The multinational exercise saw the participation of assets from Greece, Israel, UAE, Italy and the U.S.
Exercise “INIOCHOS” is a yearly medium-scale exercise hosted by the Hellenic Air Force at the facilities of the ATC (Air Tactics Center) at Andravida Air Base, located in the Northwest Peloponnese, Greece.
As happened last year, the 2019 edition saw the participation of several nations (Greece, Italy, UAE, Israel and the U.S.) with 3rd, 4th and, for the first time, ever 5th Generation combat aircraft. Among the attendees, 6x Mirage 2000-9EAD/DAD belonging to the 86 Sqn of the UAE AF from Al Safran AB; 13x F-16C/D “Barak” with 109 and 117 Sqn Israeli AF from Ramat David; 6x Tornado (3x IDS and 3x ECR variants) from the 6th Stormo, Italian Air Force, based in Ghedi; 6x F-35A with the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the Italian Air Force from Amendola; 12x F-16C from 52nd FW from Spangdahlem; as well as some +30x F-16, 6x F-4E, 6x Mirage 2000 and 1x EMB-145H AEW&C belonging to various squadrons of the HAF.
Actually, other aircraft took part in the exercise or supported the drills. For instance, one of the most interesting aircraft spotted at Andravida and leaving the base few hours after the 13 Israeli F-16s left early in the morning on Friday Apr. 5, was a white IAF Gulfstream G-V “Nachshon Shavit” airborne SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) aircraft serialled 679.
On Apr. 4, a formation of aircraft taking part in the exercise performed flybys over Athens, Patras and Andravida. The formation was led by an HAF Mirage 2000 and included Italian Tornado IDS and F-35, HAF F-4E, IAF F-16 and U.S. Air Force F-16C.
This is how we described the exercise last year:
The “layout” of the exercise is quite standard: two weeks in length (including deployment and re-deployment of the assets), the exercise scenario adopts a Single Base Concept with air operation launched from an MOB (Main Operating Base). It’s a so-called Invitex, meaning that the drills is organized and run by the HAF but also attended by invited nations aircraft as well. In order to make the training realistic, the participating units “are exposed to an intensive battle rhythm with realistic attrition rates and challenging scenarios that include multiple modern threats and real time live injects tailored to produce the fog of war and the friction effect (per Clausewitz) which is expected to dominate the modern battlefield and test both the physical and psychological endurance of the modern fighter.”
However, as mentioned above, the main difference from last year was the presence of a 5th generation aircraft: the Italian F-35, at their first participation in a multinational exercise abroad.
“The experience has been amazing, because we had the opportunity to exploit all capabilities of the weapon system, performing both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) and DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) missions,” “Driver”, the commander of the 13° Gruppo, commented after “INIOCHOS”.
Throughout the exercise, the Italian jets (F-35, Tornado IDS and ECR) have carried out 74 missions, totalling approximately 250 flying hours.
“Due to the fact that it is a medium-scale exercise, INIOCHOS 2019 provides the ItAF with a high level of training and unique experience of partecipation. Firstly, the variety of weapon systems involved in the exercise is an enormous chance that, obviously, it is not so common during our daily training. Moreover, we had the opportunity to enhance cooperation whitin partecipating countires. Finally, INIOCHOS gives us the opportunity to perform in a complex scenario a full spectrum of missions such as CAS (Close Air Support), DT (Dynamic targeting), SCAR ( Strike coordination and reconnaissance), OCA (Offensive counter air), IADS (Air Operations versus integrated Air Defence System) and DCA (Defensive Counter Air). All these kind of missions have been carried out simultaneously, during a single COMAO (Composite Air Operation),” told us the chief of the Italian detachment.
Interestingly, the F-35s flew side-to-side with the Tornado ECR of the 155° Gruppo, a variant of the baseline “Tonka” equipped with electronic warfare equipment and weapons for the suppression of enemy air defences and for electronic and tactical reconnaissance, that the Lightning II is expected to replace in the future. The Tornado ECRs performed several SEAD and DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) in a complex scenario in which Hellenic Land and Sea forces simulated to be enemy threats. In this context, in order to make the scenario more challenging and realistic, and also to let the crews train, these missions have been carried out with the use of CATM-88B captive air training missiles.
“F-35A have carried out several combined missions with all the partecipating weapon systems which are usually called COMAOs (Composite Air Operations). In these COMAOs there is a rotating mission commander that plans, arranges and organizes the available weapon systems, with the help of the other partecipating countries, in order to accomplish the task of the mission.”
As part of large strike packages the 5th generation F-35As carried out joint missions alongside the other “legacy” aircraft, including the 3rd generation Hellenic Air Force F-4Es. In fact, the Lightning is equipped with both the MADL [Multifunction Advanced Data Link] and Link 16, used only as a “backdoor” that allows the F-35 to communicate with legacy aircraft and perform the function of “enhancers” of previous generation platforms. Noteworthy, based on the photographs, the aircraft did not fly in “stealth mode” and always carried the radar reflectors.
The F-35 attracted the interest of both pilots, observers and photographers who attended the “INIOCHOS 2019”: the aircraft was all over the news in Greece during the DV (Distinghished Visitor) day of the drills, attended by Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis who, during the press conference said: “Beyond the upgrade of the F-16 fighter jets, we are in the process of selecting a new plane for Greece, so we can gradually move to the new generation of aircraft.” Indeed, it seems like Greece has started considering the 5th generation aircraft as a replacement for at least 23 F-16C/D aircraft.