Twice a year, the UK’s Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) deploys onto Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) to train alongside the next Task Force Helmand as they undertake their final Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX) prior to deploying to Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick.

As well as supporting ground troops, JHC personnel (Aircrew/Staff Officers etc) also use the MRX to finalise their own pre-deployment training prior to deploying alongside the ground troops they will be supporting in theatre.

The latest JHC Aviation MRX titled Ex PASHTUN JAGUAR 2/11 took place over the period 24th July to 21st August 2011 and ran alongside the main Battle Group MRX titled Ex PASHTUN DAWN. The exercise not only delivered essential pre-deployment training for JHC personnel who will be operating within the UK’s Joint Aviation Group (JAG) and Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan), but also for the personnel participating in Op HERRICK 15.

The MRX is not only designed to provide realistic levels of support to the Battle Group, but also forms the key element of pre-deployment training for JHC aircrew, ground crew and staff deploying to Afghanistan. The exercise provides the opportunity for aviation units to operate with ground elements in a dynamic, representative battlespace.

The latest MRX involved over 4,000 troops from 20 Armoured Brigade supported by units from 19 Brigade and JHC and was the culmination of more than a year of preparation as 20 Armoured Brigade prepared to take over from 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines in October 2011.

Supported by the JHC , Ex PASHTUN DAWN was an intense, final mission rehearsal with SPTA being transformed into Helmand Province. Troops operated from realistic Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), undertaking a wide range of missions, including foot patrols, vehicle convoys and counter IED operations.  They even utilised a number of realistic Afghan Villages, with their own Afghan Security Forces and civilian populations. These new training complexes have been purpose-built on Salisbury Plain to allow troops to experience the situations they may face in Helmand Province.

As with the ground troops they support, all JHC personnel complete their own pre-deployment training, which includes environmental training either in the United States (El Centro), Morocco, Jordan or Kenya before deploying to Afghanistan. Army Air Corps Apache units also undertake Ex CRIMSON EAGLE now held at El Centro in California, where they undertake their Conversion to Role (CTR) and Pre Deployment Training (PDT). This includes numerous live-firing exercises which enable the use of various AH weapon systems including Hellfire missiles, CRV-7 rockets and 30mm cannon. These exercises are designed to simulate the type of missions AH pilots will face in Afghanistan and also include working with Joint Tactical Air Control (JTACS) and Close Combat Attack Controllers (CCAC) and includes Rules of Engagement (ROEs) and Judgemental Training. Apache ground and support crews also use this exercise to consolidate their engineering and forward arming and refuel (FARP) training, especially at night, in a tactical environment.

During ‘Ex PASHTUN JAGUAR 2’, JHC deployed to Netheravon Airfield on SPTA. As part of the exercise, JHC established a tented Headquarters comprising a Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan), where JHC staff officers could rehearse their command roles prior to deploying to the UK’s Joint Aviation Group (JAG), now part of the US Marine Corps Air Wing based at Camp Bastion). This simulated JHF (A) Headquarters allowed JHC Staff Officers to prepare, plan and execute a wide range of real-time tasking whilst also validating their own HQ Staff and personnel.

During the exercise JHF (A) comprised its Headquarters, plus 3 Regiment Army Air Corps with their Apache AH.1s and 9 Regiment AAC with Lynx AH.7s with RAF Chinook HC.2s, Merlin HC.3s and Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) Sea King HC.4s. Over 17 helicopters and 450 JHC personnel supported this exercise. With their primary mission to support 20 Armoured Brigade, JHC also used the exercise to validate its own air and ground crews, undertaking a full range of day and night missions. These include sustainment missions, resupplying FOBs and moving personnel around the Operational Area whilst also conducting large scale deliberate operations and providing Medical Emergency Response Teams (MERT) day and night.

By late October 2011, both JHC and 20 Armoured Brigade had completed their Relief in Place (RIP) to take over from 3 Commando Brigade as they begin Op HERRICK 15.

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