May 27, 2013
Credit: Crown Copyright
The conflict in Afghanistan has transformed the way the U.K. views its helicopter forces, but now senior commanders are looking at how those changes can continue to be practiced as the end of combat operations there draws near.
“The relationship has been forged in the heat of battle,” says Air Vice Marshal Carl Dixon, head of the U.K.'s Joint Helicopter Command, the tri-service organization that looks after the country's battlefield helicopters.
“Memories are long of the number of times helicopters have bailed soldiers out of problems and carried them into dynamic situations. We need to keep that intimacy. The whole British Army and Royal Marine organization has become helicopter-literate. [That is] a product of the Afghan experience, which has required every soldier and marine to use helicopters as part of normal business and to rely upon them in a fight.”
Working from their base at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province for the last eight years, the command has managed to forge a strong relationship with the U.S. Marine Corps. Flying with the U.S. Marines is so closely coordinated that Dixon says there is now a “seamless look” to the two countries' helicopter operations in Afghanistan.
Dixon says the U.K. has put much of its training effort into the mission in Afghanistan, but forces must now start planning and training for future engagements elsewhere.
“Our training apparatus has been immersed into Afghanistan, bending all our sinews into one thing. The trick for the future will be to stay as focused but recognize that more plurality needs to come into the training environment,” says Dixon. “Helicopter literacy is going to be an important issue for ground forces training in the future.”
While Afghanistan has enhanced some skills—such as dissimilar-aircraft formation-flying, combined fires and hot-and-high operations—it has “thinned others,” particularly in terms of simply flying rotorcraft from austere locations rather than main operating bases like Camp Bastion.