Controlling Joint Fires 847 NAS leads the way

Since returning from operations in Afghanistan last year, 847 Naval Air Squadron has been going through a regeneration process. The Sqn is building towards achieving its very high readiness (VHR) contingency role, but this time as the first front line Sqn to operate the Wildcat AH Mk1.

“The capability the Wildcat AH1 brings heralds a new era of operational capability for 847 NAS, providing valuable options to the Operational Commander across the whole spectrum of military operations.”

Whilst the 847 Naval engineers have been extremely busy supporting 652 Sqn Army Air Corps field the new helicopter, the remaining 847 aircrew have been busy refreshing their joint fires disciplines – notably the direction of artillery and naval gunfire support (NGS) and the forward air control (FAC) of fixed wing and helicopters.

The capability the Wildcat AH1 brings, heralds a new era of operational capability for 847 NAS, providing valuable options to the Operational Commander across the whole spectrum of military operations. The Wildcat will operate in extremes of climate, day and night. It is equipped with sensors and lasers that have been integrated into a modern tactical processor which will allow it to find, identify and designate multiple targets for a variety of assets.

847 NAS has worked closely with 7 PARA RHA on Exercise CYPHER RESOLVE. This gave eight pilots from 847 NAS the opportunity to practice ‘call for fire’ procedures on Salisbury Plain enabling them to regain their competency in artillery spotting.

These crews then turned their attention to the art of controlling NGS, provided in this instance by HMS DAUNTLESS and DRAGON. This was, for some, a new skill that had to be mastered and for some old hands a  refresh in techniques. Ground training instruction was provided by 148 Battery Royal Artillery in RM Poole. This taught the basic principles of directing naval fire, which bears some similarity to artillery fire. Once the theoretical and synthetic training on the artillery simulators were completed the crews ventured out to St Albans Head for a live shoot.

Under the watchful eyes of instructors the aircrew supported the Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) course students by acting as spotters for their live fire range serials at Lulworth Cove on the South coast exercise areas. The training was a complete success for all involved and by the end of the day the PWO students, aircrew and ships’ companies had been put through a thorough workout and the range buoys had been comprehensively bombarded by the 4.5in guns.

In conjunction with this activity, some 847 aircrew were selected to complete the FAC course at RAF Leeming. This seven week long course trains individuals in the art of coordinating and controlling close air support (CAS) missions in support to ground forces. 847 NAS now has two fully qualified Supervisory Forward Air Controllers (SupFACs) on their strength, in addition to three FACs. This number is set to grow as the unit moves towards Wildcat transition. Two of the three FACs have now achieved fully qualified status, with the third soon to follow.

The capability this offers to control all fire disciplines from the air is a significant step forward for the squadron. The next stage will be to achieve FAC airborne (FAC (A)) status for those not already qualified, with both SupFACs already qualified. Currently 847 NAS is the only rotary wing unit in UK Defence with an organic FAC training capability.

As the squadron nears Wildcat conversion, it can take pride in knowing that it has prepared as best it can to deliver a range of capability by refreshing key war fighting skills that have become dormant over the last 11 years of campaigning in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 847 NAS the majority of its aircraft commanders are now fully capable of controlling artillery and NGS and nearly half can direct and control fixed and rotary wing aircraft to deliver kinetic effect on the battlefield.

As operations in Afghanistan come to a close there is greater emphasis on the ability to conduct contingency operations. This will require an adaptable and flexible force. What shape or form these operations will take is unknown but one thing is assured; 847 NAS will continue to provide a significant capability to any Task Force, whether afloat or ashore.

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