A MERLIN STORM ON SALISBURY PLAIN
THREE Commando Helicopter Force Merlin Mk3 helicopters and crews from the Operational Conversion Flight (OCF), currently part of 28 (AC) Sqn based in RAF Benson, completed their final field exercise on Salisbury Plain supporting 45 Cdo Royal Marines.
Exercise MERLIN STORM is the culmination of over 6 months training for the aircrew, where the students are taught to fight the aircraft. Learning to operate in a more austere environment, working with troops in a realistic tactical scenario was all part of this exercise..
The eight pilots and eight aircrewmen had to plan how they were going to complete their tasking, utilising the skills taught during their training in order complete the mission; all within a tactical scenario set by the instructors which included air threats and Battle Space Management constraints, and operating with live troops.
Exercise MERLIN STORM was conducted on Salisbury Plain with the crews operating out of Rollestone Camp, the final scenario was a troop insertion into Imber village where hostile forces were waiting. A Casualty Evacuation followed the insertion before the troops were extracted after defeating the enemy along with captured personnel.
The benefits of a field exercise such as MERLIN STORM were not solely realised by the student aircrew, but was also a mutual training benefit for the troops of 45 Cdo RM, giving them the experience of operating with air assets in the field. Alongside the Merlins, Sea Kings from 845 NAS took part in training serials earlier in the week and Pumas from RAF Benson also participated in the final exercise.
Of the 16 students, 14 were ex Sea King aircrew re-roling and facing the training challenges of operating a more modern ‘digital’ aircraft. The Merlin Mk3 controls are similar to the Sea King so for the conversion students the training is about learning how to fight a more complex aircraft.
At the end of the training in January 2015 the students will move to their front line unit, 846 Naval Air Squadron. This marks the end of the operational phase of training which will be followed by a period of consolidation training lasting approximately six months on the front line.
846 NAS’ main role will be Maritime Counter Terrorism, deployed contingent operations, UK Tasking and an Operational Conversion Flight. The OCF will embed in 846 NAS in mid 2015 when 28 (AC) Sqn disbands and 845 NAS stands up in its place.
846 NAS returns to RNAS Yeovilton in April 2015 with 845 NAS following in 2016 when all three Commando Helicopter Force squadrons will be reunited after nearly three years apart.