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Multinational rotary wings

By 1st Lt. Luis Sanchez
First published in
SFOR Informer#116, June 27, 2001

Do you know of the multinational air force that combines manoeuvrability, capacity and effectiveness, being operational and capable of providing a rapid response anywhere in Multinational Division - Southeast (MND-SE)? Can you hear the chopping of rotor blades breaking the silence of the Balkans? It is the Multinational Army Aviation Battalion.

Ploce – Versatility is the characteristic that best describes helicopter units; they can perform so many different missions that sometimes is quite difficult to classify them. From direct combat to combat support, without forgetting medical evacuations (MEDEVAC), liaison, search and rescue (SAR) and airborne post command, only the meteorological conditions could stop it.

The unit is based on two sites: the port of Ploce, on the Croatian coast, where the Headquarters are located, and Rajlovac, Sarajevo valley. The Multinational Army Aviation Battalion can perform wide-ranging tasks, focusing on three main points: ensuring information support, movement and if necessary, firing weapons from the air in support of SFOR forces. On short notice, it can transport one infantry company in any part of its area of responsibility (AOR), from Mostar, where the MND-SE headquarters are located. And execute sanitary evacuation missions, on 30-minute notice during daylight and one-hour notice at night. "We are the emergency weapons for a rapid response in MND-SE, in case of emergency or MEDEVAC, 24 hours per day; there are always two helicopters on the alert, one here and the other in Rajlovac" commented Lt.Col Richard Duboy, multinational battalion commanding officer.

The French-led unit created on Feb. 26, 1997, comprises four main sections, each a different nationality, to carry out these missions. The French detachment is the main contingent as well as its commander. The other three SFOR detachments - German, Italian and Spanish - are under tactical control but under national command. One liaison officer from these units is detached to the operations centre, the true brain in which planning, distribution and co-ordination takes place.

"We run all helicopter operations in our MND-SE, and in order to integrate into the unit it was not necessary to change the common procedures, they are almost the same and I have the opportunity to learn from them," explained Capt. Stefano Allegreti, Italian liaison officer.
The means
To accomplish the mission, the army aviation unit has 6,680 flying hours per year distributed among detachments and helicopter models. These flying hours mean a lot of maintenance and logistical support, but being far away from their home airfield is not a problem, "It's the same job as in France, but abroad; all the supplies are available without delay," stressed French Staff Sgt. Xavier Laliche.

Every type of aircraft has its own technical characteristics, which provide them with different flying features and possibilities to perform a wide range of missions. In Ploce the French "Bataillon de l'Aviation légère de l'Armée de Terre," BATALAT (Army Air Battalion), with four SA-330 "Pumas" and four SA-342 M/M1 "Gazelle," as well as the Spanish detachment, composed of two AS-532 UL "Cougars," are assigned. In Rajlovac, the German Helicopter Unit "Lili Marlen" with four CH-53 "Stallions," one of them MEDEVAC, and four UH-1Ds, the Italian Helicopter Unit with four AB-205s, as well as a two-Gazelle French patrol are deployed.

Ploce Base
The aerodrome has all the facilities available which are required by rotary aircraft. The Air Controller Team provide all the information and air control, mainly from the tower. "We are six air controllers, from different regiments. This is my fourth tour. We give air traffic control for SFOR helicopters," said French Sgt. Philippe Renault, the air controller on duty.
As a result of a high probability of an unexpected fire, the fire-fighter team is ready all the time to deal with any eventuality. One platoon-size unit performs the logistic support and another French platoon-size infantry unit carries out the security of the camp.

From the beginning, aviation has had a varied collection of insignia, which have contributed to enhance a pilot's job. Ploce-based units are no exception. Walking across the hangar, everybody clearly notices a special atmosphere, full of badges and symbols. The "scorpions" are the aircrews of the Gazelle Squadron (from the 5th Regiment) and "The Buffalos" the Puma squadron (both from Aviation Légère de l'Amée de Terre, ALAT, French Aviation Army Corps).

Here, the main topic is "the passion to fly," as French Sgt. Ludovic Letourneau, Gazelle pilot explained. "The flying is a little different from Pau, a city near the Pyrénées Mountains, where my unit is based … flying over the mountains is not new for us, but there it was training and here it is real. We have to be very careful and professional."


Technical data
SA-341M1 "Gazelle"
- Autonomy 620 Kilometres.
- Cruising Speed 220 Km/h
- Turbine Aztazou III C2 of 592 hp.
- Crew 2 pilots
AS-532 "Cougar" HT-21
- Autonomy 824 Kilometres.
- Cruising Speed 278 Km/h
- 2 Turbines Makila 1A1 1,780 hp.
- Crew 2 pilots and 1 mechanic

The other helicopter unit sharing Ploce base is the Spanish Cougar Patrol. Its 16th rotation comes from the BHELMA II (2nd Manoeuvring Helicopter Battalion), Fuerzas Aeromobiles del Ejercito de Tierra FAMET (Spanish Army Aviation Corps), based in Betera, a village near Valencia; they are fully integrated. Their AS-532 UL Cougar, mainly performs transport tasks. This chopper can be airborne with up to 24 full-equipped soldiers, and their maintenance is completed. Being far away from their aerodrome is not a problem; spare parts are supplied weekly and in addition a brand new hangar has been provided.
As said in a leaflet promoting the unit, the Multinational Army Aviation Battalion can be assumed as "the lone and genuine multinational unit on the theatre, it satisfies the needs of the headquarters of MND-SE, as well as our own national commanding staff requests."

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: France, Spain
Training and Exercises