Ex PASHTUN DAWN, a Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX), began on the 24th July 2011 and will be made up of three 9 day Field Training Exercises (FTX 1, 2 and 3). The MRX is supported by Merlin, Sea King (Royal Marines), Puma, Lynx (Army), Apache and Chinook helicopters from the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) under Ex PASHTUN JAGUAR.
The PASHTUN exercises are brigade sized pre Afghanistan training for troops that will deploy a month after completing the training. The name of the exercise always starts with PASHTUN and the second word is unique to the brigade that is leading the next Op HERRICK deployment. PASHTUN DAGGER was undertaken in January 2011 for 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines who deployed on Op HERRICK 14. PASHTUN DAWN will prepare 20 Armoured Brigade for Op HERRICK 15 who will replace 3 Commando. The JHC contribution to the training is always operated under Ex PASHTUN JAGUAR and allows the soldiers to become experienced with operating with helicopters as well as allowing the JHC personnel to validate their own skills.
Flying has increased from the 1000+ hours in January’s MRX to 1500+ hours. The Sea King HC4 of the Royal Marines that took part was replaced with the RAF’s Puma HC1 in FTX 2 and it is expected that the Puma will in turn be replaced by Dutch Chinooks in FTX 3 to provide more lift. For this MRX the ISTAR capability that would be provided in theatre by UAV’s such as the RAF’s REAPER is again provided synthetically by a number of methods but this time without using the Gazelle and its MX-15 surveillance system that was used in January.
The RAF’s Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) and 654 Sqn Army Air Corp (AAC) kept the helicopters flying by providing the Forward Refuelling Point (FRP). A FRP is a temporary forwardly deployed site made up of Aircraft Landing Mats (a series of aluminium panels fitted together to producing a landing pad) that allows the refuelling of helicopters closer to their operating area than their base to maximise their time supporting the troops on the ground.
Both the TSW and AAC operate in a similar way with Ops giving them a ten minutes heads up of a helicopter arriving. The helicopter lands on one of the pads and will be hot refuelled whilst the rotor blades are still turning. The TSW refuel the support helicopters and the AAC refuel the Apache. A member of the TSW will handle the refuelling whilst the crewman from the support helicopter will perform the checks and communicate with the pilots.
Since the Apache doesn’t have a crewman two members of the AAC will carry out the refuelling. A trooper will handle the refuelling whilst the Arming Loading Point Commander will carry out the checks, insert the safety pins to make the stores safe, place the chocks under the wheels to prevent the aircraft from moving and communicate with the aircrew through the communication jack located in the Apache’s wing stub. With the refuelling complete the chocks and safety pins are stored back on externally accessible storage compartments on the either side on the Apache’s fuselage. The entire process can be completed in a little over 5 minutes.
As well as keeping the helicopters fuelled up this also allows both the TSW and AAC to practice their skills and procedures before operating a FARP (Forward Arming and Refuelling Point) in theatre. The FARP is the same setup as the FRP but with additional pads to complete rearming. The refuelling will be completed first before the helicopter air taxis to the next set of pads for the weapons to be replenished. The arming will start on the inward storage points and work out to prevent the ground crew working in front of live weapons. The turnaround depends on which weapons need to be replaced, both ammo and Hellfire missiles are quick to fit but the 19 rockets in the CRV-7 pods can take time to reload. A quick refuel and rearm could be complete in 15 minutes.
The process of course is potentially dangerous and practice is very important. To help minimise any danger two layers of clothing is worn with the outer layer being fireproof Nomex. Gloves, helmets and eye protection are also worn. Gloves are especially important as the fuselage will adsorb both the heat and the cold (temperatures in Afghanistan get down to -9c as well as high over 40c). The number two engine on the Apache is shut down whilst the refuelling occurs to help control the heat output.