Ex Cougar 12, Part Two

The last issue of LZDZ focussed on JHC’s involvement in Ex Cougar 12. However, as the magazine went to print the exercise was still ongoing and the following article gives an insight into the final throes of this major exercise. 

As part of Ex Cougar 12 CHF Sea Kings returned to the Adriatic with the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG). They previously provided the quick reaction medical support to NATO led operations in Bosnia and the Former Yugoslavia when 845 NAS spent over a decade flying over the region from the Croatian seaport of Split. Whilst CHF has been fighting in a Sea of Desert in Afghanistan for the past five years they have also retained the skills and expertise from their previous experience in the Balkans and have now firmly established their position as a world class maritime aviation force.

This time however the coast of Albania is the background for the Junglies who are supporting 3 Cdo Bde as it refocuses on its primary role as an amphibious force. The RFTG based around HMS Bulwark and HMS Illustrious sailed into Adriatic waters on the final phase of Ex Cougar 12. Ex Albanian Lion, in the south of Albania, saw CHF deliver the Royal Marines inland from their maritime platforms onto steep rocky hillsides and an impressive landscape for the seaborne assaults.

“It’s a little strange coming back to the Adriatic after all these years. 845 Sqn were based at Split for quite a while” said C/Sgt Wooldridge of CHF. “This exercise is proving its worth for all involved and working with the Commando Brigade and getting back to doing what we are trained to do, amphibious ops, is fantastic.”

But flying the heavily armed Marines ashore is not the only skill being practiced. 29 Cdo Royal Artillery, the Brigade’s Gunners, were bringing their fire power to the amphibious arena with their potent and extremely accurate 105mm gun. The Sea Kings make light work of shifting these loads from Ships to the very centre of the action. The under slung loads can weigh in excess of two tons, taking the aircraft up to their maximum flying weights and challenging the skills of the aircrew.

Delivering the guns is only one part of the equation. CHF’s Cdo Mobile Air Operating Teams (Cdo MAOTs) are providing expert support and guidance to the aircrew and Gunners as they ensure the guns are rigged for flying correctly. The MAOTs also make certain the landing sites are secure before any boots hit the ground which can make the difference between winning or losing a battle. The team is often landed ashore several days before the equipment is required ensuring the area is available and safe for friendly forces.

PO Aaron Byrne of the Cdo MAOT Team said: “There’s a lot to think about when choosing a landing site and load lifting with helicopters. Not only thinking about the safety of the troops and the aircrew, there’s also a very heavy Artillery gun dangling below the aircraft. Getting the job done safely and efficiently is our main objective.”

The two week long Exercise brought all the amphibious and air elements for a sea borne assault together and challenged both men and machines on some extremely difficult terrain and crowded skies.

“CHF delivered results in an impressive style which can only come from working closely with the Royal Marines and their supporting Arms. Off-loading 45 Cdo RM, the lead Cdo Gp and sustaining all the moving pieces needed to keep a Fighting Brigade in the battle is a complex evolution but our training and experience has contributed much to the success of this exercise.” Said Lt Dale of the JHF (Contingency) HQ.

As Ex Albanian Lion drew to a close, CHF was also been involved with real world casualties, providing a 24/7 Medical Response to the Force and conducted clinical evacuations to hospitals in Tirana, Albania’s capital 90 miles away.

Ex Cougar 12 Summary
CHF Sea Kings operated from the Helicopter Commando Carrier HMS Illustrious and the Royal Navy’s Flagship HMS Bulwark on exercises across the Mediterranean from Corsica in the west with the French Aircraft Carrier FS Charles de Gaulle, and to the Adriatic in the east where they worked with the Albanian Special Forces and spearheaded an Amphibious Assault exercise into Albania.

Taking the lead for the Aviation component of the Responsive Force Task Group,(RFTG) Britain’s elite seaborne reaction force, CHF have flown essential support missions alongside Army Apache Attack helicopters and Royal Naval Merlin’s from Culdrose. The Sea Kings of 845 and 846 NAS added that vital lift capability to the deployment. Initially carrying Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade ashore in assault waves then under slinging artillery guns of 29 Cdo RA who were supporting the amphibious assault with deadly accuracy.

Departing from home waters in early October, CHF have clocked up some noteworthy achievements; Flying the Albanian President on a visit to the force and equally the Defence Ministers of Britain and France during a VIP day. They also achieved a first Commando Sea King landing onto busy flight deck of FS Charles de Gaulle and carried out several long range real-time Medical emergencies from the Task Group to hospitals ashore in France and Albania. The deployment also saw the use of CHF’s own Cdo Mobile Air Operations Teams ashore, carrying out very important pre-assault operations and preparations on to inaccessible hilltops before the airborne attacks. Overall the aircraft have achieved over 300 flying hours during their time with the RFTG on Ex COUGAR 12.

Lt Col Del Stafford MBE RM, CO of the JHF(C) said, “The Sea Kings have been key to enabling the insertion and extraction of marines and their equipment into inaccessible areas. Operating from the Sea and adapting to the changing scenarios which both exercises have thrown up is what we are trained to do – this versatility underscores the CHF’s reputation as the maritime helicopter force of choice.”

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