230 Squadron 16X Air Awareness Week

Air-Land intergration through enhanced understanding

In the latest in a series of events, 230 Sqn hosted colleagues from 16 Air Assault Brigade (16X) on a bespoke Support Helicopter (SH) Awareness Course, during the first week of March.

The aim of the week was to enhance the understanding of SH planning considerations for 16X air planning staff, and to introduce the much enhanced capabilities of the new Puma HC Mk2. The requirement for this training was identified by 16X in their post exercise report for Ex JOINT WARRIOR 13, the idea being to generate a greater understanding of SH planning factors for staff and to foster a better environment for Air-Land Integration (ALI). The concept of running a SH Awareness training package was subsequently driven at unit level from both 230 Sqn and 16X Air Staff.

16X personnel, including participation from 2 Para and 1 Royal Irish, received aviation subject briefs including the tasking process, flight planning, meteorology and tactics. Capabilities briefs for both Puma Mk2 and Merlin were also delivered, along with a comprehensive walk round of each type. All participants then shadowed a crew through each stage of the planning and preparation for flight. They then flew on a day sortie, observing the workload and how the crew interact, the low level environment and tasking on Ex PASHTUN PANTHER. The aspiration for future courses is to fly at night as well.

Lt Alex Deakin, one of the 16X participants commented, ‘As the representative from 8Fd Company (Para) REME, part of 7AA Bn I was invited to attend a newly formulated air-officers course hosted by 230 Sqn who fly the Puma Mk2, during what was a thoroughly enjoyable and useful few days at RAF Benson. The visit was designed to give prospective air-officers and other interested parties the chance to see the immense capability of the new-into-service Puma Mk2, and forge links with the Puma Force and the wider RAF for future tasking and joint exercises.

The visit delivered on its promise, and I left with a far deeper understanding of what support helicopters could be used for, and how to task them. The knowledge gained will be invaluable to the planning of future exercises and operations where Support-Helicopters are available. In summary; it was an extremely well-hosted and informative few days that focused on the support-helicopters capabilities, and culminated with a day-flight on the advanced Puma Mk2 that involved a Concealed Approach and Departure; skimming along just tens of feet from the ground. This was a real first-hand insight to the planning cycle, application and debrief of what the platform could do; excellent.’

Just as there is value in members of 16X having a closer appreciation of what a day in the life of the SH Force is like, the reciprocal is also true. To this end, last year several 230 Sqn aircrew attended 2 Para’s Skills at Arms Meet, embedding with the Med Group and taking the opportunity to discuss Puma Mk2’s abilities in the CASEVAC role. Subsequently, Sgt ‘Cas’ Cassidy deployed with 2 Para’s Fire Support Group (FSG) on Ex ACTIVE EAGLE. On his return Sgt Cassidy used the experience to bring to life the ‘support’ element of SH. He recalls, ‘a week in the field with 2 Para seemed daunting, but after lugging several hundred rounds of their ammunition and stores around I was privileged enough to spend the night in a FIBUA building at STANTA with the FSG fielding aviation questions. It was immediately apparent that there would never be a lack of enthusiastic  customers to support and that this small engagement was ideal in continuing to develop a closer Puma Force/16 AAX relationship.’

OC 230 Sqn explains, ‘I am a firm believer that the benefits of improved mutual understanding at unit level are tangible. Through a mature appreciation of opportunities and constraints, from the perspective of both the aircrew and troops, we see the incentives of closer working relationships rather than the institutional and cultural barriers which can cause frustrations. There is also huge benefit from building personal relationships and trust. To deploy on an operation and be met with a familiar face will in itself get ALI off to a good start. This individual respect and understanding is a benefit reaped by the SF through organic support, and while this level of support cannot be replicated across the whole of the green Army and SH Force, a focus on establishing personal rapport with those high readiness units we are most likely to deploy with is important.’

Other inter-unit events have included 230 Sqn support to 16X table top planning exercises and 15 key personnel from each main unit within 16X visiting 230 Sqn to better understand how to utilise the Puma Mk2. The benefits of developing an ever closer relationship between the Puma Force and 16X, heralding the new Puma Mk2 capability while building relationships for the future are evident. The mutual respect is clear, but that will not get in the way of good healthy banter!

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