A Year in the Life of… The Air Manoeuvre Planning Team (AMPT)
I knew I should have paid more attention to the news. Then I might have known what the Colonel was talking about when he said he needed me to “deploy to the CAOC ASAP”.
Where on earth was that? And wasn’t a CAOC something to do with RAF air operations? I had no idea what he was talking about but I was soon to find out as only a few hours later I was packing my bags and booking a flight ticket to Italy, because what I had failed to register when watching the news was that the Prime Minister’s decision to deploy Apache helicopters to Libya would directly effect my Bank Holiday Monday. Because now with the inclusion of helicopter assets in the NATO mission in Libya the presence of a JHC coordination and planning cell was required, and as the forward element of JHC headquarters this meant the Air Manoeuvre Planning Team (AMPT), and me. So with just 24hrs notice I found myself working in the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Italy as one of just three Army personnel; working with the Air Force while the Squadron (656 Sqn) lived with the Navy on board HMS OCEAN. And not only were these new living arrangements unlike any operation I’d deployed on before but the missions were too, as Libya meant thinking outside the HERRICK box, something the AMPT has always preached but would now have to put into practice.
I had been in the AMPT for a year and in that time had already deployed twice to Arizona on Ex CRIMSON EAGLE and once to Afghanistan to work with the USMC so I was used to packing my bags. The AMPT spend a lot of time travelling because it is our role to preach the JHC gospel and spread the aviation message. When not involved in operations like ELLAMY or HERRICK our focus is the education and training of ground troops in aviation operations and planning. To do this we deliver AMPT Training Days which each ground Battle Group now receives as part of their HERRICK pre-deployment training. From Ballykinler to Barnstaple, Inverness to Paderborn the AMPT visits every ground holding battle group in each deploying Brigade over an eight week period. During these one day visits the AMPT deliver a series of HERRICK specific aviation presentations followed by a planning exercise which aims to prepare troops for the aviation component of their operations in Helmand.
In Arizona on Ex CRIMSON EAGLE the AMPT provide HICON and aviation planning guidance for Ex LIGHTNING HURDLE, the AH Conversion to Role (CTR) final exercise; bringing a template of HERRICK scenarios to the Arizona desert. There the focus is on providing realistic and evolving intelligence situations to overlay the live firing range training package. Operating to a tempo and intelligence picture that crews can expect to experience once deployed in Helmand. To this the AMPT also liaise with home nation US assets to deliver training with foreign aviation assets who may next be heard on the radio net in Helmand.
As a JHC disciple my mission also regularly involves presenting to courses at the Land Warfare Centre, where I deliver my sermon to all levels of officer warfare education, from young Lieutenants to Unit Operations Officers, newly appointed Company Commanders and Commanding Officers-designate. Focusing on the aviation effects – FIND, STRIKE, LIFT. These presentations aim to prepare operations staff and planners in how to incorporate aviation assets into their ground scheme of manoeuvre. And despite being in the Army Air Corps these presentations don’t exclusively cover Army helicopters but all of JHC’s rotary assets; with the focus on educating every echelon of the Army (and occasionally RAF and Navy) in how to employ aviation on operations.
The AMPT are based at Netheravon Airfield in the centre of Salisbury Plain. And it is from this convenient location that the team are heavily involved in the twice annual Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX) supporting both the ground Battle Groups and the Joint Helicopter Force (JHF). On each MRX for more than a month at a time the normally sleepy hollow of Netheravon Airfield becomes a humming city of tents, portaloos, vehicles, aircraft and plane spotters as a flightline and all its supporting assets roll into town and establish themselves. On the MRX the AMPT fulfil two primary functions: providing aviation planning support to the exercising Battle Groups out across the Plain, and validating the JHF units prior to their HERRICK deployment.
The AMPT achieve all this with just a small team of eight (including one RAF interloper) but there is scope for more, including a number of new vacant TA slots. If you know someone or are interested in joining yourself then contact the AMPT at JHC-AMPT-MAILBOX