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Published: 14 May 2015

In April this year a detachment of 4 Sea King Mk4s and 83 personnel from 845 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) of the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) embarked in HMS OCEAN for Exercise JOINT WARRIOR 151.


JOINT WARRIOR represents the very best opportunity for CHF to conduct targeted and realistic training for amphibious operations – the role for which the Force was originally conceived.


JOINT WARRIOR this year was, however, more than just an annual amphibious exercise for the Sea King Mk4 community. It was the final time that the venerable Sea King Mk4 would take part in JOINT WARRIOR as it is due to go out of service in March 2016. The responsibility of providing the specialist airborne insertion and tactical transport to the Royal Marines is being handed over to 845’s sister squadron, 846 NAS with their Merlin Mk3s. The Merlin will give the ‘Junglies’ an improved load lifting and range capability which will mean they can deliver more Royal Marines, with more equipment, further inland.


HMS OCEAN sailed from Plymouthon 7th April; onboard were four Sea Kings Mk4s and a SAR Sea King Mk5 from 771 NAS and they were joined by two Chinooks and two Apaches just before sunset.


The transit from Plymouth to the operating areas allowed the detachment a four day period to bed-in to ship life, whilst also establishing routines and consolidating the various skills that contribute towards being proficient in the maritime environment – including deck landing by day and night (conventionally and with night vision devices), winching, emergency approaches, ship-controlled approaches and vertical replenishment-at-sea.


The period also saw an opportunity to share some of the ‘Junglie’ expertise in the planning and execution of amphibious ops with aviation counterparts from the other Services, with 18 Sqn RAF providing a detachment of two Chinooks and 656 Sqn Army Air Corps providing a detachment of two Apaches which later surged to three.


In addition to flying crews and engineers, CHF also made a vital contribution to the amphibious planning cell by providing most of the key personalities to the Amphibious Task Force Air Group Head-Quarters (ATF AG HQ) including the 845 Commanding Officer, Operations Officer, Training Officer, Air Engineering Officer and Logistics Officer.


With the Ship entering the exercise areas off the north coast ofScotland, the multi-layered and meticulously-planned scenario commenced. In short-order, the Air Group was given initiating orders to start planning the main amphibious assault to take place at the end of the exercise. Whilst half the crews carefully planned the mission, the other half conducted ‘WADER’ drills - helicopter embarkation training - for the benefit of the ground troops, many of whom were new to the environment.


As the Amphibious Task Group reached the main area of operations on the 19th April, the missions began in earnest. 845 NAS and 18 Sqn RAF began to insert Royal Marines ashore; either into covert landing sites for a subsequent ground attack or straight into an assault on the objective. The missions were a resounding success and all scenario objectives and targets were achieved. 845 NAS inserted over 120 Royal, Dutch and Belgian Marines into various landing sites all over theGalloway peninsula. It proved to be excellent training for aircrew, ground troops and engineers as well as HQ and planning staff.


The final two pilots to graduate from the training pipeline onto the Sea King Mk4 were both embarked as part of the 845’s flying crews. Lt Tom Lofthouse said,


 “My first detachment on the front-line couldn’t have been better. The range of flying that we conducted was demanding but also very enjoyable. We did everything from deck landings on small foreign vessels to tactical low-level night navigation with troops on board. The coastal landscape of northern Scotland was breath-taking and made the flying all the more enjoyable.”


Concurrent to the intensive and rapidly-developing exercise scenario, the detachment shouldered the responsibility for an array of tasking which helped facilitate the smooth running of the wider exercise. Soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from all partaking nations were diligently moved between the Ships, landing sites, and Forward Operations Bases, all of which were kept supplied with vital stores throughout. The Junglies, along with SAR specialists 771 NAS, also provided the Amphibious Task Force with 24/7 SAR cover and maintain a compassionate and casualty evacuation crew and aircraft for any personnel requiring immediate transport to the mainland.


JOINT WARRIOR 2015 saw another successful embarkation for the ‘Junglies’, who met the task with their usual professionalism and gusto. The lessons identified from previous embarkations had been well assimilated, whilst the experience provided a number of further lessons for fine-tuning future exercises and operations. The junior pilots and aircrewman, who will be the mainstay of CHF for the next generation, were able to expand and consolidate their maritime skill-set which will stand the ‘Junglies’ in good stead in their capacity as the corner-stone of the UK’s amphibious aviation capability.


By Lt Simon Jones, 848 NAS.


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