Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Interview with Colonel Jaromír Sebesta, Czech Senior Commander at ITALIAN CALL 2011

By the date that this interview is published, Colonel Jaromír Sebesta and his crews will have been deployed to Afghanistan, putting European Helicopter Training Programme (HTP) exercises into practice. The Czech Republic, who has participated in the European Helicopter Training Programme’s exercises, tactics and language courses since its very beginning, participated in the ITALIAN (IT) CALL 2011 with around 70 people, three Mi171 and two Mi24 helicopters. At IT CALL 2011, EDA flew with the Czech crews; first in a national cockpit formation, on a Mi171 helicopter, and afterwards in a multinational cockpit configuration, with Czechs and Austrians, on a Mi24 helicopter.

This is a retrospective and prospective view of the Helicopter Training Programme and the Czech Republic’s engagement in the Programme, seen by Colonel Jaromír Sebesta, Commander of the 23rd Helicopter Base of Edvarda Benese Prerov.

Q: What is the importance of attending this format of Exercise?
A: Well, it’s important due to the different approach and attitudes of the European Union to the Helicopter Initiative and helicopter capabilities as such. Other exercises present a broad picture of participating forces together, where only a small part of the Exercise is devoted to helicopters. The HTP model is completely focused on helicopter capabilities: the scenario and the tasks fit perfectly  with helicopter capability training needs. This means we can fully explore our training goals in greater depth.

Q: It has been made public that there is a strong engagement by the Czech Republic in the Helicopter Training Programme… Mr. Jiri Sedivy, Czech First Deputy Minister of Defence, visited EDA recently. You will soon be deployed to an operation in Afghanistan. What is the importance of these training actions in your deployment?
A: We have been deployed twice to the Balkans, a similar environment to the one we have in the Czech Republic. It’s was nothing new – the novelty provided operational experience only. When we received the decision by our Government to be deployed to Afghanistan, we knew that it would be a different environment, with different conditions: hot, high altitudes and dusty. It raises lots of issues that need to be addressed from the beginning. That’s why after this decision of deployment to Afghanistan was made, we had to find a training model adapted to these operational needs. We needed to learn more about landing conditions, for instance. Exercises and training are not that easy to plan in a short time frame… so, we were fortunate that the European Defence Agency prepared these exercises that fit our requirements.

Q: Besides these exercises: GAP 2009, AZOR 2010 and now IT CALL 2011, you have participated in specific language and simulation courses. Were these also used in this operational context?
A: Yes, it’s an integrated approach… all these actions are part of the set-up conditions to improve our helicopter availability, since we have moved from the old Russian style of training and preparations, to the European model. Focus was then placed on building up an interoperable capability. Since those days, our pilots and personnel have to be able to operate in a multinational configuration. A level of English allowing the establishment of basic communication and enabling the operation in international frameworks is crucial. Then, of course, preparations for multi-flying and environmental conditions were also very useful. GAP 2009 (in the French Alps) was the first opportunity to train for landings on high mountains and in snowy conditions. In AZOR 2010, we also trained for high mountains and, above all, dusty conditions. Now, in Italy, we have combined both high mountain and dusty conditions. We take these exercises as part of our preparations for deployment. The crews trained under the HTP exercises are always the crews who will be deployed within a few months (or even weeks). These exercises are part of the final preparation stage.

Q: From someone coming from the outside world and landing in this Exercise, it’s clear that the multinational configured crew model changes the way crews interact… How did you find this multinational crews experience?
A: Well, this exercise follows a multinational configuration model. In the past, we have been involved for a long time in operations in the Balkans, Kosovo,  and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. We do have an experience in cooperation with different nations. So, in a way, the Exercises are not a big novelty. However, coming to an Exercise where there is one task performed by five or six different nations is always extremely positive. We have the challenge of planning, flying and performing tasks together.

Q: Did you have a particular mission with another Nation’s crew during IT CALL 2011?
A: Yes, we have already had a long and good experience with the Belgians; we know each other’s faces, so it’s easier... Previously, we have had good experiences in the Balkans and we do have very good records flying together.

Q: Lastly… you have had a long experience with Mi Helicopters...
A: Yes, since the 70’s… and we have a lot of experience with the long way of updating and upgrading these helicopters. We became quite proficient in transferring the training system from the Russian to the western style. The Czech Republic offered to share its knowledge with other eastern European Countries. In the end, all these initiatives aim at exchanging knowledge and practices.

Czech Mi171 (all credits: EDA)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Exercise ITALIAN CALL 11 came to an end today

(Credits: Austrian Air Force)

Exercise ITALIAN CALL 11, based in Viterbo, Italy, came to an end today as the crews and support personnel departed for their home bases. They part as friends and close colleagues, having met as strangers less than three weeks ago. They have lived together, planning and executing training missions as part of an exercise “European Helicopter Battalion”. They have learnt each other’s strengths, explored each other’s differences and have worked together to ensure that the collective experience is used to create best practice. This is the underlying principle behind the European Defence Agency’s Helicopter Training Programme, with IT CALL 11 providing the latest exercise in a series designed to create better understanding and trust between European crews and building true interoperability in a practical and tangible way.

The exercise was considered a huge success, with all participating nations grateful for Italy’s hospitality, professionalism and enthusiasm for delivering the EDA vision. This was underlined by the Commander of the Italian Army Aviation stating that he hoped for Viterbo to become a focus for such training in the Future.

There are many examples of the EDA theory in practice, but perhaps the most striking was a Belgium A-109 commander leading a mission of 32 helicopters from 6 nations – an event unlikely to have happened under a national training programme. Or perhaps the lively debate between attack helicopter pilots from the Apache (AH-64), Mangusta (A-129) and Hind (Mi-24), each using their own in-depth knowledge of their platforms to discussing the best tactics, techniques and procedures to use in high-threat environments.

During the exercise, over 500 hours were flown and more than 50 multinational “missions” launched. Crews were exposed to the complexities of multinational operations and many had the opportunity to lead a multination formation for the first time.  Process were agreed and trialled and in the ultimate act of interoperability, pilots were exchanged across platform and nations – each flying a new aircraft type and gaining a unique first-hand experience.

Having started in France, been developed in Spain and now taken a step further by Italy, the EDA HTP moves on to Portugal (HOT BLADE 2012, July 2012) and Belgium (GREEN BLADE 2012, October 2012).  Each will provide new opportunities and will play a part in ensuring that the programme evolves, remains relevant and provides the nations the essential training that they need.

News on Austria's Ministry of Defence website

The Austrian MoD released IT CALL 2011 related information (in German) here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

IT CALL 2011 pictures by the Austrian Air Force

A comprehensive album containing IT CALL 2011 pictures, taken by the Austrian Air Force, is available here.
No commercial use. All credits: Austrian Air Force.

IT CALL 2011 - Italian Army's collection

A large album with Italian Army's photo collection is available here.

No commercial use. All credits: Italian Army.

IT CALL VIP Day - video on EbS

Footage of IT CALL 2011 is already available on EbS, the European Union's TV information service. EbS provides free EU related audiovisual material via satellite to media professionals.

The video is also available on the Council of the EU website.

Monday, 6 June 2011

On board Agusta 109 - Belgium Army

A109BA serves the Belgium Army on Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) operations. Belgium participates in IT CALL 2011 with three A109 (two light transport, one MEDEVAC configured), operated by 30 people.

Below, detail close up and general views of one A109BA (all credits: European Defence Agency).

Pictures of the VIP Day - general images

All credits: European Defence Agency