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UK helicopter crews prepare for Afghanistan
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2011 7:29 pm    Post subject: UK helicopter crews prepare for Afghanistan Reply with quote

UK helicopter crews prepare for Afghanistan
August 12, 2011
A major exercise has been testing the crews of the UK's Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) as they prepare for deployment to Afghanistan.
Around 440 personnel and up to 20 helicopters have been deployed to the Salisbury Plain in support of Mission Rehearsal Exercise, Pashtun Dawn, testing the ground troops of Germany-based 20th Armoured Brigade, who are set to deploy to Helmand Province in the coming months.
Furthermore the exercise also tests and validates JHC's tactics, techniques and procedures on operations. The JHC portion of the exercise is known as Pashtun Jaguar.
For 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four weeks, the skies above the training area have been filled with JHC aircraft, including Merlins, Chinooks, Apaches and Lynx.
Operating from the Army Air Corps (AAC) airfield at Netheravon a surrogate Camp Bastion the aircraft have been flying a wide range of missions including overwatch, troop transport, re-supply as well as a quick reaction alert mission where Apaches are held on the ground on a high state of readiness to support troops under fire.
Col Neil Sexton, assistant director of operations at JHC, said: 'The Salisbury Plain does not provide the environment training, which is why many of the helicopter units deploy to the USA to experience the heat and the dust, but what this exercise does is give them the final tactics, techniques and procedure training the crews will need to use in theatre.'
Among the organisations supporting the exercise is the RAF's Tactical Support Wing (TSW), which is operating a forward refuelling point where helicopters refuel before returning to Netheravon or head back out on a mission.
'It's been a busy exercise,' said Cpl Darren Hayes of the TSW, 'We're refuelling about 30 sorties a day, giving about 40,000 litres of fuel to the helicopters. We are expecting to give 450,000 litres of fuel to the helicopters by the time we finish the exercise.'
'The FRP operation concept is similar to that of a formula one racing car pit stop,' said 2nd Lt Tom French of the AAC's 654 Sqn, 'A team of three personnel have to de-arm the aircraft and make it safe before refuelling can begin, but all the guys are familiar with the aircraft and we can turn them around pretty fast before they have to depart again on a mission or back to the flight line.'
The exercise attempts to be as realistic as possible, JHC providing the troops and planners with the same types of aircraft they will use in Afghanistan. However, operational availability has meant that some aircraft have not been available. The newly updated Lynx AH9As are not involved as aircraft are either deployed in Afghanistan or based in the US for training.
Col Sexton confirmed to Shephard that UK forces in Afghanistan would soon see AH9As equipped with the new MX-10 EO/IR sensor, replacing the MX-15 pod currently in use, allowing the aircraft to have the sensor and the M3M 50.cal machine gun fitted at the same time.
The timing of this exercise meant that the Jungly Sea Kings of the Royal Navy's Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) were only available for first part of the exercise, which meant that the Puma force was called in to take their place, with two aircraft taking the place of the Junglies over the past week.
Two Chinooks from the Royal Netherlands Air Force are understood to be replacing the Sea Kings during the final part of the exercise next week.

Tony Osborne, Netheravon, Wiltshire
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