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The Air Assault is a Powerful Weapon; Terwolde, October 3, 2018

Falcon Autumn 2018, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

From September 26 until October 13, the integration exercise Falcon Autumn 2018 took place. Airmobile units from Germany and the Netherlands participated in this exercise. The helicopter flew daily from Deelen Air Base. The exercise was held in the Veluwe area, in the east of the country and the north of the country

Airmobile deployments are nowadays an increasingly important offensive weapon. The Netherlands is a country which has been involved in this type of operations for more than 25 years and has therefore accumulated a lot of knowledge. During Falcon Autumn 2018, all aspects which make an airmobile landing a success are extensively trained. Throughout the exercise, it becomes clear how an airmobile assault is performed. There are many ways in which an airmobile unit can be deployed in a crisis area. With the deployment of the 11th Airmobile Brigade, a transport aircraft of the type C-130 Hercules will fly the units quickly to the borders of the mission area anywhere in the world. After this transfer, the so-called "Reception, Staging, on Grid Movement & Integration" phases will follow. During these phases, equipment and troops are formed and prepared into combat units ready for a battle in enemy territory. During the initial stage of an operation, an airmobile unit will be a forward operating unit during an Air Assault. This can be crucial for occupying large areas where strategic points can be maintained until reinforcements will arrive. An Air Assault is always offensive and surprising to the enemy and has a wide operating range. During an Air Assault, the attack helicopters of the 301 Squadron from the Gilze-Rijen Air Base are indispensable. The attack helicopters often carry out an important reconnaissance of the area prior to the attack and they eliminate the most important threats. In addition, the Apaches also protect the critical parts of the operation on the ground and in the air. In combination with an Air Assault, an action can be performed on the ground until reinforcements will relief the airmobile unit.

Air landings and tactical air transport are ideal means to act deep in the operations area. During an air dropping, the Hercules of the 336 Squadron from Eindhoven Air Base can drop parachutists (mostly “Pathfinders”) who land at or near the target. During Air landing operations, transport aircraft can also land near the primary target to

drop off troops and equipment. Airmobile units are ideally suited to carry out small, fast and short-term interventions with Special Forces. Specific people can be arrested in a tactical manner or raids can be performed on specific targets. Units with transport helicopters can also be dropped close to their target. Attack helicopters will also play a supporting role during these types of attacks. The helicopters secure the area and escort the transport helicopters. The combat helicopters can also carry out air strikes for specific operations or provide the ground troops with extra firepower from the air. When the threats in an area are eliminated and the terrain is under control, the area is stabilized and eventually transferred to the local authorities. In the concept of Air Maneuver, everything revolves around speed, flexibility and decisiveness from the air and on the ground.

The 11th Air Maneuver Brigade does not only perform in the highest force spectrum. The units of the brigade can make the difference anywhere in the world during every crisis. For example, the units can also perform cargo drops to provide isolated units with food and materials. During "Non-Combatant Evacuation Missions" in which Dutch citizens are threatened in an unstable region, the Defense department can choose to evacuate these people. During these kinds of missions the Pathfinders of the 11th Air Maneuver Brigade are forwarded to secure and mark a landing zone. On this marked landing strip, the C-130 Hercules will land to eventually evacuate the citizens. The transport helicopters can also be used to evacuate civilians. In addition to intensive practice, there are also a number of other issues that should be taken into account in such a large exercise. Lieutenant Colonel Hein Faber is the commander of the 301 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen. He admits that it must be taken into account that exercising in an inhabited area the unit needs to comply with a number of rules. Air safety also plays a major role in the deployment of large groups of helicopters, which is the case during Falcon Autumn. During one of the missions in Terwolde, the pilots of the formation decided to cancel the Air Assault at the steel factory. Faber says that at the moment such a decision is made the sight is simply not good enough to fly safely. He also indicates that in times of crisis there can be flown, but that someone from the supreme command must make the decision to cancel or continue.

It is the first time that the exercise Falcon Autumn is performed in this large structure. All aspects of airmobile deployment are discussed during this three-week exercise. Faber explains that the exercise has a structure in which the participants go one step further. In the first week, small local actions were mainly carried out, so that the participating units can still get used to each other. In the second week, units of the size of companies are deployed to attack and occupy specific targets. In the final week, during the final exercise there will also be an operation from a Forward Operating Base in the field in the vicinity of Assen. During this final stage exercise, a whole battalion will be deployed during the missions. This means that there will be flown with large helicopter formations and that all supporting aspects play a crucial role in the scenario. In total soldiers will train at 16 different locations during the exercise above civil and inhabited territory. Faber indicates that only in this way participants can simulate realistic scenarios. In order to make the exercise truly realistic, also operations in the dark were performed from the second week on. Faber explains that in the contemporary world it is normal that a large Air Assault is executed in the darkness of the night to make the surprise element bigger for the enemy. Falcon Autumn is therefore an important exercise for the 11th Air Maneuver Brigade. The possibilities to deploy airmobile troops are almost unlimited. You can use the right method which is needed at that moment, according to Faber.

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