RFA ARGUS Deployment Feb 17: 132 Sup Sqn RLC Support 4 Regt AAC
Cpl Edge and Pte Shackleton deployed onto RFA ARGUS from the 29 January until the 5 February 2017 in support of 656 Sqn, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps. Whilst on ship the soldiers were responsible for a Deployable Spares Pack (DSP) in support of the Apache Attack Helicopter (AH) with a value of approximately £9 million. This was transported by road from 132 Aviation Supply Squadron to Portland through Defence Supply Chain Operational Movements (DSCOM).
The exercise itself provided an excellent training opportunity for the Squadron’s RLC suppliers, allowing them to build the skills and experience required in mounting logistic support to the REME aviation activities in a maritime environment. Unlike regular land based deployments, operating from within the confines of a RFA ship introduced specific challenges with regards to the stowage of materiel and the operation of the deployed Logistic Information Systems (LOGIS).
Once at HMS Portland, and with the assistance of the ship’s crew, the DSP was cross loaded onto RFA Argus into the area shared by the AH Technicians and suppliers. Although RFA Argus is a fleet auxiliary vessel, dedicated to providing the logistic support to Royal Navy warships around the globe, space was at a premium. It was vital that the team got to grips with the processes used by the RN and integrated within the naval logistic team. During the exercise there was no access to internet or phone signal which, although personally frustrating, had a much greater effect on the normal daily working procedures. Digital data and 4G systems are heavily relied upon to transmit data and relay demands for ES materiel back to 132 Avn Sp Sqn in Wattisham. To overcome this challenge it was necessary to revert back to manual accounting and resort to transmitting demands through the busy RFA signals system.
Throughout the deployment we circumnavigated the United Kingdom however, spending much of our time in the North Sea. Unfortunately the seasonal weather played its hand; heavy fog, relentless rain and high winds prevented the AH from arriving on ship when scheduled. With the rough sea pitching the ship from one side to the other, not just landing an aircraft on the flight deck was a challenge; even simply walking in a straight line became the most difficult of tasks for all on board.
Although the main aim of the exercise was not achieved in terms of flying, for the Wattisham based support units on board it was highly useful. With future operational deployments likely to be conducted off shore supporting amphibious operations, it is vital that conducting logistic support in such an environment becomes second nature. The absence of internet and phone communications is likely to be a factor we will face during future operational deployments. Although the military has become accustomed to relying on these communications systems over the last fifteen to twenty years, it will become increasingly necessary to fight through this dilemma in a contested and congested communications environment. Through its challenges, this exercise provided the opportunity to gain vital experience and an understanding of the areas with which we need to improve, in order to maintain the best service of logistic support to AH in the maritime role.