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Blade: Serving European Security

A series of military helo exercises held annually promotes interoperability between European nations.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) hosted two more Blade-series exercises in 2016, including Cold Blade at Ivalo airbase in Finland from March 7 to 18 and Black Blade at the Florennes airbase in Belgium Nov. 14 to Dec. 2. The exercises call for interoperability between European nations in training for various warfare capabilities.

Black Blade marked a decade of the Blade series under the umbrella of the EDA Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP). Past exercises had been held in various European nations.

Photo courtesy of Austrian Air Force — Fischer

Cold Blade was the first EDA exercise hosted by Finland. Participants included the Finnish Army’s training and development center for special forces and helicopter operations, or the Utti Jaeger regiment, and Germany’s Bundewehr helicopter wing. Six Finnish NHIndustries NH90s, two German Sikorsky CH-53GAs and a MD Helicopter MD500 participated, along with 180 Finnish and 65 German personnel. Swedish observers were also in attendance.

The exercise this year focused on navigation flights, formation flights and night operations in the challenging arctic environment. Germany’s primary focus was to improve its operations flying in arctic conditions, something Finland is used to. Both participants evaluated each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures.

Black Blade’s agenda included a special operations forces tactical course. The course was first introduced in 2012 during Green Blade, also held in Belgium. This year, focus remained on low flying zones. The task was to form a combined air operations package and support the special forces.

This exercise was larger than Cold Blade (the participant count in these exercises greatly varies). A total of 400 personnel from four member states participated with 14 aircraft, including 13 helicopters from Belgium, Slovenia and Austria, and one DA20 Falcon jet from the U.K. Attendees from Italy and Ireland also observed. Austria provided two Sikorsky S-70s and three Agusta-Bell AB212s. Belgium provided five Agusta A109s and two NH90s. Slovenia provided an Airbus Helicopters AS532 Cougar.

Aircraft in the Black Blade exercises included an Austrian AB 212.Photo courtesy of the Austrian Air Force—Fischer

In one simulated scenario, the special operations force had to free a hostage alive. A Belgian NH90 Caiman and A109BA, and an Austrian AB212 and S-70A-42 hovered overhead with machine guns ready. Troops were inserted on the ground via helicopter. These guys are prepared to react immediately to any situation, such as taking out snipers. Once the hostage had been rescued, an NH90 and Black Hawk landed again to recover their personnel and fly to a safe zone. Medevac helicopters, the AB212 and A109BA, also provided simulated medical care.

The EDA’s next HEP exercise is to take place in Hungary, while Belgium will host its next Blade exercise again in 2020. Special thanks to Finnish Defence Forces. R&WI