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NH90 Initial Operational Capable; Beauvechain, May 20, 2015

The THPU 2015, part 2; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The NH90 in Belgium was initially declared operational during the Tactical Helicopter Procedure Update (THPU) at Beauvechain airbase. The helicopters are fully opera- tional from this point for all national and international tasks in peacetime. A demonstration of the capabilities of the NH90 was given at the ceremony.

The exercise Tactical Helicopter Procedures Update (THPU) was held in the week from May 18 until May 22, 2015. This exercise is a refresher course for the helicopter crews in applying the existing international procedures. The THPU is held in preparation for the Italian Blaze exercise which will take place later in the year in Viterbo in Italy. Participants of the THPU exercise, which was this year held at the Belgian airbase Beauvechain, came from Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain. The Netherlands and Great Britain only participated in the exercise as observers and did not actively participate with helicopters. The Czechs flew along during the THPU with two Mi-24 Hind helicopters and one Mi-171 Hip helicopter. The French participated with two SA330 Puma’s and two SA342 Gazelles. The Germans flew along with two UH-1D Huey helicopters. Finally, the Belgians flew as organizer of the THPU along during the exercises with four NH90s and four A-109s. The Czechs have organized a Helicopter Tactics Symposium at the end of 2014. During this meeting the last real time conflict situations were evaluated and will possibly be converted into upcoming training topics. In preparation for the THPU and Italian Blaze, Belgian and Czech units have already practiced together on the Czech Air Base Namest in April. During the THPU scenarios are flown which are also practiced in some of these exercises. These scenarios can contain both personnel recovery and attacking enemy targets.

Major General and pilot Frederik Vansina is commander of the no 18 Squadron of the 1 Wing of the Belgian Air Component. He declared officially the NH90 Initial Operational Capable (IOC) during an official meeting at Beauvechain Air Base in Belgium on Wednesday, May 20th, 2015. The NH-90 helicopters at the airbase can from this moment be used for transport duties. This means that the helicopters are able to transport equipment and people in Belgium and abroad. This stage of initial

operational availability also means that the last phase of the training of the NH90 crews can be initiated with a view to the eventual Full Operational Capability status. During this last training phase, the pilots will be specialized in the execution of the more complex maneuvers and missions. After the last training phase, the helicopters can also be used during tactical missions together with other ground and airborne weapon systems. The new NH90 helicopters of the Belgian Defense are ready at this time to conduct operations in a friendly environment. This means in practice that the helicopters can only be used for all national tasks and international tasks such as disaster support. Vansina indicated that the army staff in Belgium is very pleased about the fact the air component now has its new operational capacity available. With the Sea-Kings we could only perform rescue missions at sea according to Vansina.

The pilots of the NH90 TTH gave a demonstration of the capacity of the helicopter during the THPU at Beauvechain. With a select audience in front of the area a fictional scenario was sketched in which helicopters were used by the Belgian Air Component. A number of terrorists captured an important politician in three orange containers. One of the NH90s suddenly appeared low over the grass and went into a hover at one meter above the grass. More than ten soldiers of the Belgian land component jumped out of the helicopter. After the soldiers had secured the area, a second helicopter arrived. The helicopter went in a hover above the orange containers. A number of Belgian commandos were lowered onto the containers. The military used the so-called fast rope technique to descend rapidly and effectively out of the helicopter. After a short fight with guns, the politician was rescued and was quickly hoisted into the helicopter by using the hoisting technique. In the meanwhile the commandos kept the area under control and the evacuation could proceed smoothly. One of the NH90 came in with an artillery gun under the fuselage as a sling load. In this way the heavy load capacities of the NH90 were shown to the public. The gun was quickly and efficiently placed in the grass in front of the orange containers. All the soldiers were picked up once the mission was completed; also the gun was picked up. This rapid evacuation of materials and personnel was part of the scenario too. In an intervention in enemy territory, it is important that after the successful execution of the mission also the retread is executed quickly. The helicopters are in fact at the moment they hover or land in the grass the most vulnerable.

With the NH90 we can easily drop people in places where it is impossible to land such as for example on roofs or on ships, explains Captain Pilot Bart Vanhauwaert. He is one of the ten pilots who can fly at this moment with the NH90 TTH of the Belgian Air Component. We can even transport heavy loads of up to four tons under the helicopter which is useful for humanitarian aid. Currently there are no operations scheduled, but if politicians in Belgium make a decision to deploy the helicopters we are available. It is expected that the first NH90s will be fully operational at the end of next year. At this moment the helicopter is only Initial Operational Capable. The coming year will be used to get the first crews operational when the next training phase will be started. The armament of the helicopters must still be mounted before the helicopters are physically ready for deployment in a hostile environment. The armament will consist mainly of guns which can be mounted in the doorway. These weapons can be used in a hostile environment to protect helicopter against enemy ground troops during landing. At this moment the NH90 helicopters are only able to evacuate people and for transporting troops or carrying heavy loads. Belgium had indicated when purchasing the NH90 that the country initially would buy four NH90 TTH helicopters. In addition to this order, the country posted the option to purchase another two helicopters.

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