We would like to thank the following for their help in completing this report:-
Palmina Cerullo (British FCO, Defence Attaché, Rome)
Gabriele Rigon (PI, AvES)
Col Massimo Meola (PI, AvES)
Czech Contingent Aside the A.129 Mangusta helicopters of the Italian Army (AvEs), the Czech Air Force provided the only other attack helicopters involved in Italian Blade '15. Three Mil Mi-24V 'Hinds' from 22 ZVRL based at Namest nad Oslavou providing the close air support (CAS) during the exercise. All three helicopters were the last Mi-24s delivered to the Czech Air Force in January 2003, although they do also operate ten Mi-35 versions of the Hind, those being taken on charge during the course of 2005.
This A.129CBT Mangusta is based with 48º Gruppo/7º Reggimento at Rimini-Miramare
Aims and Objectives The primary aim of Italian Blade 2015 was to train the crews and personnel to plan, fly and operate in conditions likely to be faced on future operations and to adopt joint procedures whilst operating as a combined aviation battalion. It was also intended to promote co-operation by the 'pooling and sharing' concept, at the same time developing joint interoperability through the integration of multi-national elements, both in the air and on the ground, whilst flying a diverse set of missions both day and night. With the ability to also fly in dusty 'hot and high' conditions during the exercise, aircrew had the chance to hone their skills in these conditions, with some countries also taking the opportunity to qualify less experienced crews.
A German NH.90 seen returning as part of a two-ship mission
Getting some maintenance checks between missions, the groundies were an integral part of IB15
#701 lifts-off for an afternoon mission
The first 'Hot Blade' exercise took place in March 2009 following the signing of a ten-year agreement by thirteen countries for involvement in the European Defence Agency's (EDA). The first exercise was held in Gap, France and was followed by exercises in Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal. Of the thirteen countries that signed the original agreement, twelve committed their rotary-winged assets towards enhancing Europe's capability and interoperability (Luxembourg not having any aviation assets) as part of the Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP), which was subsequently re-signed by the twelve Member States in November 2012 for a further period of ten years.
The Italian Army base at Viterbo was selected for the exercise in 2015, under the guise of 'Italian Blade'. Located some 50 miles (80km) north of Rome, Viterbo is generally regarded as the home of Italian Army
The exercise ended on 2nd July in the presence of the Italian Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Domenico Rossi, and the Chief of Staff of the Italian Army, General Danilo Errico. Organized by the European Defence Agency and focused around the Monteromano training area, the helicopters involved flew more than 600 hours, with the aim of increasing the level of interoperability of Armed Forces of the various European countries involved. The next exercise in the HEP is planned to be held in Finland during 2016, with the vastly different weather conditions likely to be experienced that far north undoubtedly providing opportunities to conduct scenarios outside the scope of those held in previous events.
Slovenian Contingent A single Eurocopter AS.532AL Cougar from Cerklje provided troop transport during IB15. Purchased from Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) from 2004 onwards, the Slovenian Air Force has four of the type in operation with 15 Helikpoterski Bataljion. Aside from their operations within Slovenia, they also provide support to the Slovenian troops on the ground in Kosovo.
Germany was the largest supporter of IB15 aside the home-based contingent
THR-30 at Niederstetten providing four of their veteran Bell UH-1D 'Hueys' for the exercise
Italian Contingent As one would expect, by far the largest contingent involved in IB15 came from the home team. The majority of helicopters involved being from the Italian Army, who contributed with Agusta-Bell 205, 212 and 412s, A.129 Mangusta attack helicopters and the larger NH.90TTH and CH-47C & CH-47F Chinooks. In addition to these, there was also a single Marina Militare EH.101 Merlin transport variant from Luni-Sarzana.
The airfield at Viterbo is split into two seperate parts, the North side and the South side. All the other countries participating in IB15 flew missions from the northern side, which houses the AvEs' frontline operational units and also has the only runway at Viterbo. However, the Italian units involved in IB15 also utilised the south side of the base, which is where the Aviation School operates from and is a heliport only, having no runway on place. The Marina Militare EH.101, AvEs A.129s and AB.205/212/412s operating from here.
Having transferred from the Heer to the Luftwaffe, the German CH-53Gs now operate with HSG-64 at Laupheim
and is focused around the Centro Addestramento Aviazione dell'Esercito (Army Aviation Training Centre). Jetwash Aviation Photos spent a couple of days at Viterbo during the Italian Blade exercise to see how working together benefits a multi-national helicopter force in conducting missions throughout the world's trouble spots. During the exercise, Combined Air Operations (COMAO) provided an opportunity for the contributing nations to conduct joint and combined air assault missions, operating together in mixed units, as well as providing individual training for nations qualifying their pilots in 'brown-out' conditions, night vision goggle (NVG) operations an fighter evasion. During their time at Viterbo the countries involved flew both National and IB15 missions.
This head-on view clearly illustrates the stub-wing pylons used to carry the Hip's armament, such as gun and rocket pods
On board 'Cargo 02' as we return to Viterbo on 30th June
60 Airbus Helicopter NH.90TTHs are on order for the Italian Army, with deliveries now seemingly well under way
Basking in the afternoon sun between missions, a 17 Smaldeel Agusta A.109 awaits its next mission
Three Agusta A.129 Mangusta attack helicopters participated in IB15. These two are of the A.129CBT version and are seen on the southern ramps at Viterbo, part of the Aviation School
The German Hueys are slated for withdrawal in 2016, so were probably attending an HEP for the last time
Despite the well publicised problems experienced by the Heer with their NH.90s, four took part in Italian Blade from THR-10 at Fassberg
The Italian Army provided troop transport utilising both the new and old versions of their Chinook helicopters
Seen above is one of the veteran CH-47C models from 11º Gruppo/1º Reggimento lifting off on a morning mission
The exercise involved forces deployed in a friendly and recent pro-democracy state, where they encountered opposition from insurgent forces. The Helicopter Aviation Regiment was tasked with performing several combat support and combat service support operations, under the authority of a Regional Command. The scenario was designed to simulate an EU Crisis Management Mission, endorsed by the UN Security Council, where an EU Combined Joint Task Force would be deployed. A six-strong instructor team from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom supported the crews in their preparation and execution of the COMAO missions.
Austrian Contingent Four Austrian Agusta-Bell 212 helicopters from Linz-Hörsching participated in IB15, along with 60 personnel, made up of crews, engineers and ground troops. Under the command of Colonel Hannes Mittermair, the four helicopters completed 105 hours of operations during the exercise with no reported aircraft problems. "The exercise goal; the improvement and strengthening of international co-operation in the field of military helicopter operations was clearly achieved," said Col. Mittermair. "All teams gained experience and our AB212 is, after the recent technical retrofitting, up to date and meeting the required standards".
The Slovenian's sent one of their AS.532AL Cougars to IB15. It is seen here taxying out for an afternoon mission on 30th June
The aircraft wears KFOR titles, indicating its involvement in NATO's peace keeping force in Kosovo
Mentor Team A mentor team made of six instructors from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom supported the multi-national crews with their preparation and execution of the COMAO missions. IB15 also saw the introduction of the Chief Instructor position, this role being taken up by an active-duty Royal Air Force Squadron Leader from RAF Benson, who managed the mentor team, ensuring the output and exchange of lessons learned during Helicopter Tactics Course (HTC) and Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course (HTIC) remains consistent. The link between HEP, HTC and HTIC ensures the involvement of qualified instructors in all three courses and provides an established and standardised European-wide training pipeline for the countries involved.
Still soldiering on with the Italian Army, although gradually being withdrawn and replaced by the CH-47F model, the CH-47Cs nonetheless took part in Italian Blade. Both models of the Chinook are based at Viterbo with 11º Gruppo/1º Reggimento
Sporting the standard Czech Air Force camouflage pattern, this 22 Základna Vrtulníkového Letectva Mil 24V sits on the Viterbo ramp
Of note are the paw prints on the engine intakes above the cockpit, signifying the units 'NATO Tiger Squadron' association
Wearing the standard green/black camo' of the German Army, #79-05 takes a well earned rest on the Viterbo ramps
One of the Austrian crews prepare for an afternoon mission during Italian Blade 2015
Still soldiering on depsite entering service way back in 1966, a relatively large number of AB.205As remain in service with the AvEs
#MM80718 is home based at Viterbo with 1º Gruppo/ Centro Av
The four A.109s from the Belgian Air Component flew missions almost non-stop, with the aircraft normally operating as a 3-ship
Belgian Contingent17 Smaldeel (Squadron) provided four Agusta A.109BA multi-role helicopters from 1 Wing at Beauvechain air base. Operating in the Combat Service Support (CSS), Close Air Support (CAS) and Reconnaissance & Security (R&S) roles, the four helicopters were equipped with 7.62mm door guns on pintle-mounts for self protection and to provide cover for the ground troops. As with the Austrian and German units, the four aircraft generally operated as a 3-ship on their sorties, although we also saw ocassional single-ship missions during our time at Viterbo.
Wearing the same overall matt green paint, the new CH-47s are most easily distinguished by the different nose profile to that of the CH-47C
Built under licence by Agusta-Westland at their Vergiate plant, the F-model has a L-3 Wescam MX-15HDI electro-optical/infra-red sensor and FLIR incorporated under the nose
A 26º Gruppo AvEs NH.90TTH rests between missions in front of the unit's hangar at Viterbo during IB15
Of more advanced design than its AB.205 predecessor, the AB.412 is operated in relatively small numbers by the Italian Army
German Contingent Aside from the home-based Italian units, Germany provided by far the largest contigent of both helicopters and ground forces. The Heer contributing four Airbus Helicopters NH.90TTH from Heeresfliegerregiment 10 (THR-10) and four Bell UH-1D helicopters from Heeresfliegerregiment 30 (THR-30). The Luftwaffe contributed a single Sikorsky CH-53G from Hubschraubergeschwader 64 (HSG-64). Special Forces infantrymen of the German Army's Division Schnelle Kräfte (DSK) also participated in IB15, along with forces of the divisional staff and the 1st Airborne Brigade.
Mission over, the Magyar groundies move in to complete their post-flight checks
One of the four Italian Army NH.90TTH helicopters takes to the air from Viterbo on 1st July 2015
This particular aircraft is from 26º Gruppo/1º Reggimento based at Viterbo
HEP Concept Delivering tactical training over the two weeks of the HEP, participants had a unique opportunity to plan and execute missions within a joint, combined framework. One of the main challenges was to ask participants to integrate capabilities rather than simply de-conflict operations. The exercise was developed around a building block design, starting with cross-training activities on a small COMAO mission in order to understand each participant's equipment and standard operating procedures, with the complexity of the missions increasing over time.
A Hörsching based AB412 of the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte departs Viterbo during Italian Blade 2015
Hungarian Contingent The Hungarian participation consisted of a single Mil M-17 'Hip' from 86 Helicopter Base at Szolnok. The Hungarian crews flew in support of ground based troops, providing both an airlift capability with troop insurgency and the delivery of support equipment utilising the 'Hips' ability to carry underslung loads. Jetwash Aviation Photos flew a mission with the Hungarian crews (call-sign 'Cargo 02') to the Monte Terminillo on
Probably the most unusual helicopter at Viterbo was this Agusta-Bell AB.412EP of the Vigili Del Fuoco (Italian Fire Brigade)
The sole Marina Militare Italiana helicopter taking part in IB15 was this AW.101 ASH utility helicopter from Luni-Sarzana
An A.129D ARH (armed reconaissance helicopter) version of the Mangusta taxying out at Viterbo
30th July, a massif with an altitude of 7273 ft (2217m), located about 62 miles (100km) from Rome, where the Mi-17 performed a number of mountain landings. The mission was designed to familiarise the crews with the landing area and surrounding terrain in preperation for a mission the following day in conjunction with some of the German DSK troops.
The differing nose pofiles of the A.129CBT (left) and A.129D (right) are seen above
Exercise 'Italian Blade 2015'
A FN Herstal M3 .50 calibre machine mounted on the starboard door of a German NH.90
The helo's performed a variety of duties during the exercise, with one equiped specifically for CASEVAC duties
Held between 22nd June and 3rd July, the participants for Italian Blade 2015 (IB15) were Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and of course Italy, with over 40 helicopters involved in the exercise. Knowing how your coalition neighbours work and operate is key when conducting multi-national missions and 'Italian Blade' provided the opportunity for the participants to benefit from the experiences of their neighbours, something that is particularly useful in these times of austerity. Multi-national operations are commonplace in the world's trouble spots, so gaining experience from aircrews that have been in combat zones as part of such a force is hugely beneficial. Interoperability is key, and Italian Blade is designed to build on the previous six exercises, ensuring that if needed, there is a coalition force trained, ready and able to commit at short notice to trouble spots anywhere around the world.
In addition to the helicopters there were of course numerous maintenance crews and ground troops at Italian Blade, with a total of around 1200 participants involved from the various nations. During the exercise, a variety of Air Assault (AA), Special Operations Aviation (SOA), Combat Service Support (CSS), Close Air Support (CAS), Reconnaissance & Security (R&S), Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Personnel Recovery (PR), Medical vacuation (MEDEVAC) and Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) missions were flown.
Although not in situ, the mount for the 7.62mm minigun can be seen in the open door of #H33 above