ARMY AiR coRPs (AAc) fiXed winG (fw) MAnned AiRBoRne suRVeillAnce (MAs)


Manned Airborne Surveillance is about exploiting the human gut instinct, applying individual discretion and delivering an immediate on-site tactical interpretation. It allows the opportunity for experienced ground and air tacticians to look beyond the electronic field of view, to peek at the peripheries and assess the bigger picture, or to take an instant second glance.

An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) can operate relatively cheaply, with minimal risk to people (when controlled) and it has a greater endurance. But the value of aerial ISTAR should not just be about cost, risk and endurance, or even what its narrow-fielded sensors can look at. What MAS can deliver is more about what an on-board trained eye can see, understand and communicate in the heat of a three dimensional battle, enhanced with the same electronic transmitted view of the ground available to the UAV and a wider peripheral view to provide context to the narrow field view. MAS is also more flexible with its rapid ‘anywhere’ lead-in to launch, it is fully self-deployable and by replenishing en-route it can reach many remote areas of our worldwide UK national interests and land at suitable secluded landing strips discreetly, often unmonitored and with a zero or minimal footprint on the ground. MAS can collect intelligence autonomously and process it immediately and intellectually if necessary and is not susceptible to the risk of a malfunctioned programme, a poor radio signal or severed satellite link. There are fewer political implications and more freedom of movement for a MAS platform at the moment and there is nearly always a human interface between the platform and the ground tactician, commander or even a political decision maker. In short, while the ‘drone army’ has proliferated and is absolutely necessary at present, with battle space available for it in existing theatres, UAVs can only be supplementary to MAS platforms in the real world. 5 Regt AAC meets the present and future demands of organic MAS while continuing to adopt the mind-set of ‘soldier first’ in its delivery, but it is backed up by seasoned specialists in aviation, both on the ground and in the air.

In addition to operating the Gazelle, 5 Regt AAC delivers the British Army’s only Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) through fixed-wing FW) MAS. The Regt was formed on 01  Oct 1993 from the renamed Northern Ireland Regt located at Aldergrove, from where it provided vital aviation support to Operation BANNER. However, since the cessation of Northern Ireland operations in 2007, the Regt continues to field helicopters and FW aircraft primarily from Aldergrove under the command of the Aviation Reconnaissance Force (ARF). But its scope of operations and exercise support remain UK and worldwide, with more recent persistent overseas operations from the FW fleet in Iraq (2004- 2009), Afghanistan (2010-2012). The overseas commitment also includes command of 29
(BATUS) Flight, which in addition to the key casevac, range safety and command and control (C2) role, also provided ISTAR support from Gazelle to the Lead Armoured Task Group during the Prairie Lighting and Prairie Storm series of Exercises in 2013.

As 5 Regt AAC reaches its 20th Anniversary, the history of the AAC’s FW MAS actually stretches as far back as August 1941, when 651 ‘Premier’ Sqn AAC (the first AAC Sqn) was formed at Old Sarum, Salisbury from the RAF. The Sqn first deployed the Auster Mk1 on active service in November 1942, to Algeria and then Tunisia, as part of Operation TORCH. It’s main duties were the direction of artillery fire (AOP), reconnaissance and light liaison; effectively the first use of Army FW MAS. It later operated various FW platforms all over North Africa, The Middle East and Southern Europe primarily providing AOP and reconnaissance support. The Northern Ireland Regt operated a number of MAS platforms during Op BANNER, notably the Gazelle and the Britten-Norman Islander, which remain in service today. The Northern Ireland Regiment was renamed 5 Regt AAC on 1st October 1993. The MAS capability was further bolstered with the newer BN2T Defender 4000 aircraft in 2004. These all weather, twin-engine platforms have become reliable workhorses that are versatile in role but have been continually modified to deliver the most focused ISTAR capability for a light aircraft.

Today, the Regt’s current fleet of 15 x BN2T light FW aircraft includes 3 (becoming 4 in 2014) Islanders, which are focused on UK homeland security operations and 9 Defenders that facilitate UK and an overseas operational contingency role on an enduring basis. Army FW MAS assets are presently attributed to 6 operational task lines (5 UK based and 1 worldwide contingency role) and they concurrently deliver vital specialist training to various government agencies, including support to the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) from its HQ at Aldergrove. However, commensurate with the Regt’s motto “Nothing Is Impossible” the Regt also delivers much more to meet the MOD’s needs: During the London 2012 Olympics, Defender crews from 651 Sqn, 5 Regt AAC provided a key security role forward operating from RAF Odiham in Hampshire from where crews flew daily missions, prior to and during the Olympics. Army FW assets also delivered important MAS support to the Civilian Authorities in the lead up to this year’s high profile G8 Summit (Op SPONSOR) held in June 2013 at Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. Indeed RHQ 5 Regt AAC provided the overall  Aviation Coordination and command for fixed and rotary wing assets from US Presidential Flight, PSNI, Contractors, JHC, and the Gardaí Siochana. There were over 200 aviation movements in a 36 hrs period during the decisive phase of Op SPONSOR.

5 Regt AAC also continues to provide its ‘grass roots’ FW MAS support to the ‘Field Army’, particularly during collective training: Defender crews delivered MAS to Ex JOINT WARRIOR from 24th April to 1st May 2013 providing ISTAR support to 16 Air Asslt Bde. At times it was a significant force multiplier for 2 Para BG, allowing  them to effectively patrol large areas of ground surrounding their position on West Freugh Airfield, in hilly South-West Scotland, with a much needed valuable over-watch. Defender contributed a large amount of ISTAR through Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), with Full Motion Video (FMV) down-linked live to commanders who could make easier tactical decisions. Additionally, from this digital FMV imagery, hard products were created by the Reconnaissance Intelligence And Geographic Centre (RIGC) Northern Ireland (also part of 5 Regt AAC); these unique products included detailed overlaid analysis information to supplement recce reports. This gave commanders more awareness and effectively contributed towards their decision-making processes. As a C2 platform Defender was also able to facilitate an airborne talk through (ABTT) significantly enhancing and extending the reach of C2 to 16 Air Asslt Bde BG commanders.

The Regt also provided FW MAS to Ex BAVARIAN CHARGER from 24th May to 7th June 2013. Supporting 20 Armd Bde, Defender delivered ISTAR to the 5 RIFLES and QDG BGs. The exercise took place in and around the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas in Southern Germany. 5 Regt AAC deployed two Defender aircraft with organic ground support elements to provide a single task line of up to six hours tasking per day. Defender was again primarily employed using FMV down-linked to commanders throughout the FIND, FIX and STRIKE phases of the exercise, which culminated in a full Helicopter Assault Force (HAF) attack on a complex Enemy position. The crew was able to first recce the ground, including the route, the target locations and the landing sites before providing vital battlefield Situational Awareness during the final attack.

5 Regt AAC remains fully focused on bringing MAS to the masses, whether this is with the field Army or specialist units; it has a fully developed capability supported by aircrew and groundcrew who are the subject matter experts in MAS. With the Regimental motto in mind, “Nothing is Impossible,” the Regt will continue to rise to the challenge of the increasing ISTAR demand in the UK and overseas.

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