653 SQN AAC HQ AHF Ex LIGHTNING FORCE 18B

In early October 653 Sqn AAC deployed to Otterburn Camp to conduct Electronic Warfare (EW) training against simulated threats provided by RAF Spadeadam. The exercise provided both logistical and operational challenges as all Squadron members battled the elements and the relative isolation of the deepest darkest North East!

Once the squadron settled into their ‘luxurious’ accommodation work started in earnest, the Ground Support Flight (GSF) and REME transformed a tank park into a fully functioning dispersal and maintenance facility. Six aircraft were deployed to Otterburn meaning the REME were working flat-out to provide the Squadron with aircraft throughout the exercise, despite having no hangarage and awful weather. The GSF didn’t have it much easier, having to man a FARP on a 24-hour basis amongst Rally Championships, livestock and unserviceable aircraft.

The exercise was conducted in support of AH CTR 22, the aim being to qualify all students with the ACT Level 2 qualification. To make this training more realistic pairs of aircraft had the opportunity to fly and outmanoeuvre radar threats provided by the experienced RAF Spadeadam operators. Despite inclement weather and the usual serviceability difficulties, the Squadron managed to (mostly) avoid getting ‘shot down’, deploying chaff and flare whilst targeting enemy positions.

Commenting on the training, US Army exchange officer Capt Peter Nickoloff said “British tactics and techniques are quite different to those back home, however Spadeadam did allow me to develop my knowledge of radar threat evasion and provided a great flying opportunity”.

Whilst deployed several students were able to visit the threat systems that the Squadron fought against and even managed to try and shoot some of their colleagues down, a task that is easier said than done. Capt Iain Maclennan said “being able to see the systems up and running during a sortie, but from the operator’s perspective, allowed us to get inside the head of our adversaries. This knowledge is invaluable and can only help us in the future”.

It wasn’t all hard work, many members of the Squadron managed to squeeze in visits to Newcastle and the rest of the North East. The dramatic scenery also allowed personnel to sample challenging mountain biking in the nearby Kielder Reservoir park, even if it was on an E-Bike!

As the month deployment drew to a close the pace never slowed and by the time the aircraft had flown home many were ready for a break (and looking forward to the return of mobile phone signal!).

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