exercise iniochos 2024
@ Aviation Report / Philipp Vallianos

Greece: Iniochos exercise 2024

Between April 8th and April 18th, exercise INIOCHOS 2024 was carried out in the clear blue Hellenic sky. Also, this year again, three new members were welcomed to the continually expanding international INIOCHOS family: Montenegro, Qatar and Romania. The number of Air Forces participating in INIOCHOS 2024, has been so far the largest one in the history of the exercise since its establishment as an INVITEX-exercise. The number of air assets was 106, based in Andravida AB plus more air assets flying from other airbases. These air assets completed in total 1.027 sorties, more than 100 per day.

In general, exercise INIOCHOS offers realistic combined air operations where crews operate in a complex and congested air environment. These challenging scenarios with multiple modern threats and real-time live injects are specially designed to maximize combat effectiveness and boost the interoperability of participating allied forces, operating in a demanding and dynamic training environment.

The combined presence of dangerous air and surface threats provides an opportunity to interact, cooperate and exchange ideas with the aim of producing an effective tactical action plan. Following the flights, mission reconstruction and debriefing is helping identifying lessons regarding the use of multinational forces and strengthens individual and team skills.

In order to achieve this, the Hellenic Air Force Fighter Weapons School (SOT) of the Air Tactics Center (KEAT), supervises the missions, from scenario planning to debriefing, confirming that the full range of missions to be covered was conducted by the participants. INIOCHOS 2024 was structured around 9 major missions, each focused on a particular theme:

  • Air Power Contribution to Land Operations (APCLO) & Air Power Contribution to Maritime Operations (APCMO)
  • Combat Search & Rescue
  • Defensive Counter-Air
  • Ground Asset Attack
  • High Value Airborne Attack
  • Offensive Counter-Air Operations against Integrated Air Defence Systems
  • Strategic Air Operations
  • Time Sensitive / Dynamic Targeting
  • Traditional Reconnaissance

A main mission theme is defined each year in cooperation with the participating countries. Last year it was “Maritime Strike”. This year special emphasis was given to Air Superiority & Long-Range Escort as well as to Night missions. In addition, new missions based on observation of the current global conflicts have been included in the detailed training program.

exercise iniochos 2024

Participants

In addition to the Hellenic Armed Forces, the following countries took part with personnel and equipment at INIOCHOS 2024:

COUNTRY NUMBER & TYPE(S) UNIT(S) REMARKS
Austrian Air Force Reconnaissance &

Special Forces Team

Cyprus Air Command 1x AW139 460 MED
French Air Force E-3F Operating from

Home Base

French Navy 7x Rafale M Flottille 12F
Montenegrin Air Force 1x Bell 412EPi HE
Portuguese Air Force Reconnaissance &

Special Forces Team

Qatar Emiri Air Force 1x Rafale DQ

4x Rafale EQ

62 Sq
Romanian Air Force 3x F-16AM Esc 53
Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR.4 Operating from

RAF Akrotiri

Royal Saudi Air Force 4x Typhoon F.2

2x Typhoon T.3

3 & 10 & 80 Sq
Spanish Air Force 4x F/A-18A+ 462 Esc
USAFE F-16C/D

MQ-9A

510th FS

31st EOG

Operating from

Home Base’s

Fig. 1: INIOCHOS 2024 Participating Countries

Observers from Germany were also present. Due to the ongoing Gaza-War, the Royal Jordanian Air Force and the Israeli Air Force cancelled their participation on the exercise.

Hellenic Air Force

The Hellenic Air Force (HAF) participated with all types of its combat aircraft (fighters and EriEye Command & Control platform) as well as helicopters, transport and training aircraft.Forces of the Army, the Navy and the Special Warfare Command also participated, which contribute decisively to creating complex and realistic scenarios throughout the entire exercise area.

Keeping up with the technological evolution and learning from the latest developments in the various current battlefields, the HAF further utilized the Operational Synthetic Training Squadron with its 11 simulators.At the same time, the increasing number of operational F-16CV/DV, equipped with the AN/APG-83 AESA radar, combined with the large number of foreign participants with fighters also equipped with AESA radar, raised this year’s INIOCHOS to the absolute pinnacle of modern air exercises on an international.

Due to the recent discussions in Hellas and abroad, it was interesting to see the HAF F-16 Block 30 and Block 50 Fighting Falcons from 330 and 347 Squadrons, 111 Fighter Wing, Nea Anchialos AB in action and in direct comparison against a multitude of modern fighters equipped with AESA radar. The latest information’s from Athens indicates the intention of implementation of an upgrade program to the F-16 Block 50 with the scope to bring them to F-16CV/DV standard with, among other, the APG/AN-83 AESA radar.

The future of the F-16 Block 30 is nebulous. There are rumours that they will be offered to the Ukraine or to the European F-16 Training Center (EFTC) in Romania. So far, the Hellenic government has denied this. Another plan is to bring them up to a similar standard like the US Air National Guard Fighting Falcons.

Nevertheless, and apart from these plans, these “old” F-16 have many more flight hours available and in the hands of experienced pilots together with the support of highly trained and experienced technicians, they are still a real “troublemaker” and the reason of headaches for pilots in much more modern fighters! It must not be forgotten that the pilots and technicians of 330, 341 and 347 Squadrons of 111 FW are among the most experienced Fighting Falcon personnel worldwide.

Cyprus

Cypriot AW139

The Air Command of the Cypriot National Guard has sent again, as in the previous exercises INIOCHOS, an AW139 multirole helicopter from 460 MED, Paphos AB. The Cypriot contingent’s primary duties were insertion/extraction of JTAC and Special Forces teams behind enemy lines, day and night, troop transport, and combat search and rescue operations.

France

France took part in a dual way. The Navy (Aeronavale) deployed Rafale M from Flottille 12F, BAN Landivisiau to Andravida with 18 pilots and 90 technicians. This was the second French Navy deployment after 2021. This time, the naval Rafale mainly participated in Long-Range Escort missions, Air Superiority missions and Reconnaissance missions. They were reinforced by several E-3F AWACS flights by the French Air Force (Armee de l’Air) for general command & control tasks, operating from BA702 Avord.

Montenegro

With the participation of Montenegro for the first time in an exercise INIOCHOS, a new cycle has opened in the long-term cooperation between the armed forces of Montenegro and Hellas. After 112 years and the 1st Balkan war, the armed forces of the two countries and in particular the Air Forces cooperated again for a common purpose. The military relations between Podgorica and Athens are particularly close as shown by the large number of Montenegrin students at Hellenic higher military schools, e.g. at the Hellenic Air Force Academy. This year’s participation with a Bell 412EPi helicopter to INIOCHOS is the seal of this close cooperation.

After the dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the subsequent union of Serbia-Montenegro and the renewed independence of Montenegro, the newly established Air Force had and still has to deal with significant problems of manning, material renewal and financing, although in recent years the country has managed to gradually and successfully overcome the problems with small, cautious and gentle steps. A major step forward in terms of fleet renewal was made in 2018 with the delivery of two new-build Bell 412EPi and one fully upgraded Bell 412EP. These helicopters are primarily used for SAR and MedEvac duties, as well as for transport and reconnaissance roles.

AB412 Montenegrin Air Force

The Montenegrin Air Force’s participation in this year’s INIOCHOS is due to the Hellenic Air Force’s desire to further expand the exercise’s range of missions and give greater importance to the role of helicopters on the modern battlefield. The Montenegrins, together with their Cypriot colleagues, contributed to combat search and rescue missions and troop air transport missions and also carried out day and night insertion and extraction missions of JTAC and Special Forces teams behind enemy lines. HAF AS.332C1 also took part in these missions. AH-64A/D of the Hellenic Army Aviation participated either as friendly forces or as “enemy” forces.

The overall performance of the Montenegrin contingent in Andravida was more than excellent and the other participants had only the best to say about their performance in these extremely demanding missions. From the Hellenic side, there is a clear desire for a re-participation in INIOCHOS 2025, which is almost sure that will happen, barring exceptional circumstances.

Qatar

The State of Qatar participate in exercise INIOCHOS for the first time. However, it was not the first time that Qatari fighters operated from Hellenic territory. Despite the contrary rumours circulated by so-called experts mainly on the internet, general relations and especially defence relations between Qatar and Hellas are at a very good level. Let’s not forget that Qatar turned to the Hellenic Air Force for joint training of the Qatari Mirage 2000-5DDA/EDA with the Hellenic Mirage 2000-5/B Mk. 2 over the past decade.

The Qatari detachment consisted of a total of five Rafale, four single-seat EQ and one two-seat DQ from 62nd Squadron, Tamim AB. During the exercise, the Qataris participated in all kinds of missions, air-to-air and air-to-ground, day and night. During these missions, the Qatari detachment was characterized by high professionalism, total dedication in carrying out each mission and by team spirit. All other participants had nothing but the best to say about their Qatari colleagues, who were always characterized by exceptional friendliness and great modesty.

The aim of participation was, among other things to increase general combat readiness and to exchange modern tactical combat experiences. An important aim was also the mutual exchange of tactical, operational and technical knowledge with the two others participating Rafale users, the Hellenic Air Force and the French Navy. From the Hellenic side, the annual participation of Qatar in future INIOCHOS exercises is highly desired. It is certain that both the Qatari Emiri Air Force and the other participants will only benefit from such a possible development.

Romania

The third new participant in INIOCHOS 2024 was the Romanian Air Force. The Fortele Aeriene Romane had sent to Andravida three F-16AM of Escadrila 53 Vanatoare based at Baza 86 Aeriana in Fetesti. The Romanian Air Force acquired its first ex-Portuguese Fighting Falcons in 2016 with the last delivery in 2021. In November 2023, the receiving of ex-Norwegian F-16AM/BM to equip a second Fighter Squadron began.

INIOCHOS 2024 was the first participation of the Romanian Fighting Falcons in an international exercise outside Romania, if we exclude the Baltic Air Policing 2023/2 campaign. Although the Romanian Air Force is of course still in the phase of gaining valuable experience in the use of F-16, the other participants in the exercise were impressed by the high professionalism of the Romanian contingent, which distinguished itself through innovations on several occasions. Their ideas contributed significantly to the successful execution of the missions in which they took part.

Due to its proximity to Hellas and the given intention to assume greater responsibility in the Balkans, the participation of the Romanian Air Force in the next exercise INIOCHOS is considered a given, which is highly welcomed by the Hellenic side.

Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia participated in exercise INIOCHOS for the second consecutive year. As it is usual with the Royal Saudi Air Force, this time new squadrons had the opportunity to compete with some of the best air forces in the world. The Saudi contingent consisted of a mix of Typhoon (Eurofighter) drawn from 3 different squadrons (3, 10 and 80), all based in King Fahd AB at Taif.

Spain

Like last year, the Spanish Air Force had sent again real veterans to Hellas, McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18A+ from 462 Escuadron in Gran Canaria. This Hornets were bought used from the US Marine Corps and are scheduled to be replaced by new Typhoon (Eurofighter) Tranche 4 in accordance with the Halcon-program from 2026 on. Their main task is Air Defence and this was also their main task during the exercise. On the other hand, the exercise represents also a great challenge in terms of the expeditionary capacity of the Spanish Air Force, given the need to deploy and withdraw forces from Gran Canaria to Hellas.

Austria and Portugal

Both Austria and Portugal sent JTAC- and Special Forces teams to Andravida. They worked together with the Cypriot and Montenegrin contingent as well as with Hellenic Special Forces and air assets. The Austrians in particular have been participants for many years in exercise INIOCHOS and are always welcomed with open arms due to their extensive experience in this area.

United Kingdom

The Royal Air Force participated for only the second time in exercise INIOCHOS but was not physically present at Andravida, instead flying with Typhoon FGR.4 from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Like last year, the USAF participated with F-16C/D and MQ-9A UCAV flying from their respective home bases at Aviano AB in Italy and Larissa AB in Hellas, but only during the second week of the exercise. They were supported by USAF KC-135 operating from Athens International Airport and NATO E-3A AWACS operating from Preveza AB.

The somewhat hesitant participation of the USAF in particular in recent years, but also the RAF’s unwillingness to participate in joint exercises with the HAF, is seen by many international analysts as a result of London and Washington’s desire to maintain a certain balance in their respective defence relationships with Hellas and Turkey respectively. Of course, one cannot help but notice that the scale is clearly tilted in favour of Turkey and everything is being done for the sake of pretence.

Resume and Future

In his speech, the Chief of the Hellenic Air Force General Staff, Lieutenant General Dimosthenis Grigoriadis, mentioned among other “ it is widely acknowledged that we are facing an increasingly unstable global environment, characterized by evolving security threats and geopolitical complexities. As we navigate through such environment, the challenges faced by Air Forces continue to grow, emphasizing the urgent need for robust defence cooperation and interoperability. In this context, INIOCHOS, a Multinational Joint Air Exercise among allies and partners, stands as a lighthouse of collaboration and preparedness, providing a crucial platform to enhance our fighting capabilities, joint readiness, interoperability, and foster regional partnerships.

Greek F-4 Phantom

“INIOCHOS serves as a platform where participating countries come together to extend their skills, exchange expertise and enhance their collective capabilities in addressing diverse security challenges. This year’s exercise introduces innovative training procedures, such as Synthetic Training, and leverages new technologies to provide participants with dynamic and highly realistic environments to refine their skills in aerial warfare. Focusing on multinational cooperation and integration, INIOCHOS 2024 exposes participants to diverse operational concepts and cutting-edge technologies, preparing them for the complexities of modern air combat environments. From air combat tactics to air-to-ground missions, participants benefit from exposure to a wide range of scenarios, ensuring readiness to meet future challenges. Our objective is to brace ourselves and be ready to collaborate, fight together and act as a wingman to each other, in order to face any emerging security threat …“.

The Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff, General Dimitrios Choupis, mentioned “… it was with great satisfaction and joy that we watched the INIOCHOS exercise, with which we give the possibility to our Air Force and also to the Air Forces of our allies, to cooperate in an interdisciplinary environment, but also in a clearly difficult terrain of our country. The environment of air, land and sea, as it is shaped in Hellas, gives different unique experiences for pilots. But also, in the training of older types of aircraft with the most modern aircraft, the pilots are given the opportunity to discover new possibilities but also the disadvantages of each aircraft, so that he can make better use of it ….

Exercise INIOCHOS is rapidly becoming the premier mid-sized air exercise in Europe and the Near/Middle East, covering the full spectrum of modern air operations, from air-to-air to air-to-ground to maritime operations. Proof of this is the growing number of participating countries and the return of former participating countries. Rising costs are one of the biggest challenges for all air forces worldwide and are the number 1 problem for most European air forces after the current/future introduction of the F-35.

Greek Mirage 2000

In times of financial austerity, INIOCHOS has a big advantage compared to other similar exercises such as Red Flag or Maple Flag: It is much more cost-effective! You don’t have to fly across the Atlantic and any outages or bottlenecks can be resolved in a few hours. Aside from that, the geographical environment in Hellas offers great terrain either for terrain masking flights in mountainous areas or for unlimited dogfights over a deep blue sea environment, giving each participant a unique experience.

Also, in these times when large international exercises are becoming increasingly rare due to rising costs and loosing training days due to bad weather is simply not an option anymore, the predominantly good weather in Hellas was praised by all participants. No missions were cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

According to the Hellenic Air Force, exercise INIOCHOS will continue to be a LIVE INVITEX-exercise, but of course there will be increasing emphasis on the use of the Operational Synthetic Training Squadron with its fully operational simulators. Work is currently underway to bridge the HAF simulators at Andravida, Araxos and Souda AB’s to create a unified synthetic simulation network.

Greek Mirages 2000

After a thorough comprehensive analysis of the current global conflicts, especially Ukraine, next year’s INIOCHOS will see a greater contribution and participation of UCAV in the overall missions, with hopefully the first Hellenic-made next-generation UAV and inclusion of maritime UAV. As for participating countries, it is expected that the Indian Air Force (IAF) will take part again, this time most likely with Rafale. The plan is to alternately conduct HAF-IAF exercises in Hellas and India every two years.

According to the Hellenic Air Force General Staff and following the IAF participation in INIOCHOS 2023, the HAF will participate in exercise TARANG SHAKTI 2024 in August this year with Rafale DG/EG of 332 Squadron. There were also rumours doing the rounds of setting up an annual or biennial exercise just for Rafale users, similar to the LION EFFORT exercise for Gripen users.

The authors would like to warmly thank all personnel of the French, Hellenic, Montenegrin, Qatari and Romanian Air Force (in alphabetical order). Without their active support, this article would not have been possible. Thank you so much!

Text: Marcus Vallianos
Images: Philipp Vallianos