Red Hawk and Black River: two exercises in one
Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente
First published in
SFOR Informer#136, April 11, 2002
The French Battle Group (FRBG) conducted exercise Red
Hawk within its Area of Responsibility March 27 to 29. Red
Hawk involved all of the Multi-National Army Aviation Battalion
(MNAAvBn), which, as part of Red Hawk, also undertook exercise
Black River. Black River was the MNAAvBn's opportunity to
train as an integrated group to provide helicopter support
to the FRBG.
Gacko - Using helicopters tactically to improve their combat
drills proficiency was the FRBG's mission in exercise Red
Hawk. The training was especially focused on a large-scale
helicopter lift of one infantry company into a new area of
operation; the lift of a tactical command post; the under-slung
lift of a reconnaissance platoon; the insertion of a platoon-sized
engineer intervention force and medical evacuation measures.
All of the missions were developed in accordance with MNAAvBn's
Multi-National training was the goal
"It is a constant preoccupation, to increase common training
at different levels of the units, from air patrol to upper
units. The training at patrol level has been carried out in
our bases in Ploce and Rajlovac. All this training is aimed
at improving our interoperational capabilities in order that
we have fully operational tactical groupings of helicopters
with which we can cover all the needs of the MND-SE. At the
same time we can improve our capabilities in all types of
missions," said Lt. Col. Jean Marc Imbault, commander
of the MNAAvBN.
A long time to make it true
"Preparing a tactical helicopter group for a mission
is not an easy task. The weather is very different from Sarajevo
to Ploce; aircraft availability due to maintenance requirement
and the high number of missions assigned to helicopters by
the division from the different battle groups. We have never
been able to count on using all of the aircraft at the same
time before," commented Imbault. To ensure aircraft availability,
the divisional G3 and the FRBG began planning exercise Red
Hawk two months ago. "One month later there was a meeting
with the German, Italian and Spanish squadron commanders at
which the leaders all agreed with the idea of carrying out
Exercise Black River as a vital part of Red Hawk," Imbault
Co-ordination critical for successful mission
"The last step was to gather all of the units (helicopter
and ground troop commanders) to talk about co-ordination matters
concerning the different countries flight regulations. With
that done, the scheme of the aerial movement was finished
and with it, the planning of Black River Operation. A big
briefing was conducted on the evening prior to operations
beginning. Every unit and crew involved in Red Hawk was present
in order to co-ordinate last minute details. It was the first
time that everyone taking part in the operation could be seen
together," said Imbault.
The first rays of daylight triggered the activity on the Ploce
apron. Each mechanic went to his helicopter to begin his pre-flight
check. The first to arrive was the German technicians for
the big CH-53 Stallion (the Lillis). The CH-53 is the largest
helicopter in BiH and one of largest in the word. They were
the first because their pre-flight operation, which includes
the deployment of the main rotor and the tail boom, takes
the longest time. Other technicians followed: the Spanish,
for the Cougar (Eagles); the French, for their Pumas (Buffalos)
and Gazelles (Scorpions); and the Germans for the BO-105.
While the technicians were at their tasks, the pilots received
briefings on the missions including the range of different
radio frequencies to be used. By 0750 everything was ready.
The high-pitched whistling of the Scorpions' engines broke
the calm of morning and announced the beginning of Black River.
"We left an hour before the main aircraft formation,
we checked the route in order to guarantee that it was free.
We arrived at the Forward Ammunition and Refuelling Point
(FARP) in Gacko, where the patrol refuelled. This area was
chosen as a landing, assembly and embarkation area. There
we made contact with the FRBG operations officer and he gave
me a new mission for my patrol. We had to augment an ongoing
search for groups of six armed persons in the exercise area,"
explained Lt. Jerome Diwo, leader of the Scorpions' scout
"It was a simple but very interesting exercise because
it was the first time where we went to work together. Black
River has been the first step in preparing us to carry out
a more complex operation in the future. Everybody thought
that co-ordination would be our main problem, but in the end
this difficulty didn't appear. From my point of view it has
been a good and successful exercise. And it is really incredible
to see the big German CH-53 fly as low and as fast as us,"
said Capt. Ivan Aubree, chief of the Buffalos.
Feet on the ground
"This was the first time during this tour that we have
worked as a heliborne unit. In this exercise we had full training
as a heliborne force and its special features such as working
without our armoured vehicles and relying on support from
the helicopters. There are two main problems when you are
heliborne: during the aerial movement you lose contact with
the evolution of the battle zone and at the same time your
unit has been fragmented and you never know what you will
find in the landing zone. In this area there is an extremely
critical point, the reorganisation after disembarking. You
have to develop a procedure that allows you to retain situational
Because if you try to do anything before recovering control
of your unit you will lose." commented Capt. Thomas Mollard,
commander of a French infantry company.
"A heliborne operation is not easy to plan and even more
difficult to carry out in the right way."
Nations of SFOR: France
Training and Exercises