Brussels - 6 December 2011 EDA News
After the last Ministers of Defence Informal meeting in Poland, the Portuguese Minister of Defence announced that Portugal will host EDA’s 4th Helicopter Training Programme Exercise. Minister Aguiar-Branco underlined this pooling & sharing initiative saying that “integrated training activities promote a high level of readiness and operational efficiency, while allowing major savings for all nations involved”.
The multinational exercise, called HOT BLADE 2012, will be held in Ovar, in the north of the country, gathering crews and assets from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Netherlands and Spain. The Exercise will be supported by Luxembourg. “Joint initiatives are an imperative”, Minister Aguiar-Branco said.
While Portugal is recognized for major fixed-wing training exercises , such as the latest Real Thaw 2011, hosting a multinational helicopter exercise will be a first. The value of the EDA’s Helicopter Training Programme is that it is the only model 100% dedicated to multinational rotor wing training. Portugal follows France (2009), Spain (2010) and Italy (2011), expecting to add its know-how and, of course, to offer particular geographical and climate conditions. HOT BLADE 2012 will train for hot and dusty environments, commonly found in operational scenarios, like Afghanistan. Proximity to sea and mountains might well allow other types of missions.
LtCol Carlos Lourenço is the Chief of Exercise Control of HOT BLADE 2012. He is coordinating a team of operational and logistics Air Force experts, who are planning scenarios, scheduling around 550 sorties, up to a total of 1 100 flying hours, and arranging logistic support for 46 helicopters, four F16 jets and more than 600 people.
As the HOT BLADE 2012 planning phase is warming up, an outline of intentions, ambitions and goals, is now evident. EDA interviewed «Corvo» (Lourenço’s call sign, which means “crow” in English), an F16 pilot who is already making HOT BLADE 2012 “fly”.
While Portugal did not participate in the three previous exercises, we have been following the Helicopter Training Programme concept (and its latest deliverables) closely. Indeed, the Programme is unique from several angles. In general, I would say that the Programme provides efficient joint training in a reasonable cost-efficient ratio. First, helicopter training is needed, as recognized by Ministers, and the HTP is the only multinational training initiative fully dedicated to rotor wing. This means that helicopter crews and assets are not embedded in any larger scenario - they are and stay at the core of the missions planned. And I am not referring to helicopter crews only – but to the full chain of command and control, logistics and support involved in the exercise.
Secondly, the multinational factor is crucial… due to their versatility, helicopters are high value assets and key enablers in terms of multinational operations; but Member States are not conducting these missions alone. So, interface, mutual understanding and confidence among nations’ crews are essential. That’s where these exercises play a major role: we learn from each other, we share our best practices in almost real scenarios, thus improving our operational readiness. Multinational training and interaction is very much perceived as a part of the operational success…
The HTP merges these two concepts: the need to train helicopter crews; and the multinational factor. Taking into consideration past exercises and knowing the aims of HOT BLADE 12, I would say that the programme is doing quite well; it’s already a successful and proven concept.
I always say to my team that we shall place our ambitions where the exercise takes place: high in the sky! We have the exercise sketched by now, and we know already how it will look. Based on the lessons learned from the previous exercises, we are working with EDA to bring the programme to another level, and I am entirely confident that it will be a major success.
From our side, it is a privilege to host around 45 helicopters and their crews in our country; so, let’s learn from them, let’s add our fingerprint to organising large scale training events and, in the end, let’s try to improve the concept, ensuring that nations make the most of it. For our Air Force, Navy and Army helicopter crews, HOT BLADE 12 will be a major opportunity to work together with other Forces. Furthermore, I hope that this exercise shows a clear sign of Portugal’s competencies and experience in running multinational training initiatives.
I do also expect to fulfil other nations’ training aims. Some of them are literally crossing Europe to join us – so the minimum we can do is to put our hearts in providing differentiated set-ups, as close as possible to current operational needs and challenges (high temperatures, high altitude and dusty conditions).
We will follow the good lessons learned – for instance, we will surely promote the joint tasks model; we will keep the multinational flight formations and, following the success of IT CALL 2011,
cockpit swaps. These were important achievements in the past. This model will maximize coordination inherent to all missions, as well as ensure a joint briefing and debriefing, where emphasis
will be given to flight safety and lessons learned.
Furthermore, we will have at least three major novelties in HOT BLADE 12. The first one regards the inclusion of F16 fast jets in the training scenario. F16s will perform top cover protection during the execution of helicopter missions. Using their Targeting Pod, they will search the ground looking for insurgents who might compromise the mission. In a building block approach scenario we will even induce/employ air threats by the end of exercise, so F16s will also perform a sweep role ensuring air superiority during mission execution.
And this will be the second innovation: we will have role player scenario forces, either air or ground, that will accurately replicate threat tactics and performance in a scaled presentation,
starting in a limited approach and increasing towards the exercise. The goal is to offer helicopter crews the opportunity to hone their skills in realistic scenarios. In recent operational
theatres, the experience told us that for troops on the ground it is very difficult to know where the enemy is (and what are they doing), so a bird’s-eye view from the sky is an invaluable help
to easily track positions. And even when the enemy is spotted from the air, they aren’t necessarily in the line of sight of ground troops; so crews need to be able to ascertain whether these
individuals are posing a threat or not, they need to recognize standard insurgent pattern behaviour like digging up an Improvised-Explosive Device. They also need to know the rules of engagement
(ROE) to react and apply force accordingly - or at least be able to inform ground commanders on enemy movements and intentions.
Regarding the third originality… some participating nations have offered their assets to real fire fighting missions. As you might know, every summer Portugal battles wildfires – our country’s summer high temperatures increase fire risk. The inclusion of foreign assets in missions usually coordinated by the civil protection is extremely challenging from a national point of view. Albeit being coordinated by the Portuguese Air Force, HOT BLADE will embrace a wide range of national institutions, including the three military branches, and, most probably, a civil protection cell. It’s not only about coordination – it’s about having well trained foreign crews ready to intervene in case Portuguese civilian authorities request so. It’s about making a multinational set-up available to achieve concrete results. We are already working at this level and, as far as we foresee, it will enhance the exercise concept. This is another novelty…
Training will be focused on joint operations – that’s the beauty of the Programme! We will look at the 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) and Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC). But, of course, such a diverse environment offers a wide range of scenarios. The airfield is located by the sea but not far from the mountains… geographically, the conditions offered in the north and in the south of our country are quite diverse. So, we stand ready to plan and support any additional requests of participating Member States.
You know, pilots are meant to fly – we are flying together more and more. From my past experience, I am sure that crews and supporting teams will be more than happy to share this multinational training spirit. What would make me happy? Well, to wake up the day after HOT BLADE 12, ensured that we have delivered a groundbreaking exercise. That’s what we are aiming for.
Lieutenant-Colonel Carlos Lourenço, 41, is a Portuguese Air Force F16 pilot. Born in Lourenço Marques (now, Maputo, Mozambique), he graduated at the Portuguese Air Force Academy in 1993. With more than 2700 flight hours, he has always flown F16 aircraft – first F16 OCU and, more recently, the F16 MLU. He became an F16 instructor and functional flight test pilot. Squadron Commander of Squadron 301 – “Jaguares” (Jaguars) between 2008 and 2010, he has an extensive experience in exercises; he participated in Red Flag, TLP, Clean Hunter, NATO Air Meet, Bold Avenger, Cold Response, Nobel Ardent, Loyal Arrow, NATO Tiger Meet and Real Thaw, among others. He also served at Enduring Freedom e Allied Force operations in Kosovo. Lourenço is currently Head of the Air Command’s Exercises and Training Section.