Organised at Pápa in Hungary, the Exercise proved to be a high-tempo, dynamic event. A total of 250 flight hours were accumulated, almost 28000 ammunition rounds and 480 non-guided rockets fired. The five participating Member States (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Slovenia and Hungary) participated with 14 different European helicopters. The first week included a complete day of briefings covering flight safety, expected battle rhythm and host nation support, weapon range procedures and a review of joint helicopter tactics. This theoretical element was followed with familiarisation of the aircrew with Pápa airbase, emergency rehearsals with firefighters and (SOF) troops to take account of the different helicopters types and to ensure high safety levels were achieved in all areas. The first week continued with individual training, helicopter operations by day and night, fighter evasion missions with Hungarian JAS-39 GRIPEN jets and live-fire training on the different weapon ranges. Despite significant bad weather with low cloud and thunderstorms, all day and night missions were completed successful.
In the second week, the shooting ranges north of Lake Balaton were fully utilised, allowing the flying participants to train in a highly realistic mixed rural and urban environment and adapt their thinking to complex missions with integrated live-firing scenarios. As the exercise matured, the multi-national crews conducted coalition level training, which culminated in the planning and execution of 7 Composite Air Operation (COMAO) missions. These covered a spectrum of advanced helicopter manoeuvre tactics including a large formation of helicopters with embarked troops and integrated training Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTAC), set against complex threats such as SA-6 SAM, T-72 Main Battle tanks and GRIPEN fighter aircraft.
The experience of working together and practicing live firing tactics in combined and joint missions is a critical requirement to maintain operational readiness at a realistic level. With most nations working within tight financial constraints, this level of advanced training is virtually impossible to achieve on a purely national basis. However, in addition to the cost sharing benefits, the exercise also offers a step change in improved interoperability which has become the hallmark of the HEP.
In his closing remarks, the Exercise Director expressed his appreciation to everyone who had contributed to the success of the exercise: “During this two week period all of you demonstrated a high sense of commitment and accomplished your tasks with diligence and professionalism. We come from different nations, with different languages, but we have the same missions and the same challenges to address. You have demonstrated that working together is the only solution to achieve our appointed tasks and reaching success.”
Even as the Exercise draws to a close, work to identify critical lessons begins. FIRE BLADE 2017 is but a waypoint in the Programme’s objective of continuous improvement of European helicopter operational capability.
The job now is to build on this excellent foundation as we move forward to the next exercise in Portugal in June 2018.
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