UPDATED | Finnish and German military rotary aircraft and their crews had a blast this week up in Scandinavia. Exercise Cold Blade 2016 put machines and men & women to the test from 7 to 18 March 2016.
Place of the winter wonderland was Ivalo far up in the most Northeastern country, with the training area being about 40 km (25 miles) from the Russian border.
The Finnish Army (Maavoimat) played the leading role, with 6 of its 20 NHIndustries NH90s supported by 95 people. The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) sent 2 of its 64 Sikorsky CH-53G Stallion and 70 personnel. Sweden sent some observers, while Italy dispatched a few trainees.
Operate in a challenging environment
Cold Blade, like its sister exercise Hot Blade in the Southern European countries, is aimed to train European helicopter crews and technicians to fly and operate in a challenging environment and to teach and learn techniques, tactics and procedures in those special conditions.
Finnish special forces
Simultaneously with Cold Blade the Finns ran Northern Griffin, an combat search and rescue exercise of Finnish special forces, enabling the NH90 and CH-53 crews to train with ground forces in infiltration and exfiltration. Airheadsfly.com guest photographer Johannes Heyn sent us some nice footage that we love to share with you.
Airbus Helicopters and Patria, the company responsible for the local assembly of the NH90, marked the important milestone of the delivery of the 20th and last serial NH90 during a ceremony with the customer at Patria’s facility in Halli, Finland, on Thursday 9 July.
“These helicopters are used for various tasks of the Finnish Defense Forces such as national defense, international crisis management and for SAR missions” said Jussi Ristimäki, FDF Program Manager for the NH90.
The very first flight of a Finnish NH90 took place in the Airbus Helicopters facility in Marignane in 2004 and the Finnish customer took delivery of the first NH90 in 2008. The remaining 19 helicopters were assembled by Patria in Finland. The contract was signed in 2001 for an order of 20 NH90 in TTH version for the Finnish Armed Forces and they have reached more than 7,500 flight hours since delivery.
“The delivery of this last serial helicopter is a significant milestone for the Finnish NH90 Program, and now moving forward we will concentrate on the retrofit program, which is already in progress,” said Ernst Heckert, NHI and Airbus Helicopters Program Manager for the Finnish NH90.
Finland is struggling to meet its operational requirements. The Finnish Army Air Wing has huge problems keeping its NHIndustries NH90s airborne, undermining both tasks at home as well as its air commitment to the European Union’s rapid reaction Nordic Battle Group.
The final of 20 ordered NH90 TTHs is expected to arrive soon at Utti Airbase to join 1.HK of Helikopteripataljoona (Army Air Wing) Lt. Col. Tuure Lehtoranta, told participants of the International Military Helicopter conference in Hotel Russell in London this week. But the Finnish Chief of Army Aviation also said that keeping the machines airborne is “a big challenge” and that the low availability of spare parts is “totally unacceptable” with up to 7 months of waiting time.
As a result the Finns are able to only field a maximum of eight machines, dropping to as low as three NH90s at times. That is already one machine short to the four Finland has committed as the medevac component to the Nordic Battle Group this year. The low number of operational NH90s leaves Finland with a number of Hughes 500D and 500E light utility choppers only, while just across the border Russia is building up an impressive fast helicopter force.
Moreover, NH90 personnel are said to refuse being deployed unless the Army is willing to pay them additional bonuses, jeopardizing the Finnish contribution to the Nordic Battle Group 2015 even more. Finland cannot force its personnel on international operations. Deploying abroad is an individual and free choice of each and every man and woman in the military. Sweden had a similar rule, but changed it a couple of years ago forcing military personnel unwilling to sign the new directive to look for civilian jobs.
With such problems it is almost a wonder that the Finns did manage to make 7,000 flight hours on the NH90 so far, making the nation one of the more experienced ones of the 13 countries that ordered the European co-production. The first Finnish NH90 arrived in March 2008 – to replace the Mil Mi-8s still in service. When airborne the NH90s are said to have impressed the Finnish military, giving the army’s top brass a valuable tool in transporting numerous of troops swiftly over distances of hundreds of miles.
Meanwhile the Swedish Armed Forces – having their own problems with the NH90s – are quietly planning to hold additional Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks in reserve for a possible Nordic Battle Group deployment. Sweden is the commanding nation of the NBG15 and three HKP 16s – as the Black Hawks are dubbed within Swedish service – already form the tactical Helicopter Unit of the rapid reaction force. Adding four more UH-60s should be relatively easy. Sweden operates a the total of 15 Black Hawks – initially as quick stop gap for the NH90 problems – and gained valuable experience flying the type in war situations from Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan.
The result of the Finnish problems might be a full Swedish NBG15 Expeditionary Air Wing, with the Fighter Unit consisting of 8 SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen fighters and the Air Transport Unit of 2 Lockheed TP 84s (C-130s). Meanwhile Finland will gain time to combat its NH90 operational availability at home.
LATEST UPDATE 15 MARCH 2014 | Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 fighter pilots got their butts kicked by Swedish Gripen jocks during the Iceland Air Meet 2014 currently taking place in the skies over the Atlantic island nation.
Four Flygvapnet JAS 39 Gripens and four Finnish Air Force F-18 Hornets formed the Blue Force, defending an area, while four RNoAF F-16s were the Red Force. Edström: “We won, of course. The Norwegians might be ahead of us during the Olympic Games, but not when we meet them in the air.”
Tough talk since the Norwegians were outnumbered 2:1 and since Red is supposed to go down, so we at AIRheads↑Fly would like to give those F-16 jocks some moral support by enriching this news catch with some nice official imagery from the current IAM 2014 operations at Iceland provided by Royal Norwegian Air Force personnel.
During the Iceland Air Meet 2014 Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian pilots together with Icelandic search and rescue forces – all supported by ground personnel – operate separately from the normal NATO air defence command system. Although Sweden and Finland have both fighter units assigned to the NATO air forces, neither of the two countries is an official member of the military alliance.
The Iceland Air Meet 2014 takes place from 3 to 20 February. Base of operations Keflavik is located near the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.
The air defence of Iceland is (almost) fully in Nordic hands the coming months, as fellow Scandinavian Norwegians have taken over the NATO Air Policing role on Iceland from the Americans as of 28 January 2014. They will start their tour of duty with something nice: the Iceland Air Meet 2014 (IAM 2014) that will also see Swedish and Finnish fighter jets in a military involvement on Iceland for the very first time.
During the Cold War Keflavik Airbase, near the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, was a strategic key point for the American military. Since 2006 NATO countries in turn provide the air guard for the island nation of 320,000 people. Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s have provided this NATO Quick Reaction Alert of four aircraft twice before, in 2009 and 2011.
During IAM 2014 the Norwegian air bases of Ørland and Bodø will be used as staging areas and logistic hubs. Bodø is a planned stop-over for the Finnish helicopters involved, and might be as well for the Swedish Gripens and Finnish Hornets.
This is the NATO-Nordic force during IAM 2014:
1 Icelandic Coast Guard (Landhelgisgaeslan) De Havilland Canada (Bombardier) DHC-8-314Q Dash 8 with reg. TF-SIF
2 Icelandic Coast Guard (Landhelgisgaeslan) Aérospatiale (Eurocopter) AS332L1 Super Puma with reg. TF-LIF and TF-GNA
6 Royal Norwegian Air Force (Luftforsvaret) Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon from 331/332 skvadron Bodø Airbase (4 are deployed as NATO’s QRA on Iceland the coming months), plus 110 personnel
7 Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen from 212:a stridsflygdivision (212 Wing) of F21 Luleå-Kallax air base, supported by 2:a flygbasbataljonen and staff personnel. Plus personnel from the Swedish Air Combat School (Luftstridsskolan) for command, control and ground protection.
1 Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) TP 84 (C-130) Hercules equipped with in-flight refueling system from F7 Såtenäs Airbase, supported by transport personnel from F17 Ronneby and medical personnel from I19.
5 Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat) McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C/D Hornet from 21 HävLLv Satakunnan Lennosto (Satakunta Flygflottilj / 21 Satakunta Wing) from Tampere/Pirkkala
2 Finnish Army (Maavoimat) NH90 SAR from 1.HK/HekoP (Helikopteripataljoona / 1st Helicopter Squadron) from Utti
1 NATO Boeing E-3A Sentry from Geilenkirchen, during IAM 2014 based at Ørland Airbase in Norway
1 Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht) KDC-10 tanker aircraft from 334 Squadron from Eindhoven Airbase
1 USAFE Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from the 100th Air Refueling Wing from RAF Mildenhall
At the time of writing no confirmation on serial numbers yet.