An Update Wildcat Transition
The point at where the Army Wildcat transition is now (compared to it’s early days three years ago) is a massive achievement.
The new building on the North side of RNAS Yeovilton, boasts superb planning, briefing and office facilities within the Joint Force Operating Centre; the fleet currently sits at 16 airframes with engineering split between 847 NAS, 1 Regt AAC and the Wildcat Contract Maintainers; resources and manpower are steadily improving and aircraft availability is increasing and finally the team itself has morphed from The Wildcat Fielding Team into 652 (WF) Sqn AAC, playing a key role within 1 Regt AAC. This inclusion will greatly assist not only 652 Sqn’s ability to deliver CTT and CTR but will also allow 1 Regt AAC to prepare itself to become the first AAC Wildcat Regt.
CONVERSION TO ROLE
Utilising experience gained on previous AAC aircraft types, the Wildcat Conversion to Role (CTR) syllabus was developed. It would utilise experience of both the Apache and Lynx CTR courses and also bring together the work that had been carried out as part of the Operational Evaluation/Tactical Development of the Wildcat BRH. On completion of the Conversion to Type Training (CTT), pilots are streamed into the Left Hand Seat or the Right Hand Seat. This will have an influence on the focus of their training, which will become very apparent to them during the Battle Drills phase of CTR. This involves training the individual in the roles required from their seat; with the RHS focussing on handling and aircraft management and the LHS focussing on operating the aircraft and its systems. From here they move into Patrol Drills, where they learn to operate as a crew and as part of a patrol, building their skills in more demanding scenarios. Culminating in a demanding EW exercise at RAF Spadeadam and Otterburn Training Area, the Wildcat BRH CTR course will challenge and enthuse any future aviator, ensuring they have the skills to operate the Army’s newest helicopter to the required standard.
The past twelve months has yet again been busy on the Trials and Operational Evaluation front. The aircraft envelope has been further expanded to an almost in service condition and the mission systems have received the much anticipated System Release 8 ensuring capability is close to front line standard. GPS jamming trials were conducted at Sennybridge and the systems performed perfectly. Much work has been carried out on ‘Detect, Recognise and Identify’ profiles with EODS and it has surpassed expectations both day and night. This data has been used to populate Mission Flight Reference Cards, Commanders Aide Memoirs and the Electronic Battle Box to assist Commanders in the asset planning process. Crew Served Weapons trials and training was conducted at Kirkcudbright and demonstrated that the Wildcat can pack a punch in the defensive and offensive roles and proved that the integrated nature of the mission systems has vastly improved our capabilities. The most recent trials have seen Wildcat deploy to Spadeadam and Otterburn to conduct Defensive Aids Suite trials and training. One of the big headlines to come out of all these activities is the Wildcat BRH Tactical Operating Manual. The six volumes cover all aspects of operating the Wildcat effectively and efficiently. ISTAR, Direction of Joint Fires, LMMM, Ground ops, Comms and Defensive Aids; they can be found within the Electronic Battle Box.
With CTT 1 now complete, the Aircrewmen have moved on to the CTR phase. They arrive qualified, current and competent as Wildcat specific Crew Served Weapons Operators (CSWO) on both GPMG and M3M HMG weapon systems. A week of M3M initial ground training and GPMG revision was then put into practice on Kirkcudbright Ranges in November last year in which over 34,000 rounds were fired. This training allows the Aircrewmen to defend the aircraft whilst also having the ability to ‘reach out’ to the enemy with the M3M.
CTR will now teach and assess the Aircraft Commander to become a Qualified Controller (Own Weapons). This enables him to direct and control the CSWO’s fire onto targets. It is the final step to providing Wildcat with the ‘teeth’ to enter the battlefield, from a crew served weapons point of view. The new Aircrewmen of CTT2 have been introduced to Wildcat through the Wildcat Training Centre’s ground school programme. Early summer will see them start their flying phase, complete their final handling tests and join their front seat crews as the course progresses. By the end of the year, they will have completed CTT2 and another group of Aircrewmen will have travelled down what promises to be a well trodden and exciting path.
The start of CTR has brought a fantastic opportunity to adopt a new ‘Wildcat way’ of doing business which takes into consideration experience and knowledge of the Lynx aircraft, Theatres of operation, international collaboration, interoperability and likely future operations. The key headlines from the Groundcrew is everything follows a template; from the equipment and personnel to Orders and SOP’s. Everything has been scrutinised, trialled and agreed by all stake holders. This means that when briefs take place for the Aircrew and Groundcrew, the direction is very clear and promotes confidence in all students. The documentation and direction is nothing new, but has been carefully revised to take into consideration the new airframe requirements. The Groundcrew Reference Cards (GRC) that have been developed by 652 Sqn AAC, have now been fully proven and are in production. This is the way that all CTT and CTR courses will be run for the next few rotations and is leading to a standard training format, delivered by the same personnel, following the authorised SOP’s, which in time will mean there will be no ‘isms’ between squadrons in the future; the Wildcat Force will truly be a collective Force.
J6 development work continues in the background of the final stages of the first CTR and the start of CTT 2. A number of small successes have come together and each has been fed into the CTR process. The successful sending and receiving of Bowman data from the aircraft led to the identification of a number of issues which needed solutions from industry (AgustaWestland and General Dynamics UK) to be implemented. With those in place, data integration will be able to continue. The results of that evaluation work will assist in the development of Bowman Data SOPs for the Wildcat force and feed into other programmes such as the Merlin Mk 4 and Project MORPHEUS. Bowman voice has been tested and demonstrated to units outside the ARF, notably 3 Cdo Bde on Ex JOINT WARRIOR and Ex GREEN LIGHTNING where the aircraft showed off its in-built RRB capability and its ability to be added to nets via over the air distribution of comms info. This will be added into the CTR training for the aircrew and it is being looked at as a possible SOP for when the aircraft need to operate with units who don’t have them in their comms plan.
WILDCAT MISSION SUPPORT SYSTEM
A new mission planning system has finally arrived at 652 Sqn in the form of the Wildcat Mission Support System (WMSS). And the good news is… It works! The team have been very busy learning the intricacies of the system which in turn will make the process of mission planning more effective and efficient. The previous ‘mission planner’ was nothing more than an engineering tool to place basic flight data in to the aircraft. WMSS is a full mission planner, networked and allows multi-aircraft missions to be planned seamlessly. This fully digitised aircraft now requires extensive input of information to maximise its capabilities, from moving digital maps with up to date hazards, tactical overlays and routes to the communications presets of all of the airfields/units they are likely to encounter en route. This allows a massive amount of data to be templated and pre-set prior to loading on to the aircraft for the mission. WMSS is the latest piece of state of the art software that facilitates this process along with an equally impressively trained calibre of AAC pilots, aircrewmen and signallers.
The past twelve months have seen some big mile stones achieved within the Wildcat programme. 847 NAS successfully completing CTT, 1 Regt AAC Workshops receiving their first Wildcats and a Mission Planning System that now works. As with any new programme of this scale, the work to progress never stops and the pace remains suitably high. The next big goals will be to complete 847 NAS Conversion to Role which will see them deploy to RAF Spadeadem and Otterburn to conduct their ‘final exercise’ and the start of the flying phase for CTT2. CTT2 will see the start of 1 Regt AAC on its path to becoming the first operational Wildcat Regiment.