Act with Awareness

Andrea Avian, Erik Bruijns and Mark de Greeuw watched the action at Exercise Iniohos in Greece and filed the following report

MILITARY

Andravida Air Base in Southern Greece was a busy place in late March. Aircraft from around Europe and the Middle East arrived at the base for Exercise Iniohos, the modernday edition of a training event originally started by the Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia (Hellenic Air Force) in 1988. For those interested, iniohos means charioteer. This year’s event, held between March 27 and April 6, featured some new faces, but as usual was organised by the resident Hellenic Air Force KEAT (Κέντρο Αεροπορικής Τακτικής or Air Tactics Centre).

KEAT Commander Lt Col Dimitrios Panagiotopoulos said: “Exercise scenarios include situations of escalating tension, virtual crises and advanced hostilities with Hellenic Navy and Hellenic Army units included in the exercise to create realistic and advanced scenarios.”

Speaking at the opening media event, Panos Kammenos, Minister of National Defence, said: “Development of the exercise is a direct consequence of the modernisation of the Hellenic Air Force and manages to create realistic training scenarios in a demanding environment, addressing the need for advanced tactical training. The Hellenic Air Force wants to create the best training centre in Europe with an annual exercise. Our aim is to expand and increase the number of participating nations and aircraft. Our goal is to improve the infrastructure over the coming years. We learn a lot from the participating nations and are continuously updating the exercise syllabus and its complexity. This will enable us to create the best possible exercise for all involved.”

Kammenos emphasised the importance of cooperation between nations participating, especially when faced with the current geopolitical problems in the region.

Players

As would be expected, exercise host the Hellenic Air Force was the biggest participant, with F-4E AUP Phantom IIs, Block 30, Block 50 and Block 52 F-16s, and Mirage 2000EGs all taking their place in the fast-paced exercise.

The unmistakeable lines of the F-4 Phantom II in the shape of Hellenic Air Force F-4E AUP 01528 on final approach to Andravida Air Base. All photos Erik Bruijns and Mark de Greeuw

Six AMX ground-attack aircraft arrived from Istrana Air Base to start Italy’s first participation in the exercise; aircraft were assigned to 132° Gruppo, 51° Stormo. The Aeronautica Militare and the Hellenic Air Force have flown together in early exercises outside of Greece, including Blue Flag in Israel.

Israeli aircraft have attended early editions of Iniohos. This year, 12 F-16s assigned to 101 and 105 Squadron based at Hatzor Air Base carried the flag for Israel. F-16s were not the only aircraft wearing the blue Star of David involved in the exercise. One Gulfstream G550 Airborne Early Warning and Control from 122 Squadron based at Nevatim was also at Andravida, providing command and control to the fighters.

Tucked away in an area on Homestead Air Reserve Base south of Miami, Florida is a facility that’s home to Air Force Reserve Command’s F-16C-equipped 482nd Fighter Wing. The unit has not operated from European shores in recent years largely because of its tasking in the United States and in US Central Command’s area of responsibility. This year, the wing was tasked to deploy to Andravida, and became the first US Air Force unit based outside of Europe to participate in the exercise. The 482nd FW’s flying unit, the 93rd Fighter Squadron ‘Makos’ had eight Block 30 F-16Cs at Andravida.

First-time F-16-players were not limited to the Makos. Others travelled from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf State’s air force sent six Block 60 F-16Es from the Shaheen squadron. Iniohos was the second known-about event in which Israeli and Emirati combat aircraft (F-16s) have participated in a cooperative exercise like Iniohos. Last August, both nations deployed F-16 units to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada for Exercise Red Flag. Allegedly, the two nations do not have any diplomatic relations.

Explaining the daily exercise plan, mission commander Lt Col Dimitrios Varsamis said: “The exercise comprised nine flying days, with at least two missions per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Every mission consists of two waves leaving Andravida Air Base one hour apart. Each day has a different type of mission [counter air operations; fighter sweep; anti-surface air operations; combat search and rescue; interdiction of air defences; and air strikes against high-value targets], building up the level of complexity, and on some days involved evening or night missions. Each mission represents a real-life scenario with the objective to suppress the opposing forces.”

An Israel Air and Space Force F-16I Sufa on its take-off run in full afterburner. Rated at 29,000lb of thrust, the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine enables the F-16I an easy take-off run even when carrying a heavy weapons payload.

Airspace

Aircrews made full use of the chance to operate in airspace devoid of the kind of restrictions so typical in much of Europe’s airspace. Aircrew told AIR International the west coast of Greece is well suited to realistic training, with clear airspace from ground level up to around 70,000ft (21,300m), air refuelling tracks available over a wide area and many air bases that offer alternative landing options for emergencies.

Pilots from overseas also outlined what a formidable air arm the Hellenic Air Force is to train alongside, with an impressive cadre of personnel, including Hellenic Air Force Fighter Weapon School instructors who were involved with the planning and organisation of the exercise.

Blue air pilots flying in strike packages were pitted against all available land and sea-based air defence systems provided by the Hellenic Air Force, Army and Navy, and worked in cooperation with Hellenic Army AH-64DHA Apaches, Hellenic Navy S-70 Seahawks and Special Forces to engage all types of targets ranging from tanks to air bases, to high-value assets like frigates and amphibious assault ships.

To counter the Blue air force, the HAF Fighter Weapon School formed a strong Red air component involving F-16s assigned to 330 Mira at Nea Anchialos and 337 Mira at Larissa, which exclusively flew aggressor missions throughout the entire exercise. Both units primarily fly the air superiority role and undertake hundreds of real scramble missions over the Aegean Sea. Pilots from each squadron brought experience and sophisticated tactics to Red air.

Two United Arab Emirates Air Force F-16Es taxi for take off at Andravida. Operated by the Shaheen Squadron based at Al Dhafra Air Base, this year’s Iniohos was the first appearance of the type.

Although 330 Mira operates the Block 30 F-16 – the most manoeuvrable fighter in the HAF – the type has some limitations in terms of over-the-horizon combat, mainly due to the age of its avionics. To overcome such limitations, pilots made use of the Block 30’s significantly higher thrust-toweight ratio (compared to later blocks of F-16) to climb to and operate from high altitudes, flying at supersonic speed and tactically employing the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile.

Pilots assigned to 337 Mira took full advantage of the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System and the IRIS-T missile.

A significant number of ground-based air defence systems were also assigned to the Red Force, and were supplemented by the anti-aircraft capabilities used by Hellenic Navy frigates.

Commander of the 117th Combat Wing Lt Col Yiannis Angelis explained: “The value of the exercise has been in simply breaking down the communication barriers between nations, and getting us to the point where we brought together an effective fighting force. Scenarios were particularly challenging, giving our pilots and weapon system officers the chance to train in a highthreat environment in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

The Israel Air and Space Force maximised use of the available air space, including areas assigned for low-level flying by launching sorties at the end of each day after the main strike packages were complete.

Missions

Initial missions involved Red air fighters and ground-based systems deploying across the entire Peloponnese waiting to ambush Blue air aircraft arriving from their marshalling areas over the islands of the Ionian Sea en route to their assigned targets, which included airflelds, industrial areas and army depots; the types of target that require extensive weapon and target analysis.

Rough terrain throughout the Peloponnese proved to be advantageous for the Blue air fighters; American, Emirati, Israeli and Italian pilots said the area offered the best low-level arena they had ever flown in.

Missions of greater complexity followed involving engagements over the Aegean Sea, dramatically increasing the area of operations, where hundreds of islands and naval forces dispersed around the exercise area provided new challenges for Blue air strike packages.

In Greece to provide command and control to the players in Exercise Iniohos was Israel Air and Space Force G550 537 operated by 122 Squadron.

Exercise planners required mission commanders to adapt to sudden changes in the planned scenario and re-adjust their game plans accordingly. A key factor, and a high priority for the Fighter Weapons School, in this was electronic warfare. As such and beyond the full release of all available jamming resources and electronic countermeasures, participants were frequently challenged by false information (spoofing) or disruption of their communications with controllers, which led to an increase in the aircrew’s workload.

The targets and the type of each mission were planned the day before execution. Mission commanders were free to choose the assets used.

Scenarios typically anticipated the launch of Blue air offensive operations to strike ground targets deep inside enemy territory or attack Red Force naval units. Such Blue air strike missions involved air interdiction, suppression of enemy air defences, close air support, deep air support, reconnaissance attack interface and non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Block 30 F-16C 88-0410/FM lands at Andravida. The 482nd Fighter Wing ‘Makos’ was the first US Air Force unit based outside of Europe to participate in Exercise Iniohos.

Blue Air

Blue air strike packages comprised aircraft from all participating units. More specifically, Aeronautica Militaire AMX provided close air support to the Hellenic Army and demonstrated a high level of proficiency thanks to the experience of its pilots operating in Afghanistan.

Blue air commanders had a formidable arsenal of simulated weapons to meet the requirements of each mission including AGM-65 Maverick; AGM-154 JSOW; GBU- 12 and GBU-24 laser-guided bombs; GBU- 31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and AM39 Exocet anti-ship missiles carried by Mirage 2000EGs.

Battle damage assessment was performed by the Hellenic Air Force’s reconnaissance aircraft: 348 Mira RF-4E Phantoms and 335 Mira F-16Cs carrying the DB-110 reconnaissance pod.

Reconnaissance aircraft flew orbits in predetermined areas, called loose time areas, to give the strikers time to hit their targets from where they entered the target areas after the post-strike dust and smoke had cleared sufficiently well to enable the camera systems to capture the imagery required for battle damage assessment. Fighters maintaining combat air patrol secured the areas above and around the reconnaissance jets, protecting them from potential attack by Red air fighters.

Iniohos 2017 was the last international exercise in which the RF-4E, a reconnaissance version of the legendary McDonnell-Douglas Phantom, participated; the Hellenic Air Force will retire the type in May. Ground and maintenance crew from 348 Mira worked hard to keep their RF-4Es serviceable throughout the exercise, and squadron pilots used their extensive lowlevel flying experience to carry out the role successfully.

On average, 100 single Blue air sorties were flown for each mission, the bulk of which were tasked to Hellenic Air Force squadrons, but also included Hellenic Army AH-64D Apaches.

What Next?

This year’s exercise continued the long cooperation between Hellenic, US and Israeli Air Forces, and for the first time those from Italy and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom were present at Andravida to prepare for high-end conflict against the most capable of potential adversaries.

Aircrews were satisfied with the training they received during this year’s exercise, and their feedback is bound to encourage their respective commands to participate again next year. The Hellenic Air Force Fighter Weapons School recently hosted pilots and F-16 fighters from the Egyptian Air Force. If the aim of the Hellenic Air Force Commander to make Iniohos the biggest exercise in Europe is maintained, may be F-16s out of Cairo-West will be touching down on Andravida’s runway next spring.

Grey, blue and delta. A two-seat Mirage 2000BG loaded with an inert IRIS-T missile on its way to an operating area over the Ionian Sea.