Third European Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course

Members of the Rotary Wing Operational Evaluation and Training Unit (RWOETU) deployed alongside frontline Qualified Helicopter Tactics Instructors (QHTIs) to take part in the third annual European Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (EHTIC) this autumn.

The course was the brainchild of the European Defence Agency (EDA) and aims to teach experienced aircrew to instruct tactics in the air or on the ground. Their hope is that the course will create a cadre of instructors who have experience of working together in large multinational packages, which is increasingly becoming the norm when deployed on operations. It is designed not to concentrate solely on current operations but to prepare participants for any scenario, from the lowtech threat to high-end war fighting.

Aircrew from the UK, Sweden, Austria and Germany took part in the course, graduating as Bronze or Silver instructors commensurate with their experience. The broad syllabus covered mixed formation, electronic warfare against surface radar threats, fighter evasion, vehicle interdiction and convoy support.

The course began at RAF Linton-on-Ouse with a comprehensive ground school taught by RWOETU and Standards and Evaluation (STANEVAL) instructors. The students were given grounding in all of the subjects outlined in  the course syllabus, sharing their lessons learnt from previous operations. In addition, they are taught training psychology, defence training principles and assessment and intervention techniques needed to become effective instructors. They then moved on to apply their skills in the bespoke EDA simulator facility, which contains two flight simulators based on the Super Puma. The simulators provide a generic aircraft on which to hone their instructional skills before putting them into practice on their own aircraft. They have particularly impressive rear crew stations, which features virtual reality headsets with head and weapon tracking.

The practical flying phase took place at Vidsel Test Range near Lulea in Northern Sweden. The participants deployed an impressive range of aircraft including UK Chinook Mk4s, Swedish Blackhawks and NH-90s along with a pair of Austrian OH-58 Kiowas. Northern Sweden provided a vast, lightly populated area in which the crews could train. The weapons range to the north allowed aircraft fitted with defensive aids to live fire; a rare opportunity in the UK.

The exercise was supported by a detachment of Hawks from 100 Sqn, RAF Leeming, and alongside JAS-39 Gripens from the Swedish Air Force, they provided the ‘red air’ for the evasion training serials. This was one of the highlights of the course, especially as this would be the first time many of the students had been exposed to such high intensity training.

The pace of the course was relentless; two sorties a day along with the attendant lengthy briefs and debriefs took its toll. Fortunately, the diplomatic clearance prohibits weekend working so the entire detachment decamped to  nearby Lulea for the weekends. The Swedish aircrew hosting the exercise treated the staff and students to a traditional midsummer banquet held in the 1st Helicopter Squadron hangar in Lulea. On the menu, various forms of pickled herring and a shedload of schnapps followed by a night on the town.

The course culminated in two large composite air operations. These missions combined all of the skills learned in a complex scenario featuring multiple assets. The students were put under considerable pressure in the planning phase as the task was only ‘dropped’ the previous afternoon. Again, the Swedish Air Force provided the aggressors in the form of the SK-60, a vintage training aircraft. The mission commander had quite an array of assets under his control. The Gripens of 211 and 212 Sqn based at nearby Kallax, Lulea, played the ‘blue air’, Swedish troops the ‘blue force’ and the exercise was granted use of the Swedish Air Defence radar system for coordination and control. This proved to be quite a challenge for all those who took part, including the staff running the missions, but an unrivalled training opportunity.

The graduation dinner was held in the nearby Storforssen Hotel. It was done in typical dining in night style with a traditional Swedish menu. Capt Chris Kappl of the Austrian Air Force scooped the best student prize and the graduates were awarded their certificates and coveted badges. The party went on into the early hours back at the accommodation, which featured a very sociable fire pit to make the freezing temperatures a bit more bearable. Luckily, the Northern Lights were out in force to round off a great experience.

The graduates from the previous year will return to take on the running of the course in the future, enabling the course to become self sufficient. In the mean time, they will take all of the experience gained and use it to improve their own frontline aircrew, enabling greater interoperability in future coalitions.

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