Exercise Talon Defender
In September this year 3 Regiment AAC planned and conducted Exercise TALON DEFENDER. An Attack Helicopter (AH) Regt level high threat Electronic Warfare (EW) Exercise alongside elements from 27 Sqn RAF, 1-3 ARB US Army and observers from 10th MD HQ US Army and 1-10 ARB US Army.
The training was arranged in accordance with the Regiment’s focus on re-aligning to support 3 (UK) Div in high threat EW Land Contingency operations. The Regimental Electronic Warfare Officer (REWO) along with the Ops team developed a detailed and mutually beneficial training programme that incorporated both UK and US Apaches and Chinooks. During the years of operations in Afghanistan we have established strong relationships with our US counterparts so it is imperative that we maintain and utilise these bonds to learn from each other in order to be prepared for any potential future operations.
The lead-in for the exercise started in August where pilots from the 1-3 ARB US Army spent a week in the simulators on Wattisham Airfield, discovering how to train for a contested environment with credible EW threats. These skills have generally become less utilised during operations in Afghanistan so this exercise was an excellent opportunity to identify some key lessons when operating collaboratively in these high threat environments.
With a long road move completed by elements from both 663 Sqn and 662 Sqn Ground Support Flights and REME assets the exercise came to life. Lt Col Ackrill, 3 Regt AAC Commanding Officer stated in his opening remarks that “EW is the high end of what we do” and this set the conditions for the rest of the exercise.
The AH operated from the Harrier Strip on Otterburn Training Area and utilised the various SAM assets on RAF Spadeadam ranges to train and develop their effectiveness. RAF Spadeadam is the only facility in Europe where aircrew can practise manoeuvres and tactics against a variety of threats and targets that they may face on operations in contemporary warfare. The missions started with single aircraft but as the exercise progressed the complexity was increased by adding more aircraft of different types from different units increasing the development of interoperability. This exercise however, was not just about the flying, it was a ‘back to basics’ approach to mission planning, executing and evaluating. The crews went through a full planning cycle plus an after action review for each mission they flew and strictly critiqued each element to develop their skills. The overall aim was to find and strike SAM systems located IVO RAF Spadeadam without being seen by the ground systems.
Operating in a contemporary ‘Cold War’ style environment has many challenges and Exercise TALON DEFENDER was designed to test all elements of the Regiment. From the beginning the REME attachment had their work cut out for them. They had to deliver serviceable aircraft on time to meet a demanding programme with the added complexity of operating out of field locations. During the exercise they worked around the clock, endured the best of Otterburn’s inclement weather and provided just shy of 100% serviceability.
The ground crew also had their work cut out for them. Under the GSF 2IC they had the task of managing a difficult FARP that was isolated from the main ops room and included different aircraft types, from several units across different countries. Command and control when managing 8 UK/US Apaches and 5 UK/US Chinooks is no easy task but the ground crew thrived in the demanding environment and kept the FARP running efficiently and most importantly safely.
Overall, all personnel on the exercise had the opportunity to become fully immersed in a dynamic, high threat EW environment. Driving interoperability with 27 Sqn RAF and 1-3 ARB US Army increased complexity and allowed valuable lessons to be learnt which significantly increased the training benefit and strengthen relationships with our counterparts. Looking forward, the Regt will continue to train in the more conventional ‘Cold War’ style environment as we re-align to support ‘The Iron Division’.