EXERCISE 'RUSTIC LEGION' 18-22 May 1998
Gary Parsons reports from Carlisle Airport
This exercise involved the Support Helicopter Force (SHF) of the RAF in and around the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, Cumbria and Northumberland. Six Chinook HC2 and six Puma HC1 helicopters were involved, based at Carlisle Airport where the SHFHQ and other temporary accommodation was erected for the one week stay. The purpose of the exercise was to train the SHF in the event of deployment to anywhere in the world to support ground forces, particularly for UN peacekeeping missions and humanitarian relief. The RAF SHF is considered the 'railroad' of Britain's Armed Forces, providing logistical support twenty-four hours a day if required. At present, the SHF has detachments in the Falkland Islands and Bosnia, and has deployed to Albania and Zaire within the last twelve months. The SHF has to remain prepared for short notice deployments, as today's political climate has generated many small intra-state conflicts which both NATO and the UN have become embroiled. The number of 'hot-spots' around the world also bring a wide range of differing climates to which the SHF must adapt, from desert (i.e. the Gulf conflict) to jungle to deep winter (such as the winters in Bosnia).
SHFHQ:Carlisle Airport played host to the main part of the detachment, chosen for its location close to the Dumfries/Galloway border and Otterburn ranges. A supply depot was established at Kirkbride to the west, forming part of the 'Express Chain Management' that is essential to keep a fleet of twelve heicopters operational at a remote site. Carlisle Airport, formerly RAF Crosby-on-Eden, is normally home to a few civilian flying outfits and the Solway Aviation Museum, but still has the three wartime runways and extensive taxiways intact. These proved ideal for dispersing the helicopters and providing suitable lifting and refuelling areas, although interestingly the civilians weren't obliged to curtail their normal operations for the week, the sight of a Cessna on approach with a Chinook hovering seemingly yards away was common.
The SHF: the Future
It is recognised that the RAF is deficient
in strategic airlift capability, so the impending purchase of C17
Globemaster III heavy lift transport aircraft will provide the SHF
with a means of deploying to more remote parts of the world with more
speed. An additional 14 Chinooks are to be provided for Odiham, some
to HC3 specification which is similar to that of the US CH47E Special
Forces example. 22 Squadron is to reform at RAF Benson in April 1999
with the EH101 Merlin, providing a timely replacement for the venerable
Wessex which is being phased out of frontline operations. These measures
provide assurance to the SHF that it is a fundamental asset to Britain's
Armed Forces and will ensure that it will not be found wanting in
future conflicts to come.
Aircraft involved included: Chinooks ZA720/P, ZD982/EK, ZA670/BF(SFOR), ZA681/ED, ZA677/EG, ZD981/-.
Pumas XW213, XW227/NJ, XW206, XW222, XW232. Gazelle HT3 XX406/P.