US Army, July 13, 2015 - JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. by Youtoy Martin — Soldiers of 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) and Airmen from the 7th Squadron, British Royal Air Force (RAF) conducted a bilateral training that built up the relationship of the two forces, and prepared each to work together in future endeavors.
Over 60 Airmen with the RAF came to Joint Base Lewis-McChord with two Chinook CH-47s (Mark 6) to participate in a three-week training exercise. Aviators, maintainers and aviation crewmembers of the RAF conducted exchange flights with Soldiers of 160th SOAR to share and learn how each respective unit operates. The exchange flights entailed a 160th pilot and crew to fly a Mark 6 with a senior British pilot in the helicopter and vice versa.
“The training exercise was a great way to evaluate and share tactics, techniques and procedures in how both forces employ the aircraft,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brian Edwards, a CH-47 heavy assault standardization instructor pilot with 160th SOAR.
“I’m blown away by how light their aircrafts are,” said Edwards. “We are used to flying a heavier aircraft and their tactics are revolved around flying a lighter aircraft. They come in a lot faster than we do.”
“The advantage on board the U.S. Chinook MH-47G aircraft is primarily technology, where as the Mark 6 is in its weight. The mindset of both aviation units is identical, providing support to the forces on the ground,” said Edwards.
Crew operations on board the Chinooks are virtually the same, however the British navigator of the crew is able to make changes to the flight plan, which is a task reserved for members in the cockpit on a U.S aircraft.
Although there are slight differences in how the crewmembers are utilized, Staff Sgt. Ryan Rybolt, a flight engineer with 160th SOAR, believes it was a great overall experience to work alongside his British counterparts.
“We do things a little bit differently but at the same time it’s still a Chinook,” said Rybolt. “Flying with them has been a great opportunity for sharing knowledge between the two units. Seeing how they conduct a mission profile, taking in their techniques, and possibly applying it to ours, has made this exercise a success.”
The three-week training concluded with a culminating mission that started in the evening and went until morning. This took advantage of the low visibility conditions only available during those hours. The mission included simulation of movement and staging of assets into a foreign country as a joint task force. Two Mark 6 and two 47G Chinooks with crews supported a ground force with execution on an objective while under a chemical threat. The British team led the mission with the 160th providing support.
“A mission of that magnitude took the support of 20 to 40 maintainers preparing the aircrafts, a launch crew supporting avionics and engine shops, tactical inspectors awaiting any possible issues that could occur and two forward arming and refueling point teams,” said Edwards.
This exercise was also used as a recertification for a few of the British lead flight aviators. “For one of the aviators, it is a check ride,” said Edwards. “As for the other aviator, the mission tested his heat of the moment adaptability, as he had to plan and execute a follow on mission to another objective.”
A British aviator, who has been flying Chinooks for over 10 years, said, “Over the last three-weeks there has been a lot learned with the tactics, techniques and procedures between both units. This helps us with interoperability with the 160th. If we do find ourselves in combined operations in the future, elsewhere in the world, we won’t have to start from a blank canvas. We won’t have to spend a few weeks learning the concepts, we can just get on with the mission.”
A closing ceremony was held June 26 at the 160th SOAR area of operations to commemorate the weeks of training and the importance of both units participation. Aviators and crewmembers from each force pinned one another with new flight wings of their respective country.
Maj. Gabriel M. Wolfe, the executive officer of 160th SOAR, who also served as the officer in charge of coordinating the training event and was the master of the ceremonies said, “Being able to co-locate aircrafts, plan, maintain, train and fly to the extent that the training exercise provided, aside from in combat, in some respects has been a historical event.”
“The relationship going forward has definitely been strengthened,” said Wolfe. “The whole goal is to de-risk future operations. If we are asked to go to some country in the world and execute a mission together we can quickly plan and execute the mission safely and effectively.”