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The Helicopter Exercise Program; Florennes, November 30, 2016

Black Blade 2016, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The Exercise Black Blade 2016 was held this year at the Belgian airbase Florennes and is an operation of the Special Forces. The exercise is facilitated by the European Defense Agency (EDA). This organization has established the Helicopter Exercise Program (HEP) since 2004 for the training of the helicopter crews.

The European Defense Agency (EDA) was established in 2004. The agency was established by several European States which believed that there was a need for a common security and defense policy. The European Union's defense capabilities are in this way linked to each other. This means conducting and supporting collaborative European defense projects and studies on technological progress are jointly realized by one European army. One of the tasks of the EDA is to facilitate a large training program in which the helicopter units in Europe work together. In consultation with the participating Member States, there are several factors identified which were assumed to be the main causes of non-availabilities of the helicopters. One of the biggest show stoppers herein are a lack of properly trained crews, a lack of technical equipment for the various helicopter types and the challenges of logistical support for deployment during operations. The EDA helped the participating Member States in addressing these issues with a central training element. The Director of the EDA of Management Cooperation Planning & Support, Mr. Roland Van Reybroeck, indicates that the EDA has launched the Helicopter Exercise Program (HEP) to solve these problems.

The HEP is a training program of the EDA and was launched in 2009. The program’s final agreement was formally signed in November 2012. The HEP program currently has fourteen participating Member States, namely; Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Finland , Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. To improve the operational skills of the helicopter crews throughout Europe, the HEP program plays an increasing role in the deployable helicopter capabilities for contingency operations. The exercises focus on individual, environmental and multinational training, increasing interoperability through practical experiences, sharing of operational experiences and developing common tactics, techniques and procedures. The aim of the HEP program is to be an

integral part of the reinforcement of the European capacity and interoperability within a time frame of ten years. Between 2009 and 2016 more than 206 helicopters, 1320 aircrew members and almost 13,000 staff members in supporting roles from 19 Member States participated in the HEP exercises. The exercises took place in several countries such as France (GAP), Spain (Ex Azor), Italy (Italian Blade), Portugal (Hot Blade), Finland (Cold Blade) and Belgium (Green Blade & Black Blade). In addition to these practical trainings the Helicopter Tactics Symposium was held in Luxembourg for a total of four times in which Member States discussed ideas and theories together.

During the exercise Black Blade the Distinguished Visitors Day (DVD) (VIP Day) was held at Florennes on November, 30. The demonstration of the exercise was attended by the head of the EDA and Spanish diplomat Jorge Domecq and the Italian MEP of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini. Mogherini and Domecq witnessed a demonstration of the latest developments during the common European helicopter training. The head of the agency also had a personal meeting with some participants of the exercise Black Blade 2016. During the visitors day Jorge Domecq held a little speech to the audience and the media. During this conversation Domecq explained that the tenth edition of the HEP is truly a milestone for the EDA. Meanwhile, the HEP already has a great reputation when it comes to improving the skills of helicopter crews and interoperability. The HEP really contributes to the readiness for deployment. The added value of the HEP is largely caused by practicing large-scale joint and combined missions. It is also a cost-effective and efficient way to exchange the best skills between the European parties. Furthermore, it is an ideal platform for learning the helicopter techniques, tactics and procedures for joint operations. Domecq was particularly grateful for the contribution of the Belgian Armed Forces and especially Florennes Air base for hosting the exercise Black Blade 2016. In addition to the EU leaders, the DVD was also attended by representatives of the EDA States, the European Parliament, the Military Committee of the EU and the Belgian Defense as the host of the exercise.

The results of the exercise Black Blade 2016 will be thoroughly analyzed and the lessons which are learned are incorporated into future exercises. The first feedback from the participants in this Special Forces exercise was very positive. The advantages are obtained in a tactical level and in an operational level. The international cooperation partners have once again ensured that the Member States have learned from each other's tactics and procedures. Conducting missions with the Special Forces appears to be a true specialism for the helicopter crews. The EDA will continue the development of a European program to support the Member States; the training is aimed on the high-end capabilities based on harmonized training programs and the use of the best national training centers. The next step for the EDA will be to accept new Member States which will join the HEP and ensuring the continuity of the long-term program. With the current progress the EDA can develop future training initiatives in consultation with its Member States. This logic has already been applied to exercises with fixed wing aircraft. An example is the European Air Transport Fleet (EATF) which has been established in cooperation with the EDA. The European Tactical Airlift Centre (ETAC) in Zaragoza, Spain is used for the training of transport units in Europe. Future editions of the HEP are expected to take place in Hungary in 2017 during exercise Fire Blade. Later there will be also an exercise in 2018 in Portugal and in 2019 in the Czech Republic. In 2020 the HEP exercise is likely to be hosted by the Netherlands and Belgium, but this is not yet certain.

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