Royal Navy Sea Kings Strike More Blows at Afghan Insurgents


More than £2m of heroin and two bomb makers have been snared thanks to the latest busts by the Navy’s ‘eyes in the sky’ over Afghanistan.

Ground troops intercepted drug runners trying to smuggle 2,200lb of heroin – with a street value in the UK in excess of £2m – after being guided by naval aviators and their Sea Kings bristling with state-of-the-art sensors.

In another strike, US Marines of 2nd Light Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion apprehended two bomb makers suspected of being behind producing improvised explosive devices which are a menace to Allied and Afghan peacekeepers – and the civilian populace.

The successes are yet again thanks to the Baggers – the distinctive Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control with their sacks – which are in the skies of Helmand daily.

The helicopters of 854 Naval Air Squadron – based at Camp Bastion, hub of the British operation in Afghanistan – fly on average one mission a day, using the radar in the bag which gives the Sea Kings their nicknames to track movements thousands of feet below on the ground.

The aircraft, four crews and a couple of dozen maintainers and engineers ensure that the Baggers, which have flown more than 1,000 missions over Helmand since they arrived from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall back in May 2009, are constantly ready to support the international mission.

Cdr Pat Douglas, Commander of the Maritime Sea King Force – 849, 854 and 857 Naval Air Squadrons as well as the rescuers of 771 NAS and Gannet Flight in Prestwick – says that working as part of a larger team including UK and Coalition troops in the air and on the ground, his men and women are scoring successes nearly every week, be they drugs busts, arrests of insurgents or capturing arms and bomb hauls.

The Baggers’ most recent successes are:

tracking vehicle movements in southern and central Helmand to provide near-real time information to ground troops and disrupt insurgent supply routes and drug-smuggling activities;

ensuring the US Marine Corps seized 2,200lb of heroin, prompting US commanders to comment: “Sea King support is invaluable in denying freedom of movement to insurgents and smugglers.”

tracking a suspicious vehicle and sharing information with other coalition reconnaissance aircraft which meant the US Marines intercepted and capture two experienced insurgent bomb makers.

“We are strangling the insurgent’ lines of communications,” says Cdr Douglas categorically. “Almost weekly there’s a seizure of heroin, arms, the ingredients for improvised explosive devices which could claim many more lives. We fully understand what we’re achieving.

“The Baggers are unique, they are on the spot, they can react quickly, they’re working with people they know and they’re having an impact.”

Two front-line Bagger squadrons (854 and 857) take it in turns in Afghanistan; 857 have just returned from HMS Ocean where they played a key part in Apache strikes against pro-government forces in Libya by monitoring the air and sea space to make sure the gunships could pounce on their targets in secret.

The Bagger mission in the Mediterranean is now over, the Helmand mission goes on – and, says Cdr Douglas, it is worth acknowledging that it is a physically and demanding mission for all.

“In early October it’s 42˚C by day in Bastion. Inside the helicopters it’s 50˚C. By the time the aircrew have walked to their Sea Kings with all their kit on and climbed in, they are soaked in sweat. Then they are flying demanding six and seven-hour missions. They are exhausted by the time they return,” Cdr Douglas adds.

“The ground crews work exceptionally hard too in the same dusty and hot environment – the Sea Kings are airborne 180 hours a month, supported by a very small team, but it a rare day indeed when all three aircraft are not available to be flown when needed – frankly a Herculean effort from the maintainers.”

Source: royalnavy, October 07, 2011