The Joint Helicopter Command (JHC): aircraft, current operations and personnel.
The Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) was formed in 1999 to bring together under one command the Battlefield Helicopters and Air Assault Force Elements of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force (RAF).
The JHC operates 239 Forward Fleet aircraft including the Sea King and Lynx helicopters of the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force, the Chinook, Puma and Merlin helicopters of the RAF and the Apache, Lynx, Gazelle and Bell 212 helicopters and the Islander fixed wing aircraft of the Army Air Corps (AAC).
The JHC is unique within the Defence Organisation, by remaining agile, interoperable, sustainable, resilient and affordable it will continue to be a vital element of the UK’s warfighting capability. Combining all 3 services has shown that jointery works, the JHC formula preserves single-service ethos and pride, whilst capitalising on the strengths of each service.
The JHC has cultivated a challenging and inquisitive culture, which embraces self-development and thrives on strong and intelligent leadership.
In its time since conception the JHC has proved itself to be pivotal to success on operations. Whilst the current focus is on operations in Afghanistan, a distinguished campaign history has seen almost constant commitment to support on operations:
- Northern Ireland
- Sierra Leone
- Iraq (Op Telic)
- Macedonia - Support to UK Ops
- Mozambique - Worldwide Support to SF
As a consequence the JHC’s Battlefield Helicopter and Air Assault personnel are amongst the most operationally experienced and capable of each service. The RAF, Army and the Royal Navy are justifiably proud of their respective force elements, and increasingly they are celebrating their own success through the prism of the JHC.
16 Air Assault Brigade
The principal Army formation under command is 16 Air Assault Brigade, the newest and largest brigade in the British Army. Formed in 1999 and based in Colchester, the brigade has already served in Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan. 16 Brigade is the Army’s primary rapid reaction formation, equipped and manned so that it can be used throughout the spectrum of conflict from humanitarian tasks, such as disaster relief at one extreme, through to high intensity war-fighting at the other.
Commando Helicopter Force
The Commando Helicopter Force based at the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton is equipped with Lynx and Sea King helicopters. The Commando Helicopter Force is primarily a maritime force that is trained, equipped and organised for expeditionary joint operations.
JHC front-line elements
The JHC includes all front-line elements of the Army Air Corps (AAC). 1 and 5 Regiments AAC are based at Turnhill and Canterbury respectively. 3, 4 and 9 Regiments AAC are part of 16 Air Assault Brigade. 6 and 7 Regiments AAC are TA regiments. 7 Regiment AAC (V) operate the Bell 212 out of Brunei and the newly created 6 Regiment AAC (V) is based at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. In addition to the regiments, the Army Air Corps have a number of independent flights under the command of JHC. These are based in Canada, Belize and Brunei.
RAF Support Helicopter Force
The RAF Support Helicopter Force operates under the command of JHC and includes the Chinook, based at RAF Odiham (Hampshire) and the Puma and Merlin Squadrons based at the RAF Benson (Oxfordshire). Tactical communications support for the Support Helicopter Force is provided by 21 (Air Support) Signal Regiment based at Colerne, near Bath. The provision of aviation fuel to deployed battlefield helicopters is the responsibility of the RAF Tactical Supply Wing based at RAF Stafford.
Overall the JHC employs over 15,000 personnel, some 8,000 of whom are in 16 Air Assault Brigade. This figure includes over 800 volunteer reserves from the Army Reserve and Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and 600 MOD civilian staff.
Future of the JHC
Looking out to 2030, the demand for Battlefield Helicopters and Air Assault forces will continue to increase. Our future air vehicles will need to lift troops, conduct medevac, carry out manned aerial surveillance at home and deployed, data link with UAVs, other air vehicles and ground forces. The ability to swing roles and operate across the spectrum of operational environments more readily, notably from the sea to the land and back again, will be essential.
Hence the JHC will continue to require strong and intelligent leadership at all levels. This should focus on example, integrity, humility and an unrelenting commitment to our people and their families if we are to continue to succeed both at home and on operations.
The JHC operates over 250 aircraft including the Sea King and Lynx helicopters of the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force; the Chinook, Puma and Merlin helicopters of the RAF and the Apache, Lynx, Gazelle and Bell 212 helicopters and the Islander fixed wing aircraft of the AAC.
The JHC has aircraft and troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these two theatres the JHC provides the tactical mobility and firepower that is an essential feature of any modern operation. Crews are specially selected and trained to operate in the most demanding high threat environment. Chinook and Sea King helicopters were used in July 2006 to assist with the evacuation of British subjects from the Lebanon.
The Apache is the only attack helicopter in service with the British Army. Carrying a mix of weapons including rockets, Hellfire missiles and a 30mm chain gun, the Apache provides a state of the art weapons system at the fore front of military technology.
The Lynx is used by both the Army and the Commando Helicopter Force. It is predominantly a battlefield utility helicopter but can be used for both anti-tank and reconnaissance operations
The Gazelle has been in service since 1973, it has proved a very reliable observation and reconnaisance helicopter for many years. Although having only one engine it is not as powerful as many others, but its light weight chassis offsets any deficits it might have.
Merlin Mk 3
The Merlin Mk 3 is the first of the next generation of medium-support helicopters for the RAF. Highly adaptable, it can carry up to 24 fully-equipped troops, ammunition and stores, and it can also be used for casualty evacuation.
The Sea King Mk 4
The Sea King Mk 4 of the Commando Helicopter Force is a troop carrying variant developed by Westlands from the original anti-submarine version. The Sea King can carry 27 fully armed troops and underslung loads. It is well suited to deck operations and has a limited ability to fly in icing conditions.
The Chinook is used by the RAF primarily for trooping and load carrying, both internal and underslung, and can carry up to 54 troops or 10 tonnes of freight. The cabin is large enough to accommodate 2 Land Rovers, while the 3 underslung load hooks allow flexibility in the type and number of loads that can be carried.
The Joint Helicopter Force (AFGHANISTAN) or JHF(A), is a deployed tri-Service unit from the JHC. It’s primary purpose is to facilitate tactical mobility, reconnaissance and Aviation Fires support to the UK task force in Helmand Province and to the multi-national force of Regional Command (South).
The unit provides Immediate Response Teams, armed escort, situational awareness and fire support to troops engaged in combat with the enemy on the ground. JHF(A) operates RAF Chinook from RAF ODIHAM along with Army Lynx and Apache aircraft from 9 Regiment Army Air Corp. JHF(A) also has its own integral engineering, logistic and signals support personnel to ensure that aircraft availability can be maintained to mount operations 24 hours a day.
JHF(A)’s primary mission is to support Commander UK task force and Commander Regional Command (South) as they seek to set the security conditions to allow reconstruction work to commence in the Province. Aviation support in the harsh terrain and high threat environment is key to success.
JHC Northern Ireland
The Joint Helicopter Force Northern Ireland (JHF(NI)) is based at RAF Aldergrove near Antrim.
The ‘Normalisation Process’ of recent years has led to a gradual reduction in the need for helicopter support and, as of 1 Aug 2007, JHF(NI) now provides Gazelle and Islander aircraft in support of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and military units.
RAF Aldergrove remains the home base for other helicopter units now tasked to support operations abroad.
The headquarters of the JHC is located within Army Headquarters based at Andover and is commanded by Air Vice-Marshal Carl Dixon.
The headquarters is a Tri-Service “Joint” organisation comprising some 160 personnel from the Royal Navy, Army and RAF and MOD Civilian staff.
JHC Commander: Air Vice-Marshal Carl Dixon CB OBE FRAeS RAF
Carl Dixon was commissioned into the RAF in 1979, training as a pilot at the RAF College and RAF Shawbury in 1980/81. He then flew Chinook helicopters in RAF Germany, taking part in the early airmobility trials with 6 (Armd) Brigade and several detachments in the Falkland Islands, before returning to UK in 1986 to fly for Special Forces. Promoted to sqn ldr in 1990, he completed an operational tour in Northern Ireland as a flight commander and deputy sqn cdr, flying Chinook and Puma aircraft.
In 1993, he joined the Operational Commitments Staff in MoD Whitehall, with responsibility for battlefield helicopters. Graduating from the RAF Advanced Staff Course in 1994, he then completed a UN operational tour in Rwanda, the year of the genocide. He returned to Whitehall on promotion in 1995 to join the Policy Staff, working on future capability development and the new government’s Strategic Defence Review.
In 1997 he returned to operations, initially as Commander Joint Support Helicopter Force Bosnia and then as Officer Commanding No 27 Sqn at RAF Odiham. He then led the UK’s Support Helicopter flying operations over Kosovo in 1999, captained the lead aircraft during the record-breaking self-deployment of Chinooks to Sierra Leone in West Africa in 2000 and led the first amphibious trials and operational embarkation of RAF aircraft aboard HMS OCEAN. He was also closely involved with the operational work-up of 16 (Air Assault) Brigade and in co-developing Joint helicopter capabilities with the Fleet Air Arm and Army Air Corps. He then returned to Whitehall in 2003 to join the MoD Central Staff for a tour in Air Resources & Plans.
As a Group Captain he resumed operational duty as commanding officer of RAF Benson, from where he deployed to Iraq as Commander UK Joint Helicopter Force. Graduating from the Higher Command and Staff Course in mid-2005, he returned to MoD on promotion to air commodore as Director Equipment Capability (Air & Littoral Manoeuvre).
Promoted to Air Vice-Marshal in 2008, he was Director (Information Superiority) on the MoD Equipment Staff, Air Member for Equipment Capability on the Air Force Board, and MoD’s Senior Responsible Owner for the Defence Information Infrastructure IT, Combat Identification and Operational C4ISR programmes. He assumed command of the Joint Helicopter Command in March 2011.
AVM Dixon is married to Fiona Cotter and is a keen amateur historian, film photographer and collector of Japanese maples.