Yesterday FOB braved the wintery climate of the Belgian Ardennes to attend the distinguished visitors day of exercise Black Blade 2016, held from 14 November to 2 December on the southern Belgian airbase of Florennes. Organised by the European Defence Agency in coordination with the Belgian army, Black Blade 2016 is the 10th exercise organised under the umbrella of the European Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP), considered as a perfect example of “practical European cooperation” by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
For three weeks, 400 military personnel and 13 helicopters from Belgium, Austria and Slovenia, supported by a Royal Air Force Falcon DA20 flew 175 exercise sorties, adding up to almost 300 flight hours. The objective of Black Blade 2016 was to develop coordination on the ground and in the air amongst special operations forces, represented here by 70 soldiers from the Belgian Special Forces Group, the 3rd parachute battalion and the ordnance disposal service. In addition, crews concentrated on COMAO (Composite Air Operations) missions, sometimes flying two such operations in a 24-hour period by day and night.
Lieutenant Colonel Stéphane Roodbroek, director of the exercise, remarked that “the results of the exercise are excellent” but for Mogherini, “there are still many things to achieve in terms of joint training, interoperablity, deployment and anything else which will make the European Union a more reliable, more credible, stronger guarantor of our security.”
Launched in 2009 and formalised in 2012 by 14 countries*, the HEP is a 10-year programme whose “added value […] is certain given that training for large scale, joint missions is not something one can do on one’s own,” said Jorge Domecq, director of EDA.
Starting with the GAP 2009 exercise organised in France, 206 helicopters, 1,320 aircrew members, and almost 13,000 infantry from 19 member states have deployed to the exercises. The programme will continue to rise in intensity with exercises planned in 2017 in Hungary, in 2018 in Portugal and in 2019 in the Czech Republic.
Below are some photos of the Black Blade 2016 demonstration for distinguished visitors:
*Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia and the United Kingdom