In April 2019 Visual Approach Images attended the Iniochos 2019 multi-national air combat exercise hosted by the Hellenic Air Force Aerial Tactics Centre (ATC) at Andravida Air Base in south west Greece.
The 12 day exercise involved all the armed forces from Greece (air force, army and navy), along with several air forces with whom the parent nations have entered tactical agreements with the Greek military. This years participants represented air forces from Italy, the UAE, Israel and the United States of America.
The intense programme operates on similar principles to the Red Flag exercises held in the USA, but is adapted to suit the differing potential threat scenarios within the region. These scenarios are updated annually to reflect any change in political and geographic circumstances to further enhance the realism of the training environment.
With the red forces (bad guys) and blue forces (good guys) playing out various tactical and political confrontations, the exercise evolves on a daily basis to challenge the planners and their flight crews and provides a high pressure learning environment. Decision making is one of the key elements and crews abilities and their capacities are tested to the limit.
The airspace is predominantly over the western Pelopennese peninsula and the sea to the west of it. Other assets involved include army ground forces, helicopters and navy ships, and there is tactical use of weapons ranges and other low level tasks to supplement the air threat.
Aerial re-fuelling and electronics warfare airplanes also take part, although these usually operate from their parent bases and are not deployed to Andravida.
Andravida is home to the last Hellenic Air Force F-4E Phantom squadron. The F-4E fleet is being gradually wound down, and the RF-4 reconnaissance version was withdrawn in 2018. 339 Squadron now operate all the remaining Phantoms.
During the Iniochos exercise, the base will host up to 70 or so additional airplanes and around 600 extra personnel from the various participating units. Typically crews will fly at least 2 sorties per day during the exercise Monday through Friday, including night operations 2 days per week. Sunday is also set aside for a planning day for the following days operations so the pace for these crews is pretty intense, with only Saturday providing any real respite from the hectic schedule. All operations are thoroughly briefed and then de-briefed, and both good and bad feedback is absorbed into refining these aspects of the exercise further if possible.
2019 saw the debut of the 5th generation combat airplanes. Six F-35As from 32 Stormo/13 squadron of the Italian Air Force provided an element of the very latest airframe technology, and offered the opportunity for learning and assessment of how this latest hardware would intergrate with generation 3 and 4 airplanes and systems such as the F-4, Tornado and F-16.
A gallery of the participating airplanes during operations on April 3rd can been viewed by clicking on the image below.