maintained over time. When pilots and aircrew go back to their own nations to train their people, there is still a standard to be maintained. "We can't afford for individual modifications away from what we are teaching so that the overall worth is devalued."
He added that the high entry standard demanded included the understanding of English to NATO’s Stanag 3333 (Standard Agreement) level, not only for pilots but also for aircrew and gunners. "All those who qualify can come back as instructors, so you may have rear crew instructing pilots in the future – which to some nations may come as a culture shock," said Gray. But what the EDA is creating is a syllabus for the top 1-2 percent of pilots and aircrew, who will then spread good practice and agreed TTP’s (tactics, techniques and procedures) across the forces of all those forces who have committed to the HTIC.
Gray revealed that the intention is to create winter exercises as well as those in summer, so that aircrews can get experience of all conditions. A littoral exercise is also an ambition, he said, but quickly added that the complexities of managing a maritime-land exercise would be greater.
Related: Military Training News