UK: Junglies Return to Operations at Sea

 Junglies Return to Operations at Sea

After four years of spending most of their time over the sands of Afghanistan, the Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force have spent the spring finding their sea legs again.

The helicopters – known as the Junglies – have taken part in a succession of training exercises to re-learn the art of flying at sea in support of amphibious operations by the Royal Marines.

Pilot and Afghanistan veteran Lt Fred Durrant of 845 Naval Air Squadron takes up the story:

In the dead of night, on a pitching and rolling deck, the clatter of two Chinooks and four Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) Sea King helicopters can be heard from within HMS Illustrious.

Outside, a 30 knot wind, sea spray, whirling rotor blades and a cramped flight deck make it a dangerous environment in which to work.

From the ‘starboard wait’, two AAC AH-64 Apaches watch the scene using their on-board sensors, calmly awaiting the launch to lead the insert of troops from 45 Commando to their objective, a few miles inland.

Closer in to shore, HMS Bulwark is dock down and releasing her landing craft to make an amphibious landing at the same time as the aviation insert.

This is the setting for just one of the missions carried out during the recent multi-national Exercise Joint Warrior, Europe’s biggest military exercise.

Involving 18 ships from eight nations, it was designed to validate 45 Commando as the UK’s lead commando group – and its ability to deploy aboard the UK’s amphibious ships anywhere in the world.

To support the troops, a Tailored Air Group (or TAG) was brought together to make best use of the UK’s battlefield helicopters.

Although the Commando Helicopter Force is manned by Naval personnel, including Royal Marines, who specialise in the conduct of amphibious operations its operations in recent years have been centred in Afghanistan.

Joint Warrior helped re-instil an amphibious mindset in the aircrew and engineers of CHF – but also to integrate the Army Air Corps Apache force into flying in that uniquely-challenging environment.

Detachments from both types were embarked aboard Illustrious for the duration of the exercise.

Together with RAF Chinooks operating from land, the Sea Kings and Apaches made a formidable and potent air group.

In the past nine months, HMS Illustrious’ ship’s company has also had to work tirelessly and flexibly to switch from the Harrier Strike mindset to that of a helicopter assault ship role which results in a busier deck, the management of major troop movements, and a new set of challenges.

After a complicated deck launch cycle, necessitated by the number of aircraft and troops, the ‘package’ of eight aircraft disappears into the night in loose formation.

The lead Apache, acting as air mission commander, clears the formation through the airspace and on to the objective.

Once the troops are dropped off the gunship remains on station overhead providing protection and firepower to the ‘boots’ on the ground.

The importance of Joint Warrior cannot be overstated.

It is a fully-integrated exercise incorporating amphibious assaults by aviation and landing craft, anti-submarine and fast-attack craft serials, air defence drills, and a whole range of other training associated with maritime theatre entry and power projection.

It’s been a steep learning curve for all but the most experienced crews.

We are all now quite comfortable with Afghanistan operations and being thrust straight back into a fully amphibious role has taken some hard work and flexibility on the part of all concerned.

The amphibious role is key to CHF, and now the Army Air Corps’ Apache Force are becoming more used to operating their helicopters at sea, the UK’s capability in this arena is impressive.

Despite its current commitments, CHF will over the next four years be at the forefront of changes to the UK’s helicopter force.

The Sea King Mk4 is now being drawn down and will be replaced by Merlins; aviators and engineers are currently operating and training at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire to ensure a smooth and timely transition.

847 Naval Air Squadron will also begin their conversion to the new Lynx Wildcat, becoming the first UK unit to operate this new helicopter in 2013.


Naval Today Staff , May 16, 2012; Image: uk navy