Storm Tide 22
From Sept. 5 to 16, 2022, the large-scale military exercise Storm Tide took place in Belgium. During this exercise, the Belgian Special Operations Regiment (SOR) conducted a fictitious Non-Combattant Evacuation Operation (NEO). For this, a lot of resources were deployed and different units from the land, air and medical components contributed to the success of this simulated evacuation exercise. Storm Tide 22 was the most important military exercise for the Belgian Army in 2022. Altogether, 790 military personnel participated. This was also the first time the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft was used during a military exercise of such magnitude.
A Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) is carried out when Belgian citizens in another country suddenly need to be evacuated due to a dangerous security situation. The purpose of a Non-Combattant Evacuation Operation (NEO) is to repatriate Belgian citizens to a safe area as quickly as possible. The importance of such an operation once again became very clear in August 2021 when, thanks to Operation Red Kite, more than 1,400 Belgians and beneficiaries were evacuated from Kabul airport in Afghanistan in a matter of days. During the evacuation of Kabul, the Belgian Armed Forces set up an airlift to Pakistan with C-130 military transport aircraft from the 15th Air Transport Wing. Practicing such complex evacuation operations is therefore very important if collaborations and processes are to be even better aligned. By practicing and training this better, Belgian Armed Forces and other involved departments can in the future serve Belgian compatriots who find themselves in difficult situations or in danger even faster.
During the Storm Tide 22 exercise, the fictional foreign country was simulated at the Weelde Air Base and for this occasion was named "Ongu”. Finally, on Sept. 12, three Airbus A400M aircraft from the 15th Air Transport Wing flew from a Forward Mountain Base (Koksijde Air Base) to Weelde airfield where 160 paratroopers jumped out of the aircraft to then take control of the airfield. The paratroopers were from the 3rd Paratroopers Battalion based in Tielen and the 2nd Commando Battalion based in Flawinne and are officially part of the Special Operations Regiment (SOR). The Special Operations Regiment (SOR) is a regiment of the Land Component of the Belgian Armed Forces and consists of six units which are specialized in special operations and rapid response. After dropping the paratroopers, the A400M aircraft then also brought equipment and vehicles such as Rapid Reaction Vehicles (RRV) to Weelde Air Base so that paratroopers could easily move outside the airfield to pick up compatriots in need. In addition, medical incidents were simulated and coordinated by the 14th Medical Battalion.
After the paratroopers took control of the airfield, this location served as a Forward Operating Base from which Belgian civilians could be repatriated to Belgium. To make this exercise as realistic as possible, the Belgian Armed Forces also worked with the Belgian Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs, which was responsible for managing and controlling the lists of people who could be repatriated at the Reception Centers. During this large-scale exercise, Belgian civilians to be evacuated were played by reservists and about 200 students of the Defense and Security study program. For these students, this was the perfect moment to see Belgian military personnel at work up close and they also got the chance to fly with the Airbus A400M from the fictional hostile territory. After picking up reservists and students at Weelde Air Base, the A400M transport aircraft flew to the Forward Operating base at Koksijde Air Base. To transport and support the paratroopers in the fictitious hostile territory around the airfield, NH90 TTH and A109 helicopters from 17th and 18th Squadrons that are part of the 1Wing were also used for this exercise.
Text & photos: Kris Christiaens