Black Blade 2016
Between November 14 and November 30, 2016 the international helicopter exercise Black Blade took place at the Florennes Air Base. Black Blade 2016 was part of the Helicopter Exercise Program (HEP) which is one of the European Defence Agency helicopter training projects and programs. The objective of the Black Blade exercise is a safe and effective cooperation between ground and air units from different European Union partners. This HEP exercise was a Special Operations Forces (SOF) oriented helicopter exercise, focusing on enhancing interoperability at a tactical level in a realistic and challenging environment. During this exercise eleven nations and thirteen helicopters were involved at various levels such as observation, mission planning, coaching, supervision, technical assistance and tactical transport. While the helicopters for this exercise were delivered by Belgium (2 x NH90 TTH, 5 x Agusta 109BA), Austria (2 x S-70A-42 Black Hawk, 3 x Agusta-Bell AB 212) and Slovenia (1 x Eurocopter AS532 Cougar) other countries like Hungary, Sweden, Germany, Italy, England, Czech Republic and the United States were also involved at various levels. Over a period of almost three weeks Black Blade 2016 gave participants a unique opportunity to plan and execute missions within a joint combined framework. The seamless coordination and integration of the Belgium Special Operations Ground Forces into individual scenarios for the benefit of training was one of the specific focuses of this exercise.
The exercise started off on Monday November 14, 2016 with the arrivals of the foreign helicopters and the setting up of the troops. During Black Blade 2016 around 400 men were deployed at the Florennes Air Base. Twenty five missions were carried out of which ten were flown at night. The Black Blade 2016 missions were flown in different parts of Belgium at low or very low altitude which was necessary to this kind of exercises. For these kind of missions, Helicopter Training Areas (HTA) were set up around Arlon, Marche-en-Famenne, Elsenborn, Arendonk and Gierle.
One of the missions of Black Blade 2016 took place at a Helicopter Training Areas (HTA) on an old military domain in Arendonk, near the Dutch border. During this mission paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion of Tielen were sent to clean up and secure a zone where potential terrorists were spotted. The deployment of the paratroopers was a joint operation with the Belgian Air Force and the Austrian Bundesheer. The attack of the target zone lasted about half an hour after which the troops secured the landing zone for the helicopters to proceed the recovery. Eventually the Belgian and Austrian helicopters recovered the paratroopers and took-off to the Florennes Air Base.
Text & photos: Kris Christiaens
Location: Florennes Air Base, Belgium
More info: Belgian Air Force, Austrian Air Force, European Defence Agency