In April, the Hellenic skies welcomed for the fifth time in row, the multinational participants of exercise Iniochos2019. Storming out of Andravida AFB, in NW-Peloponnese, fighters and personnel from 5 countries performed a multitude of different Air Warfare missions.
Iniochos is an annual middle-scale exercise, one of the larger to take place in the central Mediterranean. The exercise has made great steps forward since her establishment in the year 1988 as a Hellenic Air Force small scale Air Warfare exercise without participation of foreign Air Forces. This year saw a significant step forward being taken, with the first participation of 5th generation fighters, in the form of Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II. Not changed over the years, has the ultimate goal of the exercise: To train personnel in the planning and execution of Combined Air Operations (COMAO) in a realistic environment. During the exercise, a realistic battle environment is being created in order to provide a challenging and demanding high-threat environment for the participating Air Forces, together with the opportunity of using different kinds of target ranges (over land and sea) for absolutely realistic training conditions with the simultaneous inclusion of Hellenic and international Army and Navy exercises.
The 2019 edition of Iniochos saw the participation of several nations (Greece, Italy, UAE, Israel and the U.S.) with 3rd, 4th and, for the first time, 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.
The annual drill is not the first time Israeli and UAE pilots have flown in the same military exercise. In August 2016, the two countries participated in the Red Flag exercise hosted by the U.S. Air Force in Nevada, along with representatives from Pakistan. While Israel and the UAE have no formal diplomatic ties, the increased threat posed by Iranian expansion in the region has led some Gulf monarchies to engage with the Jewish State.
During Iniochos 2019, the Italian AF F-35A was the indisputable star of the exercise. All sides learned a lot of valuable lessons, from this first participation of a 5th generation fighter in an Iniochos exercise. The overall estimate of the HAF is that the F-35A is a very competent fighter and justifies fully the classification as a true “game changer” regarding modern Air Warfare. Highly praised was the real time data collection and management (sensor fusion) capability of the F-35A. The Italian AF is currently in the familiarization phase with the F-35A. The time that has passed since achieving the IOC has been very short, and it is a statement for the abilities and skills of the ItAF personnel and for the F-35A itself, that they were able to participate already an exercise with such complex scenarios, like Iniochos 2019. This was also one of the main reason to bring the F-35A to Iniochos 2019, to seek high quality Air Warfare Training and gaining valuable experience against top Air Forces, similar to no others in Europe.
Andravida Air Base which hosted Iniochos 2019, is also the homebase of the HAFs last remaining F-4E Phantoms, which were also flying during the exercise.