The Belgian Air Component, ably supported by Luxembourg, hosted the joint and combined helicopter training and Special Forces 2012 exercise, Green Blade/Pegasus, at the Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium in October. The exercise was hosted by the EDA (European Defence Agency) Helicopter Training Programme. Kleine Brogel Air Base is the home of the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing. This Air Base served as a Deployed Operating Base (DOB) for both the Green Blade exercise and that of Pegasus. Pegasus 2012 relied on using the helicopter as part of their training. Combining both exercises into one not only offered the right training opportunities for both helicopter crews and Special Forces, but also had the effect of reducing costs, both a good example of the pooling and ‘sharing’ concept of the European Defence Agency and saved a lot of tax-payers money during these difficult financial times.
Pegasus 2012 was organised by the Belgium Special Forces Group and is a biennial exercise with an international character. Special Forces from Belgium (21st Company 3rd Parachute Group from the Special Forces Group in Heverlee), Italy (IX Battaglione “Col Moschin” in Livorno) and Spain (Escuadrón de Zapadores Paracaidistas in Murcia and Fuerza de Guerra Naval Especial in Cartagena) gathered at Kleine Brogel, Belgium. The commander of the Special Operations, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bilo; “A combined exercise like Green Blade and Pegasus gives a very good opportunity to the task groups from different countries to train and to cooperate with task groups from other countries. A lot can be learned by just coming together and sharing the experiences. With this combined exercise, a unique and challenging opportunity is offered to the special forces to train and to improve their tactics, techniques and procedures while also training with allied Task Groups and improving the interoperability using rotary and fixed wing assets. Last but not least, as an international exercise, Pegasus also fosters comradeship between the different nations and communities”.
The Green Blade exercise had three objectives: To enhance the interoperability at the tactical level in a realistic and challenging environment, to manage the deployment of the helicopter units and to conduct operations in a multinational environment. About 550 personnel and fifteen helicopters arrived at Kleine Brogel on Monday 17 September. Host nation Belgium took part with five Agusta A.109BA “Hirundo” utility helicopters from 1 Wing which is based at Beauvechain. Transporthubschrauberregiment 30 (THR30) from the German Army (HEER) arrived with six UH-1D Hueys from their homebase Niederstetten, Germany. The Aviazione dell’Esercito Italiano (Italian Army) participated with two types of helicopters, a pair of Agusta A.129C Mangusta attack helicopters and two CH-47C Chinook transport helicopters. The A.129C Mangusta helicopters are operated by 5° Reggimento “Rigel”, based at Casarsa della Delizia (located North-East of Venice), while the Chinook helicop-ters came from Viterbo (North of Rome), Italy and are assigned to 1° Reggimento “Antares”. The exercise followed a ‘step by step’ approach using three different modules while increasing the complexity of the missions. In the first week the participants familiarised themselves with the exercise area, the equipment and procedures of the other foreign units as part of the Combat Enhancement Training/Force Integration Training (CET/FIT) phase. On Tuesday 18 September, familiarisation briefings and flights were made to make the Special Forces familiar with the dif-ferent types of helicopters and the procedures for boarding and disembarking in a safe way. Pinpoint navigation flights were made over the provinces of Antwerp, Liége, Limburg and Namur to make the aircrew familiar with the landscape, local flight rules and exercise specific op-erating procedures. Non tactical training flights including night flying with Night Vision Goggles (NVG) and Nap of Earth flights were made as well. Workshops were given on a variety of subjects like Medics, Forward Air Controller (FAC)/JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller), Communications, Sniping, Tactical Site Exploitation and demolitions.
Helicopter Life closely witnessed one of the operations in a simulated scenario. In this scenario a radical revolutionary group is active and is terrorizing the local population and is kidnapping people with an increasing number of civilian casualties each day. An International Security Force has been mandated to intervene. Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) indicated that the leader of this radical group is using a house in the woods as a hideout. The leader was identified as a High Value Target (HVT) and a Belgian Special Operations Task Unit had been ordered to capture the leader alive. The planning and preparation started and is supported by a combined Rotary Wing Special Operations Air Task unit.
After a correct read back of the coordinates the JTAC contacts the COBRA formation, consisting two Italian A.129 attack helicopters, that “the High Value Target (HVT) is localized in a house in grid Fox Sierra six zero eight three six three four eight. We spotted an enemy vehicle with a heavy machine gun in grid Juliet Four. You are approved for the attack after a PID, how copy?” Cobra45 responds; “Juliet Four, clear to run in, Cobra45”. Seconds later the sound of rotor blades is swelling and an Italian A.129 comes behind the trees for its first run. “Cobra45, this is Dagger, confirm you are on the target”. “Confirmed, we are on the target, hold on” is followed by a pair of explosions. After the vehicle is destroyed, this is reported to the COBRA flight and they are instructed by the JTAC to fly overhead and to provide top cover. ‘BEAST55’ is contacted by the JTAC and approved to approach for the target area and is cleared to land to the north-west of the house. One minute later, the Italian Chinook pops up behind the trees to insert the diversion force by fast rope to attract and fix the insurgents on the west side of the house. In the mean time the HUSKY formation is prepared to fly in for the insertion of the Assault Force. One minute later, the Chinook leaves. Within twenty seconds, the first of two UH-Ds is hovering on the southeast side of the house, delivering the Assault Force by fast rope. Their task is to force their way into the house by breaching the door and also to the capture the target.
One team member was injured during the assault and “Samaritan60” was contacted to evacuate the injured team member. A few minutes later, a pair of A109BA helicopters arrive on the scene. The first helicopter lands while the second one provides top cover with the machine gun installed. After the departure of the Medevac helicopter, the UH-1Ds returns to pick up the captured leader and the Assault Force. Both helicopters depart as quickly as they arrived. In the mean time the Diversion Force is returning to the extraction zone with the swelling sound of the Chinook in the background. One minute later, the Italian Chinook is on the ground ready to extract all the remaining soldiers. After take off the quietness of the woods returns as though nothing had happened.
After three weeks, 49 missions and 487 flying hours later, the participating helicopters and ground forces left Kleine Brogel Air Base for their home base. Andy Gray, in charge of the Helicopter Training Programme of the EDA said; “we have to train the personnel the way we fight. Collaboration is the only option and Green Blade is an excellent example of how far we get by working and training together”. Everybody made a tremendous effort and delivered on time. The exercise objectives were reached, exceeding initial expectations. Operational experiences were exchanged and lessons learned were shared. The capabilities were enhanced through a better mutual understanding and the level of interoperability increased.