Op Olympic Special
JHC personnel and assets were instrumental in this summer’s Op Olympics. We were integral to the Air Security Plan; the Venue Security Force was manned with many from JHC, and when G4S were unable to fulfil their contract, much of the additional manpower came from various areas of the Command.
The Warm Up
Training began early in the year for the crews and aircraft of 661 Sqn AAC and 33 Sqn RAF, who had been tasked with providing Air-to-Air (A2A) Interdiction capability to help secure and police the skies of the capital during the Games as part of the larger Air Security Plan (ASP).
The Op Olympics deployment would see Lynx Mk7s of 661 Sqn Group, including four crews from 672 Sqn, working their Lynx alongside the Navy Lynx Mk8s based on HMS Ocean in Greenwich, where they provided the Very High Readiness air intercept capability. The Pumas from 33 Sqn based at Benson would be based out of Ilford TA Centre in residential East London, providing a similar capability.
A series of exercises took place to initially develop this new capability. Trial work began at Manorbier range, Wales. Unmanned drones fitted with a complex suite of sensors and indicators were used as targets to help validate the capability and ensure further development of safe and effective training, tactics and procedures. The trials were directed by the OETU and SH Standards team at RAF Benson, in conjunction with HQ JHC Trg Branch. As an emerging capability and non-standard range practice, considerable work was undertaken to ensure regulatory compliance and robust safety and risk assessment. On successful completion of the trials, the main area of concern highlighted was the unsuitability of the target, as a number of the unmanned drones had been shot down due to the accuracy of fire. An alternative target was required. (More of this later…).
After initial training, things began to ramp up as the units participated in the series of Taurus Mountain (TM) exercises – collective aviation training. Ex TM 3 was the first time all facets came together, and the helicopter crews found themselves operating alongside the fast-air component as well as RAF Regt snipers. The added dimension of performing high speed, dynamic intercepts in close proximity to a pair of Eurofighters as well as the target certainly helped the aircrew hone their newly acquired skills. It also gave the first genuine impression of just how fast-paced, busy and challenging the summer deployment would be. The members of 661 Sqn and 33 Sqn acquitted themselves with great professionalism and aplomb. They undertook further training during April culminating with Ex TM 4 later that month.
As well as learning new skills, the crews had to get used to a new operating environment. For 661 Sqn this meant HMS Ocean, and for many this was their first time embarked on a Royal Navy ship. The most immediate impression was of how little space there is, even on a large platform like Ocean. Some detachment members found the small hatches and low bulkheads a constant (and often painful) obstruction. They also found that the cramped living quarters, tiny bunks and lack of daylight took some getting used to. The Sqn were soon embedded into the Ship’s company and HMS Ocean set sail for London. During the three day transit to Greenwich, the opportunity to achieve Deck Landing Qualifications was taken with several members of the detachment experiencing deck operations for real; a skill that will surely prove useful in today’s world of combined operations. On 4th May HMS Ocean made her dramatic journey up the Thames to Greenwich. Despite a very tight squeeze at the Thames Barrier, she finally moored opposite another symbol of British sea power – the Cutty Sark. This was to be the home of 661 Sqn and almost 600 other security personnel for the duration of the Olympic Games. The first weekend was the Airborne Reaction Force element of Op Olympic Guardian. This saw the crews, along with their Naval counterparts, manning short notice-to-move readiness states for long periods of the day, in order to conduct air intercepts in the Restricted airspace over London. The crews conducted themselves admirably, putting to work all the skills learned on Exs Fly Swat and TM. Both Lynx detachments proved that their capability was a must for London 2012, and the various Assurance bodies present were duly impressed.
For 33 Sqn and the personnel from RAF Benson, Ex Olympic Guardian was played out from the confines of Ilford TA Centre. The Centre and adjacent grassed area (closely surrounded by a primary school, nursery and post-war terraced housing) would play host to not only 2 x Pumas and their crews but nearly 100 support personnel, providing all the necessary C2, communications and life support. This provided its own issues as the crews worked out safe operating procedures, whist ensuring that they limited the disruption to their neighbours.
As Ex Olympic Guardian drew to a close, the detachments were finally able to escape. 33 Sqn made the short journey west to RAF Benson whilst the aircrew of 672 set off for Yorkshire and 661 flew back to Gutersloh. However, the crews weren’t to be given much time to relax as they had to pack their bags ready for Ex Gallic Shot, the sniper assurance exercise on the A2A ranges in Corsica.
The reason for this trip followed the successful exercise in Wales and the need for an alternative target solution. The French Air Force had already been developing the A2A Sniper capability and had an appropriate C2 structure and target in place in Solenzana, Corsica. For two weeks in June, two Lynx and two Puma deployed with supporting assets to where the developed training package was delivered. With the backdrop of 7000’ mountain ranges and golden sandy beaches, the Solenzara range complex provided an excellent facility for training. Good accommodation and great food were coupled with 28°C temperatures and bright sunshine – perfect flying weather for helicopters. This exercise was specifically for the RAF Regiment snipers, so they could qualify in A2A shoots. The sniper pairs were trained to fire sniper rifles and shotguns from the aircraft at airborne targets. This training formed a vital part of the preparation for the Olympic role and proved to be a great success, meeting all the training requirements and more.
Following their return, the Airborne Reaction Force of fully qualified helicopter crews and snipers were in position to support the Olympic security plan for final phase of Op Olympic: the Main Event.
As the Olympics approached, other JHC personnel joined the thousands who saw the Olympic Flame wind its way safely across the country, through everything the gods could throw at it. On 6th July, as thousands of people cheered the Olympic Torch on its way along a wet Colchester High Street, some 100 troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade lined the route to show their support. Brig Hill, Comd 16 Bde, said: “Our soldiers and their families are an integral part of the community in Colchester. The Olympic Torch Relay is a special moment for the town to join in the celebrations ahead of the London Olympics. We share the rising excitement about the Olympics and are delighted to have played our part in making the torch’s visit to Colchester a memorable occasion.”
Among those taking part was LCpl John Bingham, who works as a combat human resource specialist in 16 Bde’s HQ. He said: “It was great to be involved as the Olympic Torch came through Colchester, which is a once in a lifetime event. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the town, despite the wet weather, and the public really appreciated seeing us out on the street to welcome the torch.”
On 11th July JHC HQ personnel were amongst those marshalling the route as the Torch progressed through Andover.
The Main Event
After the lengthy relay across the country the Olympic Flame was again left in the safe hands of JHC. The start of London 2012 on 20th July was marked by a high-octane scene that could have been from a James Bond movie; two Sea King Mk4s from 845 and 846 NAS of CHF carrying Royal Marines swooped on the imposing fortress of the Tower of London to deliver the Olympic Flame for its first entry into the host city, for the final legs of the Torch Relay.
The first helicopter was manoeuvred into a dramatic 60ft low hover above Tower Wharf, allowing four Royal Marine Commandos to fast rope from the cargo door to the ground. The Marines marked the area for the second Sea King which came into a hover at 180ft just moments later to allow Mne Martyn Williams to abseil down to the wharf with the precious Flame strapped securely to his chest in its lantern.
“I am honoured and thrilled to have been able to do this – what a buzz,” explained Martyn. “I just had to make sure it was absolutely bang on and luckily it was.”
A nail-biting moment for Lt Cdr Jake Wilkinson, CO Mobile Air Operations Team, CHF, the drop was the culmination of months of meticulous planning and training. “This is a never-to-be-repeated experience which all members of CHF and the Royal Marines are justifiably proud to have been part of,” said Jake. “Having the iconic landmarks of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as a backdrop is sensational – but, without doubt, the biggest responsibility was being tasked with the safe delivery of the Olympic Flame, and I’m delighted to say my team and the Royal Marines excelled in this duty!”
Two Torchbearers then carried the Flame around the Tower of London to be welcomed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson and invited guests.
Elsewhere in London 16 Air Assault Brigade was leading the military contribution to securing the Olympic Park. A team of officers had been planning the Army’s support to the civilian-led security effort since March, with its units providing the bulk of the troops on the ground in Stratford. On the busiest days more than 250,000 people were at the Olympic Park, with 200,000 of these spectators paying to watch sports ranging from athletics to water polo. Up to 2,800 troops were on security duty at any one time, carrying out tasks such as patrolling and pedestrian and vehicle screening.
Maj Nick Morton, of 7 RHA, was part of the team overseeing the Army’s involvement. “We’ve been involved from the planning stage, through test events to the actual Olympics and will be here for the Paralympics too. My role has been about dealing with everything from generating and deploying groups of troops for a particular task to liaising with the civilian team running the Olympic Park.” He said: “Airborne troops are all about adapting to the unexpected with limited resources, but still getting the job done. Working alongside civilians at a public event in the centre of London is very different for us, but we have responded well.”
Meanwhile, personnel from 3 PARA were working as part of the venue security team at Wimbledon, where the Olympic tennis competition was taking place. Pte Jackson Powell was amongst them: “I’m happy to be doing my little bit to help such a massive event as the Olympics. There’s a really nice atmosphere at Wimbledon and the fans really appreciate what we’re doing to make it a secure and enjoyable event.”
To list all those involved in London 2012 would be impossible, but there were units and augmentees from all areas of JHC, in addition to those highlighted in this article, who were playing their part to ensure that the Olympic Games were a major success. JHSS MAOTs assisted with site recces, aircraft were on standby at Benson, Odiham, Middle Wallop, Northolt and elsewhere, and personnel from all JHC units were deployed to many Olympic venues, including Eton Dorney, the Olympic Park and Athletes Village, Hainault Park, North Greenwich – and even Heathrow airport!