Active Trip 2015


Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)

The Belgian Armed Forces have an additional task besides defending the country. There is always (24/7) a unit standby for Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO). In case of a civil war or a catastrophy abroad, this unit must be 'ready to go' within 24 hours after a political decision to evacuate (Belgian) civilians abroad. Last decades, there were many evacuations in the world due to (civil) wars (Zaire, Rwanda, Congo, Lebanon) and in 2010 the last evacuation took place after the earthquake in Haiti.
The basic scenario of this evacuation exercise is rather simple, establish a safe airfield in a friendly country close to the operation area and airlift all needed equipment and soldiers to this safe airbase. Then secure an airfield in the hostile area and airlift an expeditionary force into this hostile area. The expeditionary force has the task to collect the civilians at various reception centers and bring them to the secured airfield and fly them back to the safe airbase nearby. Followed by their own withdrawal by air, whereby the expeditionary force must be gone as soon as possible after the first touchdown in the hostile area.
The NEO exercises take place every 1-2 years, due to the large amount of (Belgian) civilians the former Belgian colonies in Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda).

ActiveTrip 2015

In 2015, the NEO exercise was named ‘ActiveTrip’ and it was held in southern Belgium, where some fictive provinces  the stable province Buffalo, Lovania and Carola, the instable province Marchon) were created in the fictive country ‘Blueland’, somewhere in Africa. In Marchon some incidents took place where civilians and (UN) soldiers were killed. This was the trigger to start the Non-combatant Evacuation Operation ‘ActiveTrip’.
As a first step, all equipment, material, personnel, trucks and aircraft were transported to the stable province Carola, next to Marchon. There the airfield of Florennes (ICAO code EBFS) was used as a staging area (Forward Operating Base, FOB) for the build-up of the forces.

Day 1
On the first day of the exercise, the nearby airfield of Saint-Hubert (ICAO code EBSU) was invaded by paratroopers and during the second day the Saint-Hubert airfield was secured. Saint-Hubert airfield is one of the Belgian reserve airfields that were created in the 1950 as diversion airfields for NATO aircraft (other reserve airfields in Belgium were Zoersel, Weelde, Bertrix, Ursel, Zutendaal)

Day 2
From day 2 on, supplies and personnel were airlifted from Florennes to St. Hubert with 4 Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft of the 15th Wing at Melsbroek airfield. Also supplies were transported by 2 newly introduced NH-Industries NH-90s ‘Caiman’ helicopters, escorted by armed Agusta A109 ‘Hirundo’ helicopters. During day 2, it was possible to be embedded in a Agusta A109 flight escorting a NH90 carrying a mortar; and it was possible to be embedded in a C-130 Hercules delivering trucks to Saint-Hubert

C-130 flying low-level from Florennes to Saint-Hubert over the Belgian Ardennes landscape

NH90 flying from Florennes to Saint-Hubert with slingload (cargo)

B-Hunter UAV in the shelter on the former TLP ramp at Florennes

Day 3
On day 3 there were ground events, whereby several wounded soldiers were evacuated to the FOB.

Day 4
On day 4, a hostage rescue operation took place by Special Forces. Plus a rebel trainingscamp was discovered and destroyed.

Day 5
A hostile Company was neutralized and the group of civilians was evacuated from Saint-Hubert to Florennes (FOB) and the exercise was stopped.


In 2002, the NATO announced to create the NATO Response Force (NRF), a combat force consisting of special, land, sea and air forces. The NRF should be operational worldwide within 5 days after receiving the orders from NATO headquarters. And in 2014 during the NATO summit in Wales, the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) Battle Group” was announced, which would focus on a very fast operational status in Eastern Europe. The VJTF would be created by the standing NRF augmented by additional forces from the USA.
The Belgian ActiveTrip 2015 exercise was a preparation for the 2nd Battalion Commandos (paratroopers) to operate in the NATO Response Force VJTF (VJTF 2016) . After ActiveTrip in September, this 2nd Battalion will participate in one of the largest NATO exercises in years, TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea area (Italy, Spain, Portugal), October/November 2015.

F-16 taking off at Florennes for an ActiveTrip mission


The list of participants is some 820 groundforces, of which the 2nd Battalion Commandos will take more than half (424 participants).
The Airforce participation consisted of:
• 4 Lockheed C-130 ‘Hercules’ from 15 Wing at Melsbroek AB
• 2 IAI Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ‘B-Hunter’ from 80 Squadron at Florennes AB
• 2-4 Lockheed F-16s from 2 Wing at Florennes AB
2 NH-Industries NH90s ‘Caiman’ (Tactical Transport Helicopter, MTH) helicopters of 18 Squadron at Beauvechain AB
• 3 Agusta A109 ‘Hirundo’, assault and MEDEVAC helicopters of 17 Squadron at Beauvechain AB
• the total amount of personnel was over 300 for the Airforce

Cargotruck driven backwards into a C-130



Interview LtCol Gelders

During the ActiveTrip exercise, there was an interview with LtCol Gelders, detco (detachment commander) of the helicopter detachment during the exercise. LtCol Gelders has some 3000 flying hours of which 350 on the new NH90 helicopters. The Belgian armed forces have bought 8 NH90 helicopters, 4 naval versions NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) at Koksijde airbase and 4 tactical versions MTH (Multi-purpose Transport Helicopter) at Beauvechain airbase.
Earlier this year, the MTH helicopters of 18 squadron obtained the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) and during the ActiveTrip exercise, evaluators were evaluating the NH90s and their crews for further combat readiness certification. (currently, the final results of this evaluation are not yet known)
LtCol Gelders has a crew of 8 certified MTH pilots and the crews train during the exercise for
• transporting troops in and out the battle zones, using landingspots on the ground
• fastroping of troops into the battle zones, whereby the troops descend via a rope
• slingload transport of cargo and mortars into the battle zones

NH90 flying from Florennes to Saint-Hubert with slingload (120mm mortar)

The MTH has a crew of 2 pilots and a loadmaster. Depending on the mission a gunner can fire from the back-ramp and a hoist-operator can use the hoist to get people onboard of the helicopter.
At the moment, hoist-operations are only used to extract people in Belgium from dangerous situations at sea or at the ground (SAR duties, homeland evacuation in distress situations etc). The NH90s are not yet qualified for CSAR or PR tasks in battle zones.
One of the future items for the NH90 crews is training for deployments abroad, whereby the NH90s will we airlifted with the future A400M of the Belgian Airforce.
For the Belgian Armed Forces, the NH90 is a new weapon-type in the inventory, previously only light helicopters were used in battle zones (Alouette 2, Agusta 109). And this larger/heavier NH90 offers new possibilities for the future of Belgian helicopter operations.
LtCol Gelders revealed that the NH90 in Belgium received the type name of ‘Caiman’, just like the French NH90s. A special patch was designed for this.

Missing camera
On the nose of the Belgian MTH NH-90s, there is an essential part missing, the “Piloting FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) Camera PFC)”. The PFC will project the InfraRed images on the HMSD (Helmet Mounted Sight Display). These 2 systems (PFR and HMSD) are foreseen but not yet available. These will be ordered in a later phase of the NH90 lifecycle. When acquired, the PFC will be mounted below the bulge on top of the nose of the NH90. Nowadays this missing camera can be seen clearly. Despite these missing systems, the path to the Full Operational Combat readiness will not be hampered.

LtCol Gelders, detco during ActiveTrip and commander of 18 squadron

LtCol Gelders has some quotes about the ActiveTrip exercise and about the NH90:

About ActiveTrip in preparation of the NATO VJTF:
“The objectives of the exercise are fully accomplished. All required tasks to support the VJTF Battle Group were executed as planned and the National Evaluation was successful/ Besides that, there were hardly technical problems seen with the helicopters.”
“I am especially proud on the involved personnel. Due to their professional behavior, their knowledge, their expertise and their motivation; we could accomplish all objectives of the exercise”
“The NH90 proved during the exercise ‘ActiveTrip’ to be a very performing and reliable platform that is , due to it’s multi-role capabilities and it’s mission-systems, capable to span a large area of the aero-mobile spectrum”
NH90 evaluation
Earlier this year, the MTH helicopters of 18 squadron obtained the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) and during the ActiveTrip exercise, evaluators were evaluating the NH90s and their crews for further combat readyness certification. (currently, the final results of this evaluation are not yet known)



© Joris van Boven - (September 2015)




Last updated 07/11/11 10:59   Daniel Brackx