Exercise 'Iniohos 2017'
Now in its third year as an international multi-force exercise, 'Iniohos 2017' was held at Andravida Air Base, Greece from Monday 27th March through to Thursday 6th April 6th 2017. Hosted by the resident Hellenic Air Force (HAF) 117 Combat Wing, participating in this year's exercise were the Air Forces of Israel, Italy, the USA and the UAE. Of these, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) have been major players over the last three years, with F-16's from different units attending each time. This year, 12 F-16C/D 'Barak' aircraft from 101 'The First Fighter' Squadron and 105 'The Scorpion' Squadron, both based at Hatzor Airbase, were sent along with a single Gulfstream 550 'Nachshon Eitam' Conformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) aircraft from 122 'Nachshon' Squadron at Nevatim Airbase.
From Italy, participating in the exercise for the first time, 4 upgraded AMX ACOL aircraft were sent, from Istrana based 51° Stormo 'Ferruccio Serafini' of the GEA (Gruppo Efficienza Aeromobili). Following the US participation last year, when 12 48thFW F-15E's were sent from RAF Lakenheath, much more interesting this year were the 12 AFRC F-16C's from the 93rdFS/482ndFW 'Makos' at Homestead ARB in Florida. Then from the UAE, more Vipers with 6 Block 60 F-16E 'Desert Falcons' from the three pooled Shaheen Squadrons at Al Dhafra Airbase near Abu Dhabi. In addition to the flying units, Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) ground units were sent from each nation, including the USA's 4th ASOG (Air Support Operations Group) based at USAG Wiesbaden in Germany.
For the host nation, this was a very busy exercise, with a lot of HAF units and aircraft involved. In addition to the resident F-4E's, other air assets included various F-16 and Mirage 2000-5 units, as well as EMB-145H AEW and 'Pegasus' UAV platforms operating from their home bases. RF-4E 'Recce Rhinos' of the 348 MTA were also taking part, operating from their Larissa base, in their final exercise prior to their imminent retirement and unit disbandment. As well as the HAF, the Hellenic Army were also co-involved, including with AH-64A/D's operating in live exercise 'Polifimos', while the Hellenic Navy had assets involved in their co-hosted exercise 'Astrapi'.
Of the F-4E's resident at Andravida, the 117th CW hosts the 338 MDV 'Mars' (Fighter Bomber) Squadron and the 339 MPK 'Ajax' (All Weather) Squadron. In mid 1974 the first deliveries of the F-4E started under the Peace Icarus I program, with operational status reached the following year. Later in 1991, these were replaced/supplemented by upgraded F-4E's from surplus US stocks, with 28 aircraft from the Indiana ANG delivered between August and November as part of the SRA (SouthEastern Regional Agreement) 'Peace Icarus II' program.
After 23 years of Phantom service, the HAF decided upon a major structural and electronic upgrade program to keep the aircraft in service for several more decades, with the 'Peace Icarus 2000' AUP (Avionics Upgrade Program). In December 2002 the first of 34 upgraded F-4E AUP was handed over by HAI (Hellenic Aerospace Industry), with deliveries continuing until October 2005. Simultaneously, the training of pilots on the upgraded aircraft started at EADS facilities in Germany, being continued and completed at Andravida. This modernization has provided the HAF with a modern, capable interceptor and fighter bomber, with results comparable to those of third generation aircraft, equipped with APG-65GY radar, LITENING II targetting pod and AIM-120B missiles. With the impending RF-4E retirement, the future of the F-4E aircraft is uncertain, and may unfortunately be decided by economics, which is a very big and difficult issue in Greece. With a high cost per hour and reportedly around 40% of the fleet being down on maintenance (PDM) at any one time, this unfortunately puts the ageing Phantom into a negative spotlight. Speaking with one Phantom pilot about the expected service life of the F-4E AUP, he estimated that another ten years of operations are possible. However, other reports state that it could well be a 2020 pharewell at the latest.
With over 1000 missions flown as part of 'Iniohos' this year, the exercise air operations were carried out across the geographical area within the Athens FIR. With simulated scenarios including "situations of virtual crises with escalating tensions and advanced hostilities", the main focus of the exercise is to train personnel in an environment of mixed, international allied forces, sharing tactics and understanding the procedures involved with such a complex spectrum of air operations.
Infact, the 'Iniohos' exercises actually date back to the late 80's, as a small scale air warfare exercise with only aircraft of the HAF involved. Initially hosted by the 110th CW at Larissa, in later years aircraft operated from their home bases, before more recently being established at Andravida, with the 117th CW also being home to KEAT (Kentro Aeroporikis Taktikis), the Air Tactics Centre and Tactical Weapons School. Now expanded into an 'INVITEX' exercise, meaning that other nations can be invited to participate, it will be interesting to see how much more this annual event will grow, from already one of the largest multi-national exercises held in the European theatre.
An interesting aspect of this and several other recent multi-national exercises has been the joint operations of the Israeli and (several) Arab nations. Military co-operation (including some intelligence sharing) carried out in private should be no surprise, but publicised shows of joint military training has only been seen in the last several years. No doubt encouraged by the US and other nations, this will in part be as a result of the stated common threats to both Israel and the GCC countries in the Middle East. At Red Flag 15-4 at Nellis AFB in 2015, the IDF not only trained with the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) but even provided the Air Refuelling support for their Arab neighbour's aircraft across the Atlantic. Then in 2016, the IDF again participated in the final Red Flag of the year, alongside the UAE AF. Both of these were carried in with some 'discretion' however, in that no media day was held at Nellis to publicise the exercises (and those involved). And so, with this year's 'Iniohos' hosting a media event, this has in effect been the first publicised exercise involving the IDF and an Arab nation's Airforce. Some 'discretion' was still to be seen however, with the two nations officials, airmen and indeed aircraft not seen together during the media day.
Held on Wednesday 29th March, the domestic and international press representatives were invited to the amphitheater of the 117th Combat Wing. Among the many dignitaries and high ranking staff present, providing details on this years exercise, as well as giving speeches and presentations, were...
Greek Minister of Defense, Mr. Panos Kammenos
Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, Admiral Evangelos Aposolakis
Chief of the Hellenic Air Force, Lt. General Christos Christodoulou
Chief of the Hellenic Tactical Air Force, Lt. General Georgios Blioumis
Ambassador of the United States to Greece, Mr. Geoffrey R. Pyatt
Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Greece, Mr. Sultan Mohammed Majed Alali
Report by Kevin Perry for Combat Air Journal, with many thanks to the HAFGS Spokesman, Lt Colonel Tsitoumis, as well as Caroline Makropoulos at the Defence Section of the British Embassy in Athens for their valuable assistance in arranging this media visit.