|Exercise Crazy Trip|
From 19 till 24 March 2006 the Belgian Defence held a major national exercise aimed at testing its capabilities to rescue non-combatant military or civil compatriots abroad from an escalating dangerous political or military situation, the so-called Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO). In two separate settings, Exercise Crazy Trip field-tested the amphibian and airborne personnel extraction procedures of the Belgian Defence’s Immediate Reaction Capability (IRC). Around 400 military personnel practiced amphibian extraction techniques on the banks of the river Scheldt to the west and southwest of the city of Antwerp, while a large-scale airborne rescue operation was conducted by 600 troops on the reserve airbase of Weelde, 35 kilometres northeast of Antwerp. The set-up of the exercise was inspired by operations that occurred in the past in Central-Africa, where Belgian citizens were evacuated by means of both amphibian and airborne operations.
The IRC is a flexible, rapid deployable joint capability composed of forces from the different components of the Belgian Defence and is tasked with the extraction of endangered compatriots abroad within 72 hours after the government’s go-ahead. Roughly 24 hours of this time span are needed to position the IRC with its equipment on a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in the vicinity of the troubled region. During another 24 hours Pathfinders and Special Forces are deployed to reconnoitre and prepare a Forward Operating Location (FOL), from where the main IRC force can carry out the eventual extraction. During the final part of the operation, the endangered compatriots are extracted from the danger zone and the IRC troops are retrieved. The motto of such operations is “No one is left behind”.
Forward Operating Base (FOB) A
Florennes airbase served as forward operating base during Exercise Crazy Trip. Personnel and equipment of the Immediate Reaction Capability were flown from here to the forward operating location at Weelde airbase by four Lockheed C-130H Hercules tactical transport aircraft (CH-01, 03, 04 and 12) of the 15th Transport Wing in Melsbroek. The same aircraft also served to extract the threatened compatriots – in this case a military instruction team detached to assist in the training of the local armed forces – and to retrieve the inserted IRC troops. The forward element of the IRC was made up of a detachment Pathfinders of the Parachutist Training Centre in Schaffen and a detachment Special Forces of the Special Forces Group in Flawinnes. It carried out the reconnaissance of the FOL and the dropping zone and eliminated all air defence means that could pose a threat to the aircraft flying in the main IRC force.
The main IRC force can be inserted into the forward operating location either by parachute or by assault landing. The former option is preferable as it involves less danger to the aircraft, but it is subject to weather conditions. The Air Azur G9 parachute, with which the Belgian paratroopers are equipped, allows parachuting personnel at wind speeds of up to 16 knots, while dropping equipment is possible at up to 20 knots. The 100 m2 main parachute, the brand-new 76 m2 ventral parachute and the backpack with the parachutist’s individual weapon, ammunition, food and water and some common equipment can weigh up to 50 kilogram. The G9 parachute can carry a total weight of 160 kilogram.
Lockheed C-130H Hercules CH-12 at Florennes in the early morning.
The insertion of the first troops of the IRC during Exercise Crazy Trip was planned at dawn. As the predicted weather forecast was well within the operational limits of the G9 parachute, the first wave would be parachuted in. Preparation of the aircraft and paratroopers started at 0400 hours local time. At 0550 hours, each of the four Hercules aircraft boarded 60 paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion Parachutists in Tielen and two large equipment bags with a .50-inch machinegun, light mortars and ammunition. The aircraft took off at 0610 hours and flew to the Weelde forward operating location in tactical formation.
C-130's arriving in tactical formation over Weelde at daybreak.
Paratroopers jump over Weelde
The four aircraft reached the forward operating location at 0645 hours. The 240 paratroopers were parachuted over the dropping zone in two sticks of 30 per aircraft and from an altitude of 1,200 feet. These are peacetime training conditions. In real operations all parachutist jump in a single pass, performed at an altitude of 400 feet. This procedure minimizes the exposure of aircraft and paratroopers to possible hostile fire to an acceptable minimum. The primary task of the first wave of the main IRC is to secure a limited perimeter at the dropping zone and to seek contact with the threatened Belgian instruction team.
The front office of a C-130H during the approach to Weelde.
When flying over or in the vicinity of the forward operating location all crewmembers wear a helmet and a flak jacket. In combination with the protective Kevlar plating around the cockpit, they provide an acceptable degree of protection against small arms fire. An important element in such exercises is the transfer of experience between skilled and young crewmembers. It cannot be better illustrated than by this crew, of which the first pilot is a Colonel and the second pilot a Lieutenant.
The second wave of three aircraft carrying 180 troops has landed
A second wave of three aircraft flew in 180 more troops at 0830 hours. This wave consisted of men of the 3rd Battalion Parachutists in Tielen, reinforced with infantrymen of the 12/13 Line Battalion in Spa. This time, the aircraft performed assault landings, the so-called TALOs or Tactical Air Landing Operations. After a steep and short landing, the aircraft offloaded their troops and equipment, which consisted of heavier weapons like .50-inch machine guns and MILAN antitank weapons. The disembarked men immediately secured a perimeter to protect the aircraft against possible insurgent attacks while on the ground. Only a handful of minutes later the aircraft were airborne again. The troops of the second wave had to enlarge the secure perimeter at the forward operating location and establish a local command post.
From 1135 hours onwards the third wave of aircraft brought in a platoon of Scouts of the 1st Battalion Chasseurs-a-Cheval in Leopoldsburg. Each of the two aircraft carried three jeeps. The third aircraft of this wave transported medical equipment necessary to establish a medical aid station. These aircraft evacuated the first servicemen that were injured during the early phases of the deployment of the main IRC force.
A Jeep is extracted from Lockheed C-130H CH-12 to be parachutes as part of the third wave.
The fourth and final phase of the exercise – the retrieval of the IRC was not part of the exercise – provided the IRC with more airdropped heavy equipment in the late afternoon.
Returning home and preparing for landing after a job well done.
Text and pictures by
© Jos Schoofs (March 2006)
Additional pictures by Dirk Jansens
More splendid picture of this exercise can be found on the site of Dirk Geerts through the links below
Last updated 28/03/06 16:36 Daniel Brackx