The Tornado GR4 jets of Number II (Army Cooperation) [AC] Squadron, based at RAF Marham, have been put through their paces in a ‘War Week’ exercise designed to test the skills they will need to back up British, coalition and Afghan soldiers in Helmand province.
Officer Commanding II (AC) Squadron, Wing Commander Nick Tucker-Lowe, said:
This is an important year for us and the other founding squadrons of the RAF as we’ve just celebrated our centenary. In a few months’ time the unit will deploy on its second Operation HERRICK tour hard on the heels of a six-month stint on Operation ELLAMY over Libya last year.
When we were last in Afghanistan we were launched from ground alert to close air support missions in support of troops on the ground on close to 100 occasions.
That’s something we’re practising very hard this week - the ability to get in the air very quickly because lives are in danger. Then we can use our speed, reach and precision-guided weapons, or often our presence alone, to protect the troops on the ground.
But despite being veterans of two campaigns there’s still a need for realistic training which is provided by a team of trainers from the HQ Air Command Joint Force Air Component (JFAC):
It is vital that we teach our people to fight not just shoulder-to-shoulder but for one another and that our people are not only competent at the necessary skills but confident at using them,” said Wing Commander Tucker-Lowe.
The JFAC trainers bring a broader array of skills than the squadron would be able to corral on its own. That means I can include things like media training, realistic combat first aid training, and exercising some of the worse case scenarios so we are confident that we can deal with these before we go.
War Week exercise director, Squadron Leader Simon Reade, said the training developed after changes to the RAF’s exercise programme resulted in a switch from training whole Expeditionary Air Wings to focusing on what individual squadrons needed in order to deploy to Afghanistan:
War Week is a collective training opportunity for a squadron to generate air power in an environment like the one they will face in Kandahar,” Squadron Leader Reade said.
It’s a difficult week in some respects for those being trained, but one that emphasises the teamwork, confidence-building and communications between all the elements of the squadron that they will require on operations.
It gives them the step-change they require from a peacetime deployment here at RAF Marham to conducting real combat missions in Afghanistan.