PUMA EX MOJAVE DASH – VEGAS

After successfully completing Environmental Training at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Puma Force personnel deployed to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Ex MOJAVE DASH provides pre-deployment training to hone tactical skills alongside the US Air Force 66th Rescue Squadron.

Whilst conducting mountain flying training on route to Nellis, the formation paused to refuel at Big Bear airfield, high in the mountains above Los Angeles. The training was challenging, pushing to the upper limit of the Puma’s service ceiling. The journey to Nellis AFB demonstrated why the Force had travelled thousands of miles to conduct the exercise.

Nellis provides a unique and exceptional base for helicopter training, with access to desert and high mountainous terrain alongside busy civilian airspace and the world class Nevada Test and Training Range. It is also the home of the USAF Warfare Centre, a global centre of excellence for test, evaluation and tactical development.

The diversity of environment and landscape was unique; from barren desert and rocky mountains to alpine forest and dense urban areas. It offered an unparalleled opportunity for the crew to sharpen their skills in the most exacting of environments and closely echoed the rugged topography of Afghanistan.

Upon arrival at Nellis, the reception from the 66th, who have an ex-Puma exchange officer, was tremendous. The 66th are Combat Search and Rescue specialists, operating the HH-60G Pave Hawk, and have long worked alongside UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Operational experience cross-briefing offered a perspective on the different types’ recent service. The 66th drafted in experts to deliver fascinating intelligence and threat briefs from world-class authorities about competitor systems and tactics.

Members of the detachment, including ground personnel, had the opportunity to visit functioning, modern threat systems up close, quizzing their operating crews on tactics and procedures. As a further bonus, 39 Sqn RAF, operating the Reaper at nearby Creech, delivered briefs on UAS integration and ISTAR operational insights. Platform capabilities and limitations were shared before orientation briefs and an introduction to the US mission leads for the next day’s training.

The training focus was mixed formation, flying as a four-ship to then separate into two UK/US pairs to conduct further dust landing training and personnel recovery missions. Although personnel recovery is not a core Puma Force capability, the ability to operate in complex airspace across several radio networks and manage dissimilar type formation in the challenging desert and urban environment proved outstanding training. The ‘downed aircrew’ in the scenario were provided by the Puma Force and 39 Sqn. The 66th demonstrated their procedures for preparing downed aircrew for recovery, leading their Puma colleagues through multiple scenarios before giving 33 Sqn’s crews an opportunity to coordinate a recovery.

This enhanced and reinforced SERE training that had been conducted earlier in the detachment. Meanwhile, Puma also practiced dust landings with HH-60 at Creech AFB on a dedicated training area. Here the desert floor was treated to give varying levels of dust. At the most challenging end of the spectrum, the recirculating sand was heavier than had been experienced anywhere in Southern California and provided exceptional training.

The training conducted an insight born of operating tactically alongside a partner nation in the desert was exceptionally valuable. Such training fundamentally extends the capability Medium Battlefield Helicopter crews can offer to Land Forces and their Commanders. The combined, desert tactical training was an investment in Puma capability for today and New Medium Helicopter for tomorrow: Relationships were built between operators that auger well for future combined operations. The crews who flew on the detachment will carry the lessons and memories of the training as they progress from type to type. The team of engineers and ground personnel who enabled the detachment sharpened their ability to support at reach, away from their MOB.

Photos courtesy of Flt Lt Luke Foreman, Flt Lt Zoe Wilson-Chalon and members of 39 Sqn, RAF.

Written By: Sqn Ldr Andy Darge

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