They know it should be there. They have been told. They’re ready, and they know the others are too. As they get closer, their eyes narrow and their heart beats increase while the speed of their Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter decreases. The others rely on them. An then, for several hundred feet in the grey autumn air, they spot what they’re looking for: a rebel camp, hidden. Time to do what they were instructed. Time to show what the Dutch Helicopter Weapons Instructor Course (HWIC) is all about.
If anything, Helicopter Weapons Instructor Course is about instructing future instructors, as they fly AH-64D attack helicopters, CH-47D Chinook and AS532 Cougar transport helicopters in close to real life combat theatres, although for now those theatres are situated in an otherwise quiet heathlands near Ede, the Netherlands. With various Dutch military missions going on all over the place, such as in Mali, the Middle East and Poland, the best preparation for air crew is needed. This quiet heath is where Defensie Helikopter Commando (DHC) helicopter pilots and loadmasters are being instructed to become weapon instructors. In the future, they will instruct their peers.
As they position their 35 million Euro attack helicopter, the Apache crew observes movements in the rebel camp and relay these observations to the others: colleagues, flying CH-47Ds and AS532s helicopters – with machine guns sticking out the doors – just minutes away. These helicopters, packed with troops, fly at tree top level. The mission is to drop off the troops near the rebel camp under the watchful eye of the Apache. It’s 30mm canon and Hellfire anti-tank missiles provide safety.
The trees make way for the heath, and there’s the rebel camp. The transport helicopters immediately land and unload their human cargo, while the Apache has been flying pattern some distance away, creating a distraction for the 18-strong rebel forces. As the Chinooks and Cougars hastily depart and disappear, gun fire errupts. Time to see if lessons are learned.
Trick of the trade
This year it will be the 8th time HWIC takes place. Participants crew are four AH-64D pilots, three CH-47D pilots and two loadmasters, plus one Cougar pilot and loadmaster. Their progress – crew and weapons management, decision making skills – is overseen by the DHC Tactical Training, Evaluation and Standardisation Squadron (TACTESS), a similar unit to that involved in large scale exercise such as Frisian Flag and the reknown Fighter Weapons Instructor Course (FWIT), where F-16 pilots learn every trick of the trade. HWIC is similar to that.
The HWIC consists of several phases. The current phase teaches air crew everything there is to know about tactical operations, including evading enemy ground-to-air and air-to-air weapon systems. This module requires close co-operation between army and air force units.
For now, it seems the co-operation is moving along effortlessly. The heavy Chinook and Cougar pop again to pick up troops as soon as the gun fire has ended. But the danger is not over. The deafening noise from the helicopters prevents boarding troops from hearing enemy fire, so they move along cautiously but swiftly. The Chinook door gunners provide cover. As a rule, the helicopters will not leave the ground before all troops are on board. Observers monitor how air crews handle this kind of stress. No surprise, as these will be the men and women who’ll instruct their colleagues in the near future.
As the choppers leave, quit times then return to the heath, but for a few hours only. The operation will be repeated later in the day. Over the course, the HWIC missions start to get more intensive. What awaits, is the grande finale, one that includes the use of live ammo. In November, the Bergen-Hohne shooting range in Germany will be the place to be for HWIC students.
After they finish the HWIC training course, they’ll be prepared to instruct their colleagues in getting ready for the real deal, which means taking part in any military mission all over the place, or wherever the Royal Netherlands Air Force provides its share and where it needs its qualified personnel.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editors Elmer van Hest & Dennis Spronk.