Exercise WYVERN WARRIOR 2010

 

The UK’s Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) deployed onto Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) in late November to take part in Exercise WYVERN WARRIOR 2010.

This was one of the largest CHF exercise deployments for many years. Over 120 CHF personnel took part. CHF worked alongside other elements of Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) including Apache helicopters. CHF’s Combat Support Squadron (CSS) provided full logistical and engineering support.

CHF consists of five squadrons: four Naval Air Squadrons (845, 846 and 848 NAS operating the Sea King HC4, and 847 NAS operating the Lynx helicopter) plus CSS, all integrated under the command of a Headquarters, established to operate helicopters afloat or ashore in support of the UK armed forces.

The CHF’s primary role however, is to support 3 Commando Brigade during amphibious and intervention operations both at sea and ashore. This exercise provided CHF with a rare opportunity to exercise and rehearse their land-based procedures. CHF live and operate alongside the Royal Marines in the field, as well as providing them with their amphibious assault/lift capability from ships to shore.

Having been heavily committed to operations in Afghanistan since 2007, CHF has had little opportunity to practice their core capability in recent years. Exercise WYVERN WARRIOR provided the opportunity for CHF to deploy and exercise their forward deployed Headquarters and Logistics base whilst operating aircraft from a tactical forward operating base. CHF Headquarters staff worked alongside a number of Army units tasking helicopters to undertake a range of day and night support helicopter missions, ranging from troop moves to surveillance and load-lifting. A variety of Army units were supported.

The aircraft Forward Operating Base was located at Deptford Down with CHF aircrew and and maintainers operating aircraft day and night while also defending the site from enemy attack. Using Bowman communication systems, aircraft tasking was generated from the main Command Post located at ‘B’ Echelon on Battlesbury Hill around 15 miles to the West. Prior to tasking, individual crews were briefed by CHF Intelligence personnel on the various threats and enemy positions.

848 NAS, the Commando Sea King Training Squadron, also used the exercise to undertake their final MILEX tactical training phase, which allows Sea King student aircrew and maintainers to deploy and operate from a tactical location and undertake operational tasking prior to joining one of the two front-line Commando Sea King Squadrons. As part of their training, the three 848 NAS Sea Kings plus students deployed down to Oakhampton on Thursday 2ndnd December, to continue their MILEX training phase. CHF personnel comprises a mix of Royal Navy Commandos, Royal Marine Commandos and Royal Navy and there is a requirement for all CHF personnel, especially the naval personnel who have had little experience of operating in field conditions, to complete training for austere conditions.

The Exercise period also saw some of the coldest weather in the UK for over 17 years which helped to confirm the value of CHF’s regular deployments to Arctic Norway, where CHF personnel have been training and supporting Royal Marines on exercises for the past 40 years. As well as amphibious warfare, cold weather operations have traditionally been a core skill of CHF aircrew and personnel, and help to enhance the CHF’s philosophy of ‘train hard-fight easy.’

Captain Jonathan Pentreath RN, Commanding Officer of CHF explained: “Due to our enduring Operational commitments in Afghanistan, CHF’s ability to maintain our amphibious ‘over the horizon’ capability has necessarily taken a lower priority in recent years. Whilst recent embarked exercises in HMS Ocean and HMS Albion have gone some way to regenerating this capability, my aircrew and ground crews need additional training to meet the many challenges posed.

In Afghanistan the threat from insurgents continues while the operating conditions for both aircrew and maintainers remain tremendously challenging, due in part to the hot and dusty conditions, when temperatures regularly exceed 40˚C in the summer months and drop to -15˚C in the winter. To ensure CHF personnel are trained for all environments, they need to operate in cold temperatures as well as hot, and the recent sub-zero weather conditions on Salisbury Plain during Exercise WYVERN WARRIOR have proved to be a bonus not only for a littoral environment but also for that encountered in Afghanistan. This type of training experienced will develop further the skills and experience my people need to succeed on operations globally”.

2011 will see all three CHF front line Squadrons operating in support of UK’s Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan). 847 NAS will join 845/846 NAS in Afghanistan in January 2011 along with CHF MAOTs and Combat Support Squadron personnel. January 2011 also saw other elements of 845/846 NAS supporting 3 Commando Brigade’s pre-Afghan deployment training.

Written By: Patrick Allen

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