The exercise INIOHOS was established in 1988 as a Hellenic Air Force small scale air-exercise without participation of foreign Air Forces. In 2013, it was decided to upgrade the exercise into a medium scale INVITEX-exercise, meaning that invitations are being send to different Air Forces, asking if they want to participate, and to implement the, so called, “Single Base” concept, meaning that all participating squadrons would operate from one single base.
This was done primarily for better synergy effects, a more realistic simulation of real combat operations and the opportunity of a better analysis of the results. As host base was chosen Andravida AFB in the western Peloponnese.
The main reasons for this decision, were the extended free airspace in western Greece and over the Ionian Sea, something very rare today in most parts of Europe, and of course the existence in Andravida AFB of the KEAT, the Hellenic Air Force Air Tactics Centre.
In 2014, this new concept was put through test with the first INIOHOS exercise run under the new rules, this time still only with Hellenic Air Force squadrons participating. Since 2015, allied and other international Air Forces are being invited. The first foreign Air Force that participated, in 2015, was the Israeli Air Force and since then, every year saw a steady increase in the number of participating countries (2015: Israel, 2016: Israel and USA, 2017: Israel, USA, Italy and UAE) and a simultaneous increase of the degree of difficulty.
The first main target during the conception of the exercise INIOHOS was, to create a realistic environment for the proper training of the Hellenic Air Force fighter squadrons. This expanded with time to provide a challenging and demanding high-threat environment for the participating Air Forces, with the inclusion of simultaneous Hellenic and international Navy and Army Exercises.
The end target is, to become the most important medium scale air-exercise in whole Europe and the Middle East. To reach this target, a fully simulated combat environment is being provided to all participants, together with the opportunity of using different kinds of target ranges (over land and over sea) for absolutely realistic training conditions. The training area includes the whole of Athens Flight information Region (Athens FIR).
Specially designed to simulate modern, complex and intensive air operations, day and night, in order to provide realistic training that resembles the early days of a conflict (simulating real warfare), the annual exercise INIOHOS is the frame where personnel and aircraft are tested to the limits of their capabilities. This frame gives to all participants an unique opportunity: To exercise inside a layer of multiple, unexpected threats as members of combined strike packages against RED Forces consisting of some of the best pilots in the world and a multitude of different short and long range A/A-Systems (for example MIM-104 Patriot, Crotale SRAD, SA-15 Gauntlet, SA-20 Gargoyle, etc.).
2017 edition of Iniohos
The 2017 edition of exercise INIOHOS started on Monday, 27th of March and ended on Thursday, 6th of April. This 11 days of intense training offered again many novelties: More participating Air Forces, greater number of flown sorties, first participation of an AESA-equipped fighter and one very seldom chance to see Israeli and Arab fighters working together in an international air-exercise. The inclusion of the United Arab Emirates Air Force Desert Falcons with their AESA radar, was a big step forward into the next level of the exercise and showed in a practical example to every participant, what the future of air warfare entails.
Iniohos 2017 participants
Hellenic Air Force
- All squadrons
Israeli Air Force
- 101 Sq, Hatzor: F-16C Block 40 Barak 2020
- 105 Sq, Hatzor: F-16D Block 40 Barak 2020
Italian Air Force
- 132o Gruppo CBR, Istrana: AMX ACOL
United Arab Emirates Air Force
- 1st/2nd/3rd Sq, Al Dhafra: F-16E Block 60
- 93rd FS, Homestead (FL): F-16C Block 30
The Hellenic Air Force participated with all her squadrons, fighter and not fighter. Every fighter squadron brought a detachment of four planes to Andravida AFB. Exceptions were the fighter squadrons participating in the exercise as RED Forces. They flow, like in the previous two incarnations of the exercise, from their respective home bases, as well as the support assets did. Sadly absent from Andravida AFB were the Mirage 2000BGM/EGM from 332 M, Tanagra AFB.
They participated during the naval strike missions of the exercise, but flow also from their home base. A welcomed sight for many of the foreign participants, especially the Israeli and Americans due to their proud history with this legend of the air, was the heavy use of the F-4E Phantom II of the two local, Andravida-based, squadrons (338 MDV & 339 MPK), that were upgraded some years ago to the Peace Icarus 2000 standard. This allows them to use, among others, the Rafael LITENING II targeting pod. The Hellenic Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons were making heavy use of the Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN targeting pods during the exercise.
The Israeli Air Force participated for the third time. Again, as in her usually fashion, with a mix of fighters from different squadrons. This time, it was the turn of Hatzor AFB and her two based squadrons, 101 Sq “The First Fighter Squadron” and 105 Sq “The Scorpion Squadron”, with a total of 12x F-16C/D Block 40 Barak 2020 to come to Hellas. The Israeli Air Force also send electronic warfare aircrafts in the form of 1x Gulfstream G550 Nachshon Eitam and 1x Beech B200T Tsufit 4. Support was coming from 2x C-130J-30 Shimshon transport aircrafts and 1x KC-707 Re’em tanker/transport aircraft.
The Israeli contingent flow during her staying in Hellas, also bilateral missions with the Hellenic Air Force and standalone missions utilizing Hellenic Air Forces ranges, without the participation of the other foreign participants of the exercise. This fact is a testimony for the great trust that exist in the meanwhile between the Hellenic and the Israeli Air Force, for the mutual understanding and learning from each other and of course for the increasing level of cooperation between this two elite Air Forces. The Israeli Air Force F-16 used during the exercise a big variety of different weapons and pods, like for example IMI Delilah captive air training cruise missiles, Rafael LITENING III targeting pods, etc.
The Italian Air Force participated for the first time in an INIOHOS exercise. The Italian contingent consisted of 4x AMX ACOL from the 132o Gruppo CBR “Carlo Emanuele Buscaglia”, Istrana AFB. The AMX have collected vast combat experience in the last years in the close air support and reconnaissance roles, mainly during missions over Afghanistan in between 2009-2014 (Task Force “Black Cats”). During the exercise, they flow missions equipped with Rafael RecceLite reconnaissance pods.
The big surprise of exercise INIOHOS 2017 was the participation of the United Arab Emirates Air Force with F-16E Desert Falcons equipped with the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80 AESA radar. The United Arab Emirates Air Force was, beside the Italian Air Force, the second new participant to INIOHOS 2017. Generally, it was thought that the first Arab Air Force participating at an INIOHOS exercise would have been the Egyptian Air Force, with whom the Hellenic Air Force had performed in the last year’s bilateral exercises, in Hellas and in Egypt. The 6x F-16E Block 60 of the United Arab Emirates Air Force were drawn from all three Desert Falcons squadrons (1st/2nd/3rd), based in Al Dhafra AFB. Support was coming from 1x A330-243MRTT tanker/transport aircraft and 1x C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft.
A lot of speculations arose immediately about the reasons to invite the United Arab Emirates Air Force. According to unconfirmed statements, one of the main reasons behind the decision of the Hellenic Air Force to invite them was, besides the strengthening of the bilateral collaboration, the desire to have a closer look at an AESA radar, having in mind the forthcoming introduction of the F-35A Lightning II in the Turkish Air Force. The Desert Falcons were seen during the INIOHOS exercise utilizing the Lockheed Martin PANTERA targeting pod (the export version of the Sniper XR).
The United States Air Force participated with 12x F-16C Block 30 from the 93rd FS, Homestead ARB (Florida). The 93rd Fighter Squadron was on her way back to the USA after a multi month-long deployment in Kuwait in support of Operation “Inherent Resolve”. This particular participation was one of the very rare cases, where an Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) fighter squadron participated in a European multinational air-exercise in the last years. Support was coming from 1x C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft. The “Macos” brought with them a large portion of real combat experience, mainly in the Air-to-Ground role, something that was a very welcomed factor for the other participants. The Fighting Falcons of the “Macos” were seen during INIOHOS using the Northrop Grumman AN/APQ-131 ECM pod and the Rafael LITENING AT targeting pod.
Except from the United Arab Emirates Air Force, all other participating Air Forces also send JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller)-teams to INIOHOS 2017. For the first time, officers of the Cypriot National Guard were present during INIOHOS 2017, as observers.
Iniohos 2017 Live exercise
The participating units were divided in BLUE Forces, all operating from Andravida AFB, and RED Forces, operating from their respective home bases.
The BLUE Forces, flow mainly 4 bigger and 2 smaller waves per day. Not every squadron participated in all waves. Usually, early in the morning, the Israeli Air Force flow alone a short wave, sometimes together with the Hellenic Air Force. Before midday, two big waves (A1 at 10:00 and A2 at 13:00) and one so called “side-mission” (SD 1) were flown by all participants. After midday, the third big wave (B) were flown, followed by the second “side-mission” (SD 2). In the afternoon, the Israeli Air Force flow standalone missions and in the evening, a big night flying wave (C) were flown at 21:00.
The Italian Air Force participated usually only in the A1 and A2 waves. A grand total of between 93-132 sorties were generated every day. Very impressive for today’s standards! In total, slightly more than 1.000 sorties were flown during the 11 days of the exercise. Beside the missions flown on behalf of exercise INIOHOS, they were of course also many local missions being flown from the home based Phantom II squadrons (338 MDV and 339 MPK).
The Hellenic Air Force supported the exercise with EMB-145 Erieye AWACS aircrafts of 380 MASEPE, Elefsina AFB and with RF-4E Phantom II reconnaissance fighters from 348 MTA, Larissa AFB, F-16C/D from 335 M, Araxos AFB with Goodrich DB-110 reconnaissance pods and Pegasus II UAV of MMEA/F, Elefsina AFB for battle damage assessment (BDA) missions. The BLUE Forces were also supported during the whole exercise from NATO E-3A AWACS aircrafts operating from FOB Aktio, Greece.
The main types of missions flown during the exercise were:
- Anti-Surface Operations
- Battlefield Air Interdiction/Deep Air Support
- Close Air Support
- Combat Search & Rescue
- High Value Airborne Asset Attack Operations and Defensive Counter-Air Operations
- Non Traditional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance
- Offensive Counter-Air Operations against Integrated Air Defence Systems
- Support of “Slow Movers”
- Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance
- Suppression of Enemy Air Defences/Destruction of Enemy Air Defences
- Tactical Air Support for Maritime Operations
- Time Sensitive/Dynamic Targeting
- Traditional Reconnaissance
INIOHOS 2017 was sadly the last exercise in which the legendary RF-4E of 348 MTA participated. The reconnaissance Phantom will be withdrawn from active use at the beginning of May.
As RED Forces were acting the 330 M from Nea Anchialos AFB and the 337 M from Larissa AFB in the Air-to-Air role, ground-based air defence systems of the Hellenic Army and the anti-aircraft capabilities of the Hellenic Navy. The RED Forces were supported by ground based radar stations of the Hellenic Air Force. Both 330 M and 337 M brought to the exercise their vast experience and sophisticated tactics, collected after thousands of live scrambles over the Aegean Sea. The RED Forces were also supported by Israeli Air Force KC-707 Re’em tanker aircrafts, flying from their home base, Nevatim AFB in Israel.
This year, special emphasis was given to electronic warfare (EW) with jamming, electronic countermeasures, broadcasting of false information and disruption of communications. During the first week of the exercise, the main goals of the missions were the neutralization of the enemy air defence, the degrade of the operational capabilities of enemy airfields and subsequently the destroying of important infrastructure objects, like for example bridges, electric power plants, etc. During the second week, the main goals of the missions were maritime operations.
In conjunction with INIOHOS 2017, a special forces exercise was held, with participation of Hellenic and Israeli units. For this exercise, Hellenic Army AH-64 Apache combat helicopters and Hellenic and Israeli Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircrafts were utilized. To support and increase the realism of INIOHOS 2017, the Hellenic Armed Forces did also run during the same time, the Navy-Exercise ASTRAPI 4/2017 and the Army-Exercise POLIFIMOS. The Hellenic Navy participated with all types of warships and the Hellenic Army mainly with A/A-Units. The main mission for the INIOHOS-participants during ASTRAPI were tactical air support and during POLIFIMOS, the neutralization of enemy air defence and close air support. In particular, the Italian AMX-contingent was tasked with providing CAS for Hellenic Army units. According to statements, the Hellenic Army has shown quite enthusiastically about the excellent performance and abilities of the Italian pilots.
Lessons Learned and the future
There were a lot of lessons learned for all participants from this year’s INIOHOS exercise. Of course, like in every similar kind of exercise, not many official words came to the surface, but nevertheless, it is understood that all participants praised the realistic simulation of combat scenarios and the multitude of unexpected simulated threats that the Hellenic Air Force General Staff incorporated in to the exercise to keep the participants always on alert, like for example the presence of A/A-Units in expected “free” zones.
The contribution and professionalism of the RED Forces were highly praised by the foreign participants. Countries like Israel and the USA welcomed the inclusion of maritime missions against surface targets, because usually they train very little in this regard. All praised that they could operate without most of the restrictions usually compromising in terms of realism and training quality many northern and central European exercises. And last but not least, the good weather played also a significant role and had as result an extremely high rate of availability. Also, the geographical relief of Hellas was helpful, providing plenty of opportunities for a realistic training.
Of course, likewise of high value, was the chance to increase the collaboration, to share common values, to send a strong, common message of stability and protection of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean during this difficult times, and the opportunity to lift the spirit of cooperation among the participating Air Forces, to support the productive exchange of ideas among them and to produce synergy effects.
The exercise INIOHOS is slowly but steady transforming herself in one of the main, if not “the” main, medium scale air-exercise in Europe and the Middle East, covering a broad spectrum of operations, including maritime operations. A testament to this, is the growing number of countries wishing to take part. As a result of this, Andravida AFB is currently being expanded with additional apron space and accommodation buildings.
Despite Hellas financial problems, there are also rumors about establishing a complete ACMI-range with Andravida AFB at the centrum of it. Regarding this, the Hellenic Air Force is looking for help from the Israeli Air Force, and their vast experience with the Ouvda AFB training range. Regarding new participants, they are indications that Egypt, France and the United Kingdom wants to participate next year. If this is coming true, it will even further increase the dynamic and appeal of the exercise.
Article and images: Marcus Vallianos e Philipp Vallianos