70,000 Hours in Afghanistan
Hermes 450 has now surpassed the 70,000 hr mark (the equivalent of eight years worth of non-stop flying) in support of Operations in Afghanistan. Spread across numerous task lines the Theatre Integrated Unmanned Air Systems Battery (ThIUAS Bty) have achieved that and clocked up more flying hours than any other nation with H450.
The tempo at Camp Bastion airfield is similar to that of London’s Luton or Stansted Airports and the ThIUAS Bty contribute to that by averaging 1,460 flights a year. H450 has flown the equivalent of 8,400,000 km (or 5,250,000 miles), which is 202 laps of the Earth!
Initially the ThIUAS Bty was 32 Regt RA’s responsibility with support provided by 47 Regt RA. But, as the importance of providing a 24 hour capability to the ground troops has grown and there has been an expansion of the IUAS world, 47 Regt adapted the IUAS role permanently and the number of trained operators increased to meet this requirement. There are now five Integrated Equipment Batteries split between the two Regts.
Initially, during HERRICK 6, there were only two task lines while, concurrently, two task lines operated in support of Op TELIC. When UK forces left Iraq, all the equipment was transported to Camp Bastion where the ThIUAS Bty expanded to provide four task lines dedicated to supporting the ground operations. The ThIUAS Bty has been present constantly since 2007 and they have seen the dynamic changes that have occurred from an initially expanding area of operations to a now shrinking one. The focus has gone from war fighting and counter insurgency to the more recent assurance and mentoring operations of today.
Procedures have developed and the integration with the ground forces has improved immeasurably. Technology has also progressed and the implementation of GPS Take Off and Landing has enabled a reduction in the reliance on the civilian external pilots. More recently the training system moved in line with other aviation units, giving a civilian qualification for the operators and making the trade more appealing for career progression. The UAS trade is not your typical Army career or working environment but it offers something different for the more technically minded recruits joining the army today. The operators’ course is extremely challenging and there is an expectation for junior soldiers to be able to take on a lot of responsibility at an early stage especially when looking after the equipment and being responsible for captaincy of the aircraft.
Everyone is still learning and, as the system moves on and awareness of the air system continues to improve dramatically, the operators are being constantly stretched with further demands in support of the soldiers on the ground. As UK forces withdraw from the ground there will become a greater reliance on ISTAR and especially H450. As Task Force Helmand’s only organic Full Motion Video asset they will be critical to the smooth transition to the Afghan security forces and (weather allowing) they should reach 80,000 flying hours before the end of 2013.