Some Things Never Change
January 2009, walking down the back ramp of a C-130 onto the dispersal at Camp Bastion, it is pouring down with rain. As we walk to the passenger handling tent you have to avoid stepping ankle deep in the muddy quagmire.
March 2011, walking down the back ramp of a C-130 onto the dispersal at Camp Bastion, it is pouring down with rain. As we walk to the passenger handling facility you have to avoid stepping ankle deep in the muddy quagmire.
Two years and what has changed?!
Camp Bastion is a Forward Operating Base, in the middle of Helmand province. Regional Command South is based in Kandahar. Joint Helicopter Force Afghanistan Forward at Camp Bastion has just been renamed Main, showing the intention of British Forces to move their centre of operations from Kandahar to Helmand.
847 Naval Air Squadron have been in theatre for four months, utilising the Mk7. She struggles with the heat and height of Afghanistan. Fully loaded you rarely have power to hover higher than a couple of feet. Night flying is difficult: the non-flying pilot becomes a talking engine gauge, as it is poorly lit.
Routine tasking involves escorting the Support Helicopters (SH) moving men and equipment to the lower-risk Patrol Bases (PB) and landing sites around the Province, equipped with a General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) and one secure radio.
Reconnaissance utilised a handheld camera to take photographs. Convoy over-watch consisted of two Lynx making as much noise as possible, patrolling the route looking for anything suspicious.
The helicopter struggled in certain scenarios and we only had a GPMG and a pair of binoculars, but we accomplished a lot in the seven months we were deployed.
The Mk9a Lynx is in theatre. She has wheels and new engines. The engine management inside the cockpit is now digital. Even with the increasing temperature the aircraft reaches its max torque before the engine limits are reached. This allows the handling pilot to fly on the torque meter, which is well lit and easily read at night. The increased power allows standard departures up to max take-off weight making the aircraft more capable.
Again, standard tasking is escorting the SH aircraft. However, the area of operations (AO) is now a lot smaller. Bastion has grown. The United States Marines Corps (USMC) have taken the Northern and Southern parts of Helmand Province. The British are responsible for the central parts around Lashkah-Gah.
The Merlin’s have arrived and the number of aircraft at Bastion has increased. The biggest visible difference is that a new runway has been built. The Mk9a is now equipped with the 50 calibre M3M, a large increase in fire power. She now has two secure radios and one insecure, giving a large increase in tactical situational awareness.
The aircraft can have a MX-15 camera fit. Reconnaissance is now full motion video. The new engines have reduced the number of malfunctions and have meant the aircrafts wheels have not been required… touch wood!