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Falcon Autumn 2016; Arnemuiden, September 27, 2016

An Air Mobile Assault Exercise; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

To prepare soldiers of the Dutch 11th Mobile Brigade of the royal Netherlands Army and the Defense Helicopter Command for future deployments, the exercise Falcon Autumn was held. During this exercise, all the defense components operate together as an integrated army in cooperation with their foreign partners.

In the period from Monday, September 26 until Friday, October 7, the Exercise Falcon Autumn 2016 took place. This exercise was primarily intended for the soldiers of the Dutch Air Assault Brigade in cooperation with the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC). During the exercise Falcon Autumn 2016 all aspects of the Air Manoeuver tactics were practiced. Infantry units of the Royal Netherlands Army were integrated with airplanes and helicopters of the Royal Netherlands Air Force during one large scenery. The Dutch units which are participating in the exercise are soldiers of the 11 Airborne Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army and helicopters of the DHC of the Royal Netherlands Air Force from Gilze-Rijen Air Base. AS532 Cougar transport helicopters provided the transportation of troops to the training locations. Also, the CH-47 Chinook helicopters were used; these helicopters were used to fly in heavy ground equipment in addition to troops on the training ground. The AH-64D Apache attack helicopters will protect the large transport convoys. These helicopters will coordinate the actions on the ground forces from the air and they will support the units on the ground with firepower. The C-130 Hercules transport aircraft from Eindhoven Air Base will support the exercise with logistic operations. During the exercise also several foreign units will attend. The German Division Schnelle Kräfte will fly along with EC665 Tigre combat helicopters, NH90 TTH Caiman transport helicopters and paratroopers. This mobile intervention force is the German equivalent of the Dutch Air Manoeuver units of the Dutch Air Force and the Dutch Army. The American 82nd Airborne Division has joined the exercise with an infantry platoon.

During Autumn Falcon 2016 Dutch soldiers are trained like the Dutch Defense nowadays will act during international missions, as recently in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali. In total, more than 1,000 soldiers will take part in this large-scale exercise by Dutch standards. The main objective of the exercise is to certify the 13 Infantry

Battalion Airmobile Regiment (nicknamed Johan Willem Friso, stationed in Assen) for deployment in the international context. The exercise took mainly place in Gelderland and Zeeland. During the first week of the exercise the scenario took place in Zeeland in the Walcheren region. The civilian airport Midden-Zeeland in Arnemuiden is the training ground for this scenario. This small airport has a grass runway and landing strip which will serve for the helicopters and there are some buildings around it which need to be captured. During the scenario of this exercise the airport is in the hands of the enemy force. At the airport several anti-aircraft batteries are lined up for the defense of the site. The buildings are intensively guarded by enemy forces equipped with heavy weapons. Before the helicopters could land safely in this area this defense site had to be disabled. The first attack in this area was made by the Apache helicopters from Gilze-Rijen. The helicopters were flying at high altitude and disabled the anti-aircraft batteries one by one.

Two Chinook helicopters and two Cougar helicopters appeared on the horizon. The helicopters were flying at a very low altitude and they flew low over the treetops towards the designated landing zone. The units of the airmobile brigade stormed out of the helicopters and they took an attack position in the grass right away. The ground units which had landed consisted of Dutch, German and American units. After dropping the units, the helicopters flew away immediately from the airport to leave the danger zone as soon as possible. The Apaches would circle continuously at high altitude to give direction to the units on the ground. The soldiers were soon involved in a heavy firefight with the enemy. The enemy had set up some defensive positions in front of the buildings where their command post was located. The forest at the edge of the airport was full with enemy troops. The Dutch units managed relatively quickly to conquer the forest by clearing the enemy positions. The units around the buildings encountered a much stronger enemy than expected. Fighting in and around buildings is one of the most difficult aspects for soldiers on the ground. The fights often take place at very short distances and the element of surprise is often very large. It is difficult to see enemy soldiers which are hiding around the corner of buildings. With the help of the Apache helicopters in the air the enemy soldiers who were hiding behind buildings were soon appointed.

After a few firefights the airport was secured by the military force on the ground. At this stage there is room to stabilize the wounded and prepare them for evacuation. The area where the wounded soldiers were retrieved was marked with green smoke. During the second part of the airmobile exercise, heavier equipment was flown in by the Chinook and Cougar helicopters. The Cougars flew more troops to the area to occupy the property structurally. The two Chinook helicopters arranged that the units on the ground were also provided with vehicles. A total of four vehicles were flown in hanging under the Chinooks as sling load. The four transport helicopters made a landing on the grass strip and disappeared from the area within a minute. The pick-up and drop-off of equipment and ground troops is a matter of seconds for the crews of the helicopters. After the airport was finally taken by the airmobile coalition units were supplied at that airport. A C-130 from Eindhoven Air Base would perform a cargo drop at low altitude. During this drop the Hercules flies with an open cargo door low over the grass strip. During this pass, there are pallets of cargo dropped from the aircraft in the occupied area. After this action the simulated scenario was completed. This integrated way of working ensures that the units of all the competences of the armed forces are able to work together efficiently. During the second week of the exercise soldiers will train in Gelderland on the ground in 't Harde and at the Leusderheide.

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