On the 4th April, for the second time in two years, MAR was invited to attend military exercise Iniochos 2019 held at Andravida Air Base in Greece. Following on from the first successful visit of 2018, and knowing the rare aircraft types that participate in the exercise, MAR decided to attend again especially since the Israeli Air Force were going to participate again and also due to the fact that this air base hosts all the remaining active Hellenic Air Force F-4 Phantoms.
Iniochos is an annual exercise whose objectives are to:
- Provide realistic training and challenging scenarios that include multiple modern threats and real time live injects tailored to produce the fog of war and the friction effect which is expected to dominate the modern battlefield and test both the physical and psychological endurance of the modern fighter.
- Accurate Shot/Event Assessment: This is achieved with the use of on-board and off board tracking data, sensors and specialized debriefing software which is leveraged for the reconstruction of the mission by experienced Fighter Weapons School instructors that oversee the debriefing process.
Since 2015, the exercise has become an INVITEX exercise allowing foreign air forces to participate and train with the Greek Air Force, thus helping to build relations and interoperability between allied air forces in the region. This year, the foreign participating countries included the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Italy, and Israel.
Of particular note was the first ever presence of the F-35A Lightning in this multinational exercise. The type was provided by the Italian Air Force, who brought 6 examples to this exercise. This was a remarkable number owing to the fact that they have only recently taken around a dozen examples on delivery. The Italian Air Force also brought 6 Tornados from 6 Stormo to the exercise, a welcome addition following the recent retirement of the Royal Air Force Tornados in March this year.
The United Arab Emirates provided the same aircraft type that they provided in 2018, i.e. 6 examples of the Dassault Mirage 2000.
The remaining countries, i.e. the United States and Israel both provided Lockheed Martin F-16s for the exercise, with the USAF examples being provided from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, while Israel provided 13 examples belonging to two squadrons: F-16C and F-16D Barak from Ramat David Air Base.
As we entered the gate on Thursday morning, the coaches took us to a spot close to the runway to witness the mass launch of the first wave of the exercise planned for that day. Luckily we found a good spot by the runway before the first 4 F-4 phantoms and Hellenic F-16s took off. From then onward, loads of pictures of the participating aircraft of the morning wave were taken. Due to the fact that the morning mission consisted of a lot of aircraft, there was not much time to wait in between the time the last aircraft took off and the first aircraft started to land. Similarly to last year, we were very surprised as to how close we were allowed to stay by the runway, merely a few meters away from the centre of the runway!
Following the morning mission, we were allowed to position ourselves on the other side of the airfield in order to better capture the afternoon launches. The weather seemed to want to play tricks in the afternoon, since some low and high clouds did not always allow us to take the best possible pictures of taxiing and departing aircraft.
Following on the afternoon mission, 1 of each aircraft type and air force took off to participate in a rehearsal flypast over Athens to showcase the exercise and to emphasize its importance for the country and the region. Despite taking off in good weather conditions just before sunset, by the time they were back it was dark so good pictures could not really be taken of the aircraft taxiing back to their shelters.
All in all, it was another memorable experience with plenty of aircraft shots taken. Compared to 2018, the organisation has improved with practically no hiccups and uncertainties occurring during the day. Hopefully the event will happen again in 2020 and will also hopefully attract more exotic and rare air forces in the region, especially since some air forces from surrounding countries were participating in this exercise as observers.
Again, many thanks for the Hellenic Air Force for organising this event. Roll on 2021!