Act with Awareness!
A 117 Sqn F-16C ‘Barak’ taxies for departure while a Greek F-16C already gets airborne to act as Red Air
Members of the air forces of Greece, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Cyprus joined the annual Iniochos exercise at Andravida airbase in Greece, from 12 to 23 March 2018.
Increasing level of realism
Given the high (readiness) level of Hellenic Air Force (HAF) personnel owed to the everlasting tensions with neighbouring country Turkey for years, the HAF has been looking for a way to verify their ability to employ their weapon systems in a high- density environment. Established in the late 80s as a domestic small-scale air exercise, the setup of Iniochos was changed in late 2013, based on experiences that HAF pilots had gathered during exercises such as Red Flag in the USA and the Tactical Leadership Programme ( TLP) in Europe. Iniochos
was then transformed into a medium scale INVITEX (Invite Exercise), meaning that other interested foreign nations could participate by invitation. Another change was the adoption of the so-called single base concept meaning the execution of operations from one single air base. As Colonel Konstantin Zolotas, deputy commander of the Air Tactics Centre (ATC, locally known as Kentro Aeroporikis Taktikis or KEAT), explained, “By implementing these changes, it contributes to better synergy effects, a more realistic simulation of real combat operations and the opportunity of a better analysis of the results by debriefing together. It improves the learning curve significantly and therefore provides a higher efficiency for all participants involved.”
The first- and main- goal during the initial editions of Iniochos was to create a realistic environment for proper training of Hellenic Air Force fighter squadrons. This level of realism has increased over time, particularly when foreign participants started to contribute with their own training and combat experiences. The training scenarios are now executed in a challenging and demanding high-threat environment for the participating nations, which was expanded with the inclusion of simultaneous Hellenic Navy and Army exercises like Astrapi.
ATC plans to make Iniochos the most important medium scale air-exercise for Europe and the Middle East. To reach this goal, a fully simulated combat environment is being provided to all participants, together with the opportunity of using different kinds of target ranges (over land and over sea) for perfectly realistic training conditions. According to US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Greece is well underway in reaching this goal, “Iniochos has become an important multinational exercise with broad participation from across Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, which reflects the ambition of Greece as a builder of bridges, as a pillar of regional stability,” he stated.
In previous years, the exercise was scheduled during April, but the start of other activities at Andravida forced the planners to reschedule to an earlier date; as a result, the weather conditions were less than ideal as they would normally be in April, resulting in some cancelled missions due to adverse weather.
Besides all HAF combat squadrons, six foreign countries were present during Iniochos 2018. The United Arab Emirates returned to Iniochos for the second year in a row. Last year they brought their F-16E Desert Falcons equipped with the Northrop Grumman AN/ APG- 80 AESA radar. According to unconfirmed statements, one of the main reasons behind the decision of the Hellenic Air Force to invite them was, besides strengthening of bilateral relations, the desire to have a closer look at the AESA radar, having in mind the forthcoming introduction of the F-35A Lightning II in the Turkish Air Force. This year, however, the UAE AF brought six less advanced Mirage 2000-9s of 71 squadron based at Al-Dhafra Air Base.
Unlike previous years, the Israeli Air Force was only present during a small portion of the exercise in the second week, with four F-16Cs from 117 squadron which is based at Ramat David airbase. Last year, the fact that the Israeli and UAE Air Forces trained together during Iniochos, received much media attention and this might have influenced the decision of the Israeli leadership to lower their presence in 2018.
It was noteworthy that during the media and VIP day on the second Tuesday of the exercise, the Israeli and UAE aircraft did not fly together: the UAE Mirages only participated in the morning mission and the Israeli’s F-16Cs in the afternoon mission.
The Royal Air Force joined Iniochos for the very first time, with Typhoons from No.3 (R) Squadron from RAF Coningsby. “This is the first time that Typhoons have been deployed to Greece. This exercise offers us a great opportunity to prepare for future operations and strengthens our existing relationship with the Greek Armed Forces,” stated Wing Commander Lewis Cunningham, Detachment commander of No.3 (R) squadron.
Another first timer was the Cyprus National Guard Wing, which participated with an AW139 helicopter from 460 SAR squadron during the first week of the exercise. Their role was to rescue simulated downed pilots from the nearby Mediterranean Sea. Returning after last year’s debut was the Italian Air Force with Tornados from 6° Stormo, based at Ghedi air base. The United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE) is a very frequent participant and this year it joined with no less that twelve F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath.
Axis of stability
Overall, the exercise was a big success again and a great opportunity to verify the capabilities of the organising home team. Greek Defence Minister Kammenos underlined the importance of Iniochos for the Greek Armed Forces: “Year by year, the Iniochos exercise becomes larger with more participants, more countries, more aircraft and it actually turns into one of the most significant exercises worldwide. Together we are building a great axis of stability, northwards, with the Balkan countries, Bulgaria and Romania, southwards with the countries of the Middle East, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan etc. I hope that very soon we will be able to announce the establishment of the greatest air force training centre in Peloponnese which will interest air forces of friendly and allied countries. That is our objective”.
Not many official words from the participant came to the surface, but it is understood that all participants praised the realistic simulation of combat scenarios and the multitude of unexpected simulated threats that the Hellenic Air Force General Staff incorporated in to the exercise to keep the participants always on alert. Specially designed to simulate modern, complex and intensive air operations, day and night, in order to provide realistic training that resembles the early days of a conflict (simulating real warfare), the annual exercise Iniochos is the frame in which personnel and aircraft are tested to the limits of their capabilities. This year, the Egyptian Air Force sent observers during the exercise. Therefore, it is possible that in a future edition they may participate as well.
Home based 338 MDV supported the exercise with four aging F-4Es
Israeli F-16C of 117 Sqn of Ramat David air base takes off spectacularly during an afternoon mission
USAF F-15E touches down at Andravida after a morning COMAO
F-16D of 337 Mira taxies at Andravida with the Skorta mountains in the background
A Greek F-16C of 347 Mira comes in to land after the morning COMAO
Highlights of this year’s exercise were Mirage 2000-9s of the UAE AF
Using conformal tanks to extend mission time, this Greek F-16C returns back to Andravida