November 2013 saw two rotary training exercises taking place in and around Northumberland, as the Army Air Corps and US Air Force undertook living firing and electronic warfare training at the Otterburn Training Area and RAF Spadeadam. Michael Frodsham guest reports for GAR.
The first was Exercise Lightning Force, which saw six Westland Apache AH1s from No. 656 Squadron, based at Wattisham, deployed to the Otterburn Training Area for the duration of the two week exercise. A Forward Operating Base (FOB) was set up along with a Forward Refuelling Point (FRP) on the mock airstrip, or Harrier Strip as it is otherwise known.
The crews flying at Otterburn put the Apaches through some live firing training using both rockets and 30mm ammunition. The Otterburn ranges are the second largest live firing range in the UK and are well suited for this type of training, covering an area of around 60,000 acres. The range has two live firing areas incorporating the largest impact area in the UK where aircraft and helicopters can practice live ground-attack training.
Whilst live firing was being conducted at Otterburn, other aircraft participating in the exercise headed west to RAF Spadeadam. RAF Spadeadam, or Danger Area 510 (D510), its military designation, is located close to Northumberland’s border with Cumbria, and its location puts it within Low Flying Area 13 (LFA13). RAF Spadeadam is the largest RAF base in the UK and takes up around 9,600 acres of the Northumberland countryside, a total of approximately four square miles.
The range is the only Electronic Warfare training range in the UK and provides crews with essential Electronics Warfare and Tactics Training with missions being flown against many of Spadeadam’s emitters located around the complex. The crews flew missions against many of Spadeadam’s emitters, which are located around the complex. Hand-held Surface-to-Air missile (SAM) systems were also used, enabling the crews to deploy counter measures such as decoy flares. Adding to these threats, the team also launched Smokey SAMs, which enables the crews to experience the visual threat of a SAM attack.
The Army Air Corps Apache fleet has been deployed in Afghanistan since 2007, where they are used to provide close air support, occasionally coming under fire from SAMs and, more frequently, other ground weapons such as small arms. The Otterburn range enables Apache crews to train in a large, open environment, to gain vital experience of the kind of conditions they might encounter within theatre.
The other exercise saw three Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk Helicopters from the 56th Rescue Squadron, and the 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, based at RAF Lakenheath, deploy to RAF Leeming for some Electronic Warfare training at RAF Spadeadam, from 18 to 22 November. This exercise enabled the crews to experience some real-time radar threats as the personnel at Spadeadam tracked the aircraft from the ground.
Unfortunately, for onlookers at least, many of the missions saw the aircraft staying several miles from the main complex, but they could be seen taking evasive action to avoid the simulated threats of a SAM, clearly demonstrating how the helicopters would be manoeuvred in a combat situation.
For the 56th Rescue Squadron, this type of training is vital to its combat operations, where it may be called upon to evacuate downed airmen from behind enemy territory; the crews’ ability to deploy counter measures against enemy radar and missile attacks is, therefore, a key part of their operational role.