Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) started a Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX) on 24th January 2011 to support 3 Commando Brigade Battle Group’s final Field Training Exercise (FTX) for their deployment to Afghanistan as part of Op HERRICK 14 in March. Six thousand troops will take part in the 3 Commando Brigade Battle Group under Exercise PASHTUN DAGGER with the support exercise from JHC featuring 17 helicopters and 437 personnel from all three services under Exercise PASHTUN JAGUAR.
JOINT HELICOPTER FORCE
Exercise PASHTUN JAGUAR also aims to validate JHC personnel for their own deployment to Afghanistan. The Chinook, Sea King, Merlin, Lynx and Apache detachments will practice planning, working and executing taskings together as a Joint Helicopter Force – JHF(A). As well as training the JHF(A) crews and staff who will be based at Camp Bastion the personnel who will be deployed to the JAG (Joint Aviation Group) embedded in the US Marine Corps base at Camp Leatherneck will also be trained.
Netheravon Airfield is used to replicate a small part of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan with 282 personnel deployed to take part in operating the helicopters with over 1000 hours of flying expected to be flown in the three weeks the exercise will run for. For these two weeks the air crew, ground crew and HQ staff will live at Netheravon Airfield in 91 tents to replicate the conditions they will operate in when deployed to Camp Bastion. One obvious aspect that is different to the conditions faced in theatre is the environmental conditions namely the heat, the dust and the altitude. These conditions have a big impact on helicopter operations, reducing the Chinooks lift capacity from 40 troops down to 19 for example, but are not the focus of this particular training exercise. Exercise PASHTUN JAGUAR is focused at getting the various helicopters and ground forces working together. Environmental training is undertaken abroad when the ‘hot and high’ conditions can be replicated.
This helicopter force provides three key services to the ground forces deployed in the exercise as they would in theatre:
Provided by the Chinook HC2 / HC3 (2 on the exercise), Sea King HC4 (2 on the exercise), Merlin HC3 / HC3A (2 on the exercise) and the Lynx AH7 / AH9 (4 on the exercise). This includes the usual troop transport and freight transport as well as more unusual tasking such as transporting a temporary bridge for the Royal Engineers.
The Chinook will also provide the Immediate Response Team (IRT) function for the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) with a 20 min daytime response and a 60 min night-time response. The response time in theatre is between 8 to 9 minutes.
Provided by the Lynx AH9 using the MX-15 electro-optical and infrared surveillance system and the MTADS system on the Apache (6 on the exercise).
The exercise also had a Gazelle from Northern Ireland operating with the MX-15 system to represent a UAV.
The Apache provides the majority of the strike capability with its 30mm cannon being the primary attack weapon, Hellfire missiles and CRV-7 rocket system but the Lynx is also able to carry out the role and recently had its door gun upgraded to the M3M .50 cal machine gun.
A key part of the training for the crews as part of Exercise PASHTUN JAGUAR is Judgemental Training (JT) this is “The training in Use of Force and ROE addressing both offensive and defensive use of force”.
A small but determined force of men dressed in traditional Afghan clothing and armed with AKs, RPGs and civilian vehicles setup real life scenarios taken from Afghanistan such as laying an IED, setting up an ambush or holding a shura. Helicopters will then be tasked to the area and the response of the crews to the opportunity to engage will be tested. With the Apaches the gun tape will be reviewed and the support helicopters will either have a member of the judgemental training team on-board or on the ground to provide feedback.
Forms of judgmental training have always been part of the training provided to the helicopter crews deploying to Afghanistan but has taken more of a focus since 2009 when the Commander International Security Assistance Force made it a mandatory requirement. The training is delivered in pre-deployment exercises such as this and also refreshed in theatre.