“VELEBIT 18 – JOINT FORCE” – the Most Complex Exercise of Croatian Armed Forces to Date

The comprehensive inter-service joint exercise of all components of the Croatian Armed Forces titled “Velebit 18- Joint Force“ has been the largest military exercise to date, conducted continuously for 72 hours from 13 to 15 October 2018 on multiple locations in the Republic of Croatia. It engaged a total of 5,500 members of the Croatian Armed Forces, including the reserve component. The Croatian Armed Forces tested the capability for autonomous protection of the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Croatia as well as the defence of its territorial integrity

The comprehensive inter-service joint live fire exercise «Velebit 18-Joint Force» was conducted in all training ranges and grounds in the Republic of Croatia from 13 to 15 October 2018. The exercise was  the main training event in 2018 and was conducted onland, at sea and in the air, engaging all units of the Croatian Armed Forces (a total of approx. 5,500 members of the Croatian Armed Forces and some units of the reserve component). The Exercise Commander was the Director of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, Vice Admiral Robert Hranj, and the Deputy Commander was Brigadier General Senad Fejzić, the Head of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff.

The exercise had a complex objective – to test the attained level of capabilities pertaining to the defence of the national territory; to test the newly introduced weapons and equipment (primarily the Patria armoured personnel vehicle, the self-propeled PzH Howitzers and the OH 58-D Kiowa Warrior helicopters); to showcase the capabilities of planning and conducting joint operations; to test doctrinary documents, concepts and accepted norms; and to showcase the capabilities related to the assistance to civilian institutions during defensive operations.

In addition to the classic defensive tasks, the exercise tested the capabilities of dealing with modern-day threats, e.g. combating terrorism, urban warfare, cyber defence at the operational and tactical level, interception of aircraft, force protection, attacks on arms depot, fixing the communication failure, etc.

The exercise integrated a number of inter-service and mixed exercises organised by the commands of the single services of the Croatian Armed Forces.

The symbolic value of the title of the exercise was explained by the Director of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces and the Commander of the Exercise, Vice admiral Robert Hranj, who stressed that Velebit was the longest  mountain in Croatia as well as the natural boundary between the north and the south of Croatia and its coastline and the hinterland; it held an important place in the  history of Croatia, particularly the Homeland War, when it had had a huge importance for the successful conduct of military and police operations.

The second part  of the title of the exercise – Joint Force –  highlighted its main characteristics: a joint operation in a complex security environment and a synergy of the services and branches of the Croatian Armed Forces.

Barracks “Josip Jović“at  Udbina

Exercise Command’s Operation   

On 13 October 2018, a continuous 72-hour comprehensive, joint and  inter-service exercise of all units of the Croatian Armed Forces “Velebit 18 – Joint Force“ kicked off in the Barracks “Josip Jović”  at Udbina on 13 October 2018.

The opening event was attended by the President of the Republic of Croatia as the Supreme Commander of the Croatian Armed Forces, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Damir Krstičević, the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces General Mirko Šundov and other representatives of the Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Armed Forces. The exercise was observed by Assistant Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard  Major General Neal Loidolt.

The President of the Republic of Croatia emphasised that the Croatian Army was born on the acquired experiences of the Homeland War, which it is protects today and complements the knowledge and capabilities from that period with new ones.

The Minister stressed that the integration of the capabilities of the Croatian Army, the Croatian Air Force, the Croatian Navy, the Special Forces Command and the Support Command and units directly subordinated to the General Staff  was a demanding task, undertaken for the first time since the Homeland War.

“By conducting the Exercise “Velebit 18 – Joint Force”, we are conveying a strong message to the Croatian people and to the region that Croatia and its citizens are protected by a strong, modern and well-equipped military, ready to address conventional and non-conventional challenges. I want the public to be aware of the fact that there is a force protecting the sovereignty of Croatia, its territory and its borders; The Croatian Armed Forces are growing stronger in all domains to ensure peace, freedom and assistance if necessary“, said the Minister.

“The Exercise is an opportunity to test doctrines, concepts, tactics, techniques and procedures as well as to test and integrate new capabilities and assets, such as the Panzer Howitzers, the Kiowa helicopters, the UAVs and the CIS system. The exercise is conducted through four domains of warfare – sea, land, air and the cyber space”,  the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, General Mirko Šundov said.  

The video conference with the Force Command North at Gašinci, the Force Command South, Command of the Air Component and the Special Forces Command was held in the Joint Operations Centre. The Exercise Director Vice Admiral Robert Hranj explained that the exercise commenced with a series of co-ordinated activities engaging all components of the Croatian Armed Forces and its scenario featured offensive and defensive operations and operations protecting the key infrastructure.

Training Range “Gašinci“

Defensive Operations and Combating a Terrorist Group

Training Range “Gašinci“ hosted a practice activity of the 1st Mechanised Battalion “Sokolovi“ of the Guards Armoured Mechanised Brigade reinforced with a mechanised company of the 1st Mechanised  Battalion  “Tigrovi“ of the Guards Mechanised Brigade, elements of the Armoured Battalion and the Battalion “Kune” of the Guards Armoured Mechanised Brigade as well as with the elements of the Intelligence Division and the NBC Defence Battalion – a total of 865 members of the Croatian Armed Forces with 73 key weapon systems.

The first task of the training unit involved area defence from an attack by an enemy’s armoured infantry battalion, followed by the transition to counteroffense through recce operations, neutralising mines and explosive obstacles with live firing from all weapons across interspaces by own forces and pushing the enemy into the distruction zone. The assets used at “Gašinci” comprised the M84 tanks, the BVP M80, the Patria AMVs, the self-propelled 122-mm Gvozdika Howitzers, mortar, anti-armour and air defence systems, UAVs and other.

Training Ground “Gakovo”

Reserve Component Takes Part in “Velebit 18“

Exercise activities, with an important role played by the members of the reserve component, were demonstrated  in the training ground “Gakovo”. The training unit at “Gakovo“ was composed of the members of  the 1st Infantry Regiment, the Special MP Company and the Intelligence Division. In addition to the activity in the exercise, the members of the 1st Infantry Regiment  also conducted the pre-recruitment training of the reserve component. The activities conducted in “Gakovo“ engaged members of the active and reserve components of the Croatian Armed Forces. The units displayed tasks executed at the command post and details related to the training of the reserve component. The focus was on the display of the security operation, defence, blocking and neturalisation of a diversionist and terrorist group. In the scenario, the intelligence module detected an infiltrated  terrorist group, which was reported to the Force Command North, based in Training Range “Eugen Kvaternik” near Slunj. The Command issued an order to the commander of the 1st Infantry to deploy the 1st Company so that they may isolate, push and surround the terrorists with the aid of infantry weapons and armoured vehicles so as to prevent terrorist escape.  Members of the Special MP Company, reinforced with an element of the MP Regiment, disabled and arrested the terrorists and destroyed mines and explosives. They were transported in MP’s armoured vehicles and aboard the Croatian Air Force’s helicopters. They also used military working dogs in the conduct of the tasks.

Training Range “Rt Kamenjak”

Air Defence of Military Locations

Concurrently, the units of the Croatian Army’ss air defence and the Croatian Navy performed live firing against aerial targets with light portable missile systems.

The air defence forces had been deployed to an outpost three days earlier in order to commence the activities, including the establishment of a command post in the Barracks Pula and a tactical operations centre at the “Rt Kamenjak“ fire post. The deployment was conducted by land and sea to test the capability of movement and the establishment of a command post and a tactical operational centre at the fire post.

The air defence units were assigned with the protection of command posts and infrastructure. The main authority of the exercise was the Air Defence Regiment, assisted by artillery platoons of combat armoured vehicles of the Guards Mechanised Brigade and the Guards Armoured Mechanised Brigade of the Croatian Army, with the use of air defence systems “Strela 2M” and “Igla” and 107-mm and 128-mm MRLs as well as the 20-mm BOV 3 self-propelled guns and other air defence assets. The exercise engaged 220 members of the Croatian Armed Forces, who successfully conducted the task.

Training Range “Crvena zemlja“

Offensive and Defensive Operations

The first day of the Exercise “Velebit 18 – Joint Force“  saw members of the 3rd Mechanised Battalion “Pauci“ of the Guards Mechanised Brigade conduct a demonstration of an offensive operation with the aid of the Patria vehicles in the Training Range  “Crvena zemlja“ near Knin.

In the scenario, a mechanised company was tasked with defeating the enemy, reaching  and securing the end of the advance line, consolidating the forces and transitioning into defence. The overall offensive operation comprised four phases: alert and deployment to the tactical assembly area (first phase)  was followed by the offensive operation titled “movement to contact“ (second phase).  The third and most important phase featured an offensive that broke the enemy lines, followed by a successful seizing of an enemy facility in a co-ordinated operation of the infantry forces with Patria APVs. In the final phase, the Company also secured the facility and performed other tasks.

Training Range “Dugi otok“

Naval Offensive Operations and Successful Launching of RB-15B

On the second day of the joint inter-service exercise of the Croatian Armed Forces  (14 October 2018), members of the Croatian Navy Flotilla and the Coast Guard, reinforced with forces of the Croatian Army, the Croatian Air Force and the Special Forces, conducted naval operations in the training range “Dugi otok“  (artillery and missile engaging of targets at sea and artillery engaging of air targets).

The scenario of the naval operations featured successful RB-15B Mk anti-ship missile firing from the missile boat RTOP 42 “Dubrovnik” to engage a target at sea at a 30-km range. After the firing, three missile boats RTOP 41 “Vukovar”, RTOP-42 “Dubrovnik” and RTOP-21 “Šibenik“ were directed towards the main target at sea  “Ponton “and fired with 57-mm, 30-mm and 23-mm guns. The participants then engaged  air targets with the 30-mm and 23-mm guns against the target “Rukavac“ (“Hook” towed by a Croatian Air Force’s MIG-21.

The activity was conducted in the training ground  “Dugi otok“, where the Force Command South – subordinated to the Exercise Command – was based. The Command South was responsible for the training activities of naval, land, air and special forces (including the seaborne landing) in the training ranges at “Rt Kamenjak”, ”Dugi otok”, ”Žirje”, ”Zečevo” and ”Crvena zemlja”, which engaged a total of 661 members of the Croatian Armed Forces and 18 key weapon systems.

Training Ground “Kupa“

Fording the Water Obstacle  

The second day of the exercise featured the fording of the water obstacle in the training ground “Kupa”. The display comprised the access to the water obstacle, the setting  of a ferry/bridge crossing site and its maintenance for passage. The main authority was the Engineer Regiment and an M 84 tank platoon, armoured personnel vehicles and Patria AMVs and an MP squad (a total of 168 members and 14 key weapon systems) .

The main task of the training group was to display the fording of the river Kupa with the aim manoeuvering the task force battalion of the Guards Armoured Mechanised Group. In the scenario, destroyed and damaged traffic infrastructure impeded the movement of manoeuvre forces and opened up the threat of an enemy attack on the crossing site. As explained by the Commander, Major Ivica Miložić, the Fording Task Force was assigned with setting up two ferry crossing sites and one bridge crossing site to allow the forces and their assets to cross the river.

1stSergeant Dario Vukušić, the Fording Task Force Command Sergeant, explained that the 93-m bridge composed of 11 floating modules, installed for the purpose of the exercise, enabled two-way crossing of up to 600 vehicles in an hour.

Colonel  Alan Srpak, the Commander of the Engineer Regiment  commended the conduct of the tasks and said that the task forces composed of the pontoneer company, the bridge-amphibious company and river flotilla company had successfully set up the ferry and bridge crossing points, thus enabling  the task armoured mechanised forces to cross the river and showcasing integrated and synchronised  joint operation.

Training Ground “Cerovac“

Support to Civilian Institutions during Combat Operations

The second day in the Training Ground “Cerovac” featured a a display of the capabilities of the Croatian Armed Forces related to providing support to civilian institutions during combat operations. The activity was focused on CIMIC and the presented capabilities included the provision of accommodation, food and water (including the usage of the water purification unit) and medical assistance to the endangered population.

The main authority was the Logistic Company of the Support Command,  which comprised the Services Platoon, the Water Purification Platoon, an MP squad and a CIMIC Team (a total of 48 members of the Croatian Armed Forces) .

The commander of the Civilian Institutions Support Camp Lieutenant Colonel Eniz Jakšić explained that the full service assembly took up two to three days and that the Camp provided support to hundreds of civilians. Lt. Col. Jakšić also underlined the importance of the water purification unit as it produces potable water from various natural sources, which is critical for combat situations and for the civilians accommodated in the Camp.

Training Range “Crvena zemlja“

Kiowa Warrior Nighttime Live Firing   

The crews of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters taking part in the “Velebit 18“ exercise  performed a night engaging of land targets in the Training Range “Crvena Zemlja“ near Knin on 14 October.

Four OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters were engaged in two independent, but co-ordinated teams, with the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) co-ordinating the operation along with the land forces.

According to the scenario, the exercise commenced with the JTAC guiding the attack by helicopters against the target according to the established procedures, followed by an attack by the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior teams, which engaged the targets with plunging fire.

During the attack, the Kiowa crews fired with the 12.7×99-mm M3P guns. Following the successful completion of the live firing, the crews evaluated the target precision, prior to returning to their home barracks (“Pukovnik Mirko Vukušić” at Zemunik).

Military ranges “Žirje“ and  “Zečevo“

Seaborne and Airborne Landing and Fire Support

The third exercise day of the naval component of the joint forces of the Croatian Army commenced with the shifting of the forces from the aquatory of Dugi otok to the aquatory of the island of Žirje.  

The focus of this part of the exercise, conducted  in the traning ranges “Žirje” and “Zečevo” on 15 October, was on co-ordinated seaborne and airborne landing. A total of 729 members of the Croatian Armed Forces and 25 key weapon systems were engaged in this activity.  

The main authorityof this part of the Exercise was the Croatian Navy (Flotilla) and the Croatian Coast Guard.

The exercise scenario foresaw a need for joint task forces to conduct a seaborne landing operation in order toto break the enemy’s defence line, push the enemy backwards and create the conditions for the transportation of reinforcements tasked with continuing the offensive and liberating the island. The seaborne landing operation was conducted with fire preparation, electronic warfare and air strikes against the land targets to set the ground for the disembarkation of the landing forces.

In the early morning hours, the landing forces, composed of the Naval Infantry Company and a platoon of the Croatian Army, embarked landing crafts-minelayers, which transported them to the area of operation, with the indirect protection of the convoy by missile boats. The exercise kicked off with the artillery and missile fire against a surface  target  by the Croatian Army units from the training range “Zečevo“, using 122-mm howitzers and the self-propelled mutliple rocket launcher. Missile boats RTOP-41  “Vukovar“, RTOP -42“Dubrovnik“ and RTOP-21 “Šibenik“ then fired against a surface target with a 57-mm BOFORS gun, enabling the entry of the forces into the landing area.

Concurrently, a simulated distruction of the naval mine was conducted in order to provide countermine security of the disembarkation zone.  The landing forces were transferred from landing craft-minelayers onto assault ships and disemarked on the island, covered by air-defence protection which was provided by the missile boats. Simultaneously, the forces of the 2nd Group of the Special Forces Command performed airborne landing  against a high-value target on the island’s highest elevation. Operating jointly, the forces fortified their position on the seized bridgehead and continued providing combat security. The activities were conducted in full synchronicity, thanks the trainedness and co-ordination of the forces in the field and the Joint Staff.  

The naval component staff was based in the Coastal Surveillance Post in Dugi otok and the direction of the exercise from the mainland  was made possible with the full digital maritime awareness situation. Provided. The data from various sensors were integrated into digital imagery in real time and conveyed to the headquarters.

The exercise engaged members of the Croatian Navy, joined by the forces of the Croatian Army, the Croatian Air Force, the Support Command, the Special Forces Command, the MIlitary Police Regiment, the Intelligence Division and the CIS Division, who demonstrated high capability of joint operation in seaborne action. The support to the exercise was provided by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transportation and Infrastructure, which placed its vessels at the disposal of the exercise forces, and by local voluntary fire brigades.

Training Range “Eugen Kvaternik“, Slunj

Fire Finish of the Exercise  

The final part of the comprehensive, combined, inter-service exercise of all units of the Croatian Armed Forces “Velebit 18 – Joint Force“ was held in the Training Range“Eugen Kvaternik“ near Slunj from 13 to15 October 2018.

The President of the Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as Supreme Commander of the Croatian Armed Forces gave the permission to start the final activities of the Exercise “Velebit 18“.

The activities at the “Eugen Kvaternik“  engaged over 1,100  members and 80 assets; the main authority was the 2nd Mechanised  Battalion “Gromovi“ of the Guards Mechanised Brigade, reinforced with a mechanised company and a tank company of the Guards Mechanised Brigade, the artillery elements of the Artillery and Rocket Regiment, the NBC Defence and the Support Command. The forces demonstrated offensive operations performed, employing  tens of tanks and armoured vehicles, Patria APVs , the Panzer 2000 Howitzers, self-propelled multiple rocket launchers, howitzers, OH-18 D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, mortars and anti-armour and infantry weapons. 

With the training activities finished, Defence Minister Damir Krstičević emphasised that the main objective of the exercise had been to test the synchronised and co-ordinated operation of various military capabilities of all organisational units of the Croatian Armed Forces.

“With the successful completion of “Velebit18“, the Croatian Armed Forces demonstrated full readiness to exercise their basic mission  – to defend the Republic of Croatia and assist civilian institutions. “Velebit 18” is a conclusion of two years’ worth of hard efforts“, the Minister said

“The capabilities and the equippedness of the Croatian Armed Forces make it a respectable and modern military that guards the symbols and values of the Homeland War”, said the Defence Minister, who announced another military exercise on a comparable scale in 2021, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Croatian Armed Forces, which  will have the F-16 multi-role fighter aircraft and Black Hawk helicopters in operational service by then.

Within a 72-hour time frame, the Croatian Armed Forces displayed  co-ordinated inter-service joint operation training and integrating  various capabilities of the Croatian Army, the Croatian Air Force, the Croatian Navy, the Special Forces Command, the Support Command and units subordinated to the General Staff in training ranges and grounds throughout the country (Udbina, Gašinci, Gakovo, Slunj, Dugi otok, Žirje, etc.).

Organisation of the Exercise

The training activities within the Exercise “VELEBIT 18 –  JOINT FORCE” were conducted on all available military training grounds and ranges.

The Exercise Command was based in Barracks “Josip Jović“ at  Udbina and two subordinated commands were established in Training Range “Eugen Kvaternik“ near Slunj (Force Command  North) and in Training Range “Dugi otok“ (Force Command South).

Force Command North was responsible for the training activities in training ranges “Eugen Kvaternik“ and “Gašinci“ and in training grounds “Gakovo“ , “Kupa“ and “Cerovac“. The Commander of Force Command North was Major General Siniša Jurković, the Commander of the Croatian Army.  

The training ranges of Force Command North hosted defensive and offensive operations featuring  live firing and fording the water obstacles as well as a neutralisation of a terrorist group, which also engaged a reserve company of the 1st Reserve Regiment Zagreb.  The activities displayed the capabilities of the Croatian Armed Forces pertaining to the support to civilian institutions that assist the civilian population during the combat operations (provision of accmmodation, food and water, medical care, CIMIC, psychological support).

Force Command  “South“ was responsible for the activities in training ranges  “Rt Kamenjak“, “Dugi otok“, “Žirje“, “Zečevo“ and “Crvena zemlja“. The Commander of the Force Command was Commodore  Ivo Raffanell, the Commander of the Croatian Navy. The training ranges in the south hosted naval, land and special operations activities, including seaborne landing and engaging air targets and targets at sea.

The organisation of the Exercise Command, the Forward  Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), Expedition Camp capabilities and Croatia-made radio devices were presented in Barracks “Josip Jović“ at Udbina.  

Exercise “Velebit 18 – Joint Force” was the main training event  in 2018 and engaged approx. 5,500 members of the Croatian Armed Forces and some reserve units, combat and non-combat assets, weapons and equipment from all units of the Croatian Armed Forces.

Combat and Non-combat Assets, Weapons and Equipment Used in the Exercise

The Croatian Army engaged 146 combat assets.

The Croatian Navy engaged 18 vessels.

The Croatian Air Force engaged 16 assets.

The Concept of the Exercise “Velebit 18-Joint Force“

At the tactical level – combat operations throughout the cycles; offensive operations (preparation, marching, establishment of contact, attack, pursuit);defensive operations (display of capabilities of area defence, mobile defence and transition to the offense)

At the operational level – display of joint operation (approach to the conduct of operations entailing synchronisation and co-ordination of various military capabilities and actions aimed at achieving physical and psychological impacts).