The U.S. and Serbian Air Forces trained on rotary wing search and rescue operations.
The U.S. Air Force and the Serbian Air Force performed their first formation flight in history during rotary wing search and rescue training operations early this month, the first joint training event of the two services since the conflict over the Balkans in the 1990s. The exercise, called Platinum Wolf, unfolded from August 7 to 11, 2023, at Batajnica Air Base and Sgt./Pilot Mihajlo Petrovic Air Base, Serbia.
The U.S. Air Force participated with HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters of the 56th Rescue Squadron, based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, while Serbia participated with H145M helicopters of the 119th Mixed Helicopter Squadron and Mi-17 helicopters of the 890th Mixed Helicopter Squadron. To mark the beginning of this partnership training, a Serbian H145M and U.S. HH-60G helicopter flew in formation to Serbia with U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Christopher R. Hill on board.
“Having Ambassador Hill present during the formation flight shows not only solidarity between the Department of State and Department of Defense, but also our support and commitment to maintaining great relations with the Serbian military,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erik Silva, 435th Contingency Response Support Squadron aircraft maintenance air advisor.
The airmen from both countries shared knowledge on search and rescue tactics and procedures, both during instructional briefings and hands-on training. This interoperability training is aimed at enabling seamless coordination during joint operations, ensuring an effective and efficient response to potential threats.
“Throughout the training and discussions held this week, we hope the Serbian military can gain some of our search and rescue knowledge acquired from trial and error,” said Staff Sgt. Noah Davila, 56th Rescue Squadron special missions aviator. “And in the future they can become search and rescue experts as well.”
This bilateral training event appears to signal a further Serbian opening to collaboration with western countries, after being a close Russian ally for years. In fact, after the acquisition of the H145M few years ago, reports also emerged about Serbia considering the Rafale as replacement for the MiG-29 Fulcrum and the T-7 as replacement for the G-4 Super Galeb and J-22 Orao.
“As joint operations progress, it is crucial to maintain open lines of communication, nurture trust, and continue investing in collaborative initiatives ensuring a safer and more prosperous future for the Balkans,” said John A. Castillo, U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa deputy branch chief, eastern Europe/ USAFE desk officer for Serbia. “The U.S. seeks to be the partner of choice for capability and interoperability across Europe, for NATO and non-NATO members.”
According to the U.S., this is just the first bilateral training event for the two countries and more exercises are expected in future both inside and outside Serbia, further deepening the military cooperation of the two former adversaries.
“In the future, we plan to further our cooperation by conducting more joint flights, and expand to rescue demonstrations outside Serbia, where both the SAFAD and the U.S. Air Force can demonstrate how each country is able to perform search and rescue,” Silva said. “In addition, we hope to incorporate medical evacuation scenarios and operate together to conduct these training scenarios.”