After the cancelation last year due to COVID-19 and despite the ongoing epidemy, the Hellenic Air Force organised successfully this year the 6th international edition of exercise INIOCHOS. The 2021 edition saw again an increase in participating countries, number of flown sorties and degree of difficulty.
Exercise INIOCHOS is a Hellenic Air Force INVITEX medium-scale air-exercise, meaning that invitations are being send to different Air Forces, asking if they want to participate. All foreign participating squadrons are operating from one single base. This is done primarily for synergy effects, a more realistic simulation of real combat operations and the opportunity of a better analysis of the results. Host base is Andravida AB in the north-western Peloponnese.
The main reasons for choosing Andravida AB, were the extended free airspace in western Hellas and over the Ionian Sea, something very rare today in most parts of Europe, and of course the existence in Andravida AB of the KEAT, the Hellenic Air Force Air Tactics Centre. Since 2015, NATO and other allied Air Forces are being invited.
The Hellenic Air Force participated with all fighter and support squadrons including UAV and Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) teams. This year, because off place restrictions in Andravida AB due to the increased number of participants, the decision was taken to base the F-16C/D Block 52+ squadrons in Araxos AB. The fighter squadrons participating in the exercise as RED Forces together with the support assets and UAV flow from their respective home bases.
The first newcomer for this year’s INIOCHOS and a big surprise were the Canadian Armed Forces. They participated with highly experienced JTAC teams.
Making the long journey from Paphos AB to Hellas was an AW139 helicopter belonging to 460 MED of the Cypriot National Guard. Due to the program of the exercise and the corresponding missions, the Cypriot contingent participated only in the second week. They took part in Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions as well as in special forces missions with the objective to position JTAC teams into “hostile” territory in order to perform terminal attack control. All participants were very positive surprised from the skills and experience of the Cypriot crews, operating under difficult and challenging conditions. The squadron made an excellent impression at all stages of the exercise regarding the accuracy of their missions and their professionalism.
The second newcomer was France. The main reason was the challenge to participate in the most prestigious exercise in Europe and, of course, also the recent decision of the Hellenic Air Force to choose the Rafale B/C as a substituted for the Mirage 2000BGM/EGM. The exercise was the best chance to highlight the capabilities of the Rafale to the Hellenic Air Force and other interested parties. The other participants were full of praise about the professionality of the French personnel and about the truly stunning capabilities of the Rafale, especially the SPECTRA EW-suite! All the Rafale were of the F3-R standard, equipped with AESA radar and Meteor A/A-missiles. France participated with units from both the Air Force and the Navy.
The Aéronautique Navale participated with 5x Rafale M from Flottille 12 based in BAN Landivisiau. The Armée de l’Air participated with 3x + 3x Rafale B/C from Escadron de Chasse 1/4 “Gascogne” and 2/4 “La Fayette” based in BA113 Saint Dizier-Robinson, Escadron de Chasse 2/30 “Normandie-Niemen” based in BA118 Mont-de-Marsan and 5x Mirage 2000D from EC 2/3 “Champagne”, EC 3/3 “Ardennes” and ETD 4/3 “Argonne” based in BA133 Nancy-Ochey.
The Israeli Air Force has participated in all six international INIOCHOS-exercises since 2015. This year, the IAF in usual fashion send again a mix of fighters from different squadrons, but of the same airbase. It was the turn of Hatzerim AB and her two based squadrons, 69 Sq “The Hammers” and 107 Sq “The Knights of the Orange Tail”, with 6x F-15I Ra’am and 6x F-16I Sufa respectively. Further participating was 1x Gulfstream G550 Nachshon Eitam Conformal Airborne Early Warning Aircraft (CAEW) from 122 Sq, Nevatim AB and 1x KC-707 Re’em Aerial Refuelling Aircraft from 120 Sq, Nevatim AB.
The third newcomer to INIOCHOS was the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish contingent consisted of 3x EF-18A and 1x EF-18BM from Ala 12, Torrejon and 4x EF-18A from Ala 15, Zaragoza. In a practical demonstration of NATO solidarity, the transfer to/from Andravida AB was supported by 1x Italian Air Force KC-767A Aerial Refuelling Aircraft, over the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Like in the last years, the United Arab Emirates Air Force participated again, this time with 5x F-16E and 1x F-16F Desert Falcon from the 2 Sq, Al Dhafra AB equipped with the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80 AESA radar (instead of Mirage 2000). The participation of AESA equipped F-16, gave the opportunity to the Hellenic Air Force to have a look into the own future, after completion of the Fighting Falcon upgrade program to F-16CV/DV standard, equipped with the AN/APG-83 AESA radar.
The United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE) participated with 13x F-16C Block 40 and 1x F-16D Block 40 from the 510 Fighter Squadron, Aviano AB (Italy). Participating in the exercise was also 1x KC-135R Aerial Refuelling Aircraft from the 351 ARS, RAF Mildenhall (United Kingdom) based during INIOCHOS in Souda AB, Crete (Hellas) and JTAC teams. A novum for INIOCHOS was the participation of 1x MQ-9 Reaper armed UAV from the 31 EOG, currently based in Campia Turzii, Romania.
Present during INIOCHOS 2021 as observers were Austria, Egypt, Jordan, Romania and Slovenia.
The participating units were divided in BLUE Forces, operating from Andravida AB and Araxos AB, and RED Forces, operating from their respective home bases. The BLUE Forces, flow multiple smaller and bigger waves per day. Not every squadron participated in all waves. More then 1.100 fighter-sorties were flown during the 11 days of the exercise with an availability rate of almost 100 %! Including the Air Refuelling, Early Warning, Transport and Helicopter missions, 2.500 sorties were flown in total. The USAFE F-16 alone dropped approximately 170 inert munitions, fired 8.300 training rounds and completed more than 200 sorties. The US contingent flow also standalone missions utilizing Hellenic Air Force ranges.
As RED Forces were acting mainly the Hellenic Air Force 330 M from Nea Anchialos AB and the 337 M from Larissa AB in the Air-to-Air role, ground-based air defence systems of the Hellenic Army and the anti-aircraft capabilities of the Hellenic Navy. The RED Forces were supported by ground-based radar stations of the Hellenic Air Force. Both 330 M and 337 M brought to the exercise their vast experience and sophisticated tactics, collected after thousands of live scrambles over the Aegean Sea against the Turkish Air Force.
During the two weeks of the exercise, the main goals of the missions were the neutralization of enemy air defence, the degrade of operational capabilities of enemy airfields and subsequently the destroying of important infrastructure objects, like for example bridges, electric power plants and maritime operations etc. Special emphasis was given to electronic warfare (EW) with jamming, electronic countermeasures and disruption of communications, to aerial refuelling missions and to long-range low-level strike missions.
To support and increase the realism of the exercise, the Hellenic Navy did also run during the same time multiple exercises, like AIGIALOS, ANAPNEUSTIR, LAILAPS and PERISKOPIO with the participation of all types of submarines and warships.
The main types of missions flown during the exercise were:
Combat Search & Rescue
Close Combat Attack with JTAC Support
Counter Surface Force Operations including Air Power Contribution to Land Operations and Air Power Contribution to Maritime Operations
Defensive Counter-Air Operations
High Value Airborne & Ground Asset Attack Operations
Non Traditionnel Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
Offensive Counter-Air Operations against Integrated Air Defence Systems
Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance
Support of “Slow Movers”
Suppression of Enemy Air Defences and Destruction of Enemy Air Defences
Time Sensitive and Dynamic Targeting
Lessons learned & future
As in the past, also this year there were a lot of lessons learned for all participants. Of course, like in every similar kind of exercise, not many official words 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, like for example the presence of A/A-units in expected “free” zones.
The contribution and professionalism of the RED Forces were highly praised by the foreign participants. All participants emphasized how big an advantage it was, that they could operate without most of the restrictions compromising in terms of realism and training quality many Central and Northern European exercises. Last but not least, the geographical relief of Hellas was helpful, providing plenty of opportunities for a realistic training.
Of course, likewise of high value, was the chance to increase the collaboration, to share common values, to send a strong, common message of stability and protection of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean in these difficult times, and the opportunity to lift the spirit of cooperation among the participating Air Forces, to support the productive exchange of ideas among them and to produce synergy effects.
According to Lieutenant-Colonel Romain Barrois, director of the exercise for the Armée de l’Air detachment: “Our goal is to train and develop our interoperability with the various Air Forces present at Andravida. We are already seeing improvements and the first expected effects. Our presence is also an opportunity to develop our cooperation with the Hellenic Air Force. Especially now, after being accepted into the Rafale community, they start to be trained and are curious, so we exchange a lot of experience. In addition to working with foreign nations, we have the opportunity and pleasure to be able to exchange our experiences with the Rafale crews of the Aéronautique Navale. This strengthens the bonds within the Rafale community, not to mention the work with the Mirage 2000D. Our relations with the Greeks and other nations are excellent, even if working with people who have other ways of working is something that is improving by learning and doing.” By projecting 6x Rafale and 5x Mirage 2000D as part of the exercise, the Armée de l’Air also demonstrates “its major force projection capability, a demanding prerogative that requires a lot of skill and specialization.”
“This exercise is mainly an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone, in order to learn to function properly in an environment where almost everything is unknown, as in war” says Lt. Col. A., Commander of 69 Sq from Hatzerim AB. “Folks, there’s no second chance. Succeed in the first time – it’s a phrase heard here more than once.” There are some challenges that need to be addressed in the briefing. One of them is the topography. “Flying is challenging, we are not used to flying in such topography that includes valleys alongside high mountains.” The topography in Greece is significantly different from that in Israel – thousands of kilometers of beaches, thousands of islands, and the continent itself is very mountainous.
“INIOCHOS is an important opportunity for our airmen to train alongside and learn from our Hellenic allies as well as the other exercise participants” says US Air Force Gen J. Harrigian, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander. “It both improves the relationships that underpin our military alliance and creates opportunities to refine critical skills that enhance our interoperability. The friendship, understanding and cooperation that is being made here is an important military asset for us.”
The exercise INIOCHOS is slowly but steady transforming herself in one of the main, if not “the” main, medium-scale air-exercise in Europe and the Near/Middle East, covering a broad spectrum of operations, including maritime operations. A testament to this, is the growing number of countries wishing to take part. As a result of this, Andravida AB is currently being expanded with additional apron space and accommodation buildings. There are also plans about establishing a complete ACMI-range with Andravida AB at the centrum of it. Regarding new participants, they are indications that Egypt and Saudi Arabia wants to participate next year. If this is coming true, it will even further increase the dynamic and appeal of the exercise.
Aviation Report and the authors wish to thank Col. (P) K. Gkoumatsis, HAFGS Spokesman, for his invaluable help by the preparation of this article. Also, a special thank to all the personal of 460 Squadron, Cypriot Air Force for their kindness and precious input!