Royal Navy, October 12, 2011 - It is mission accomplished for veteran Naval helicopters over Afghanistan after a gruelling four-year mission.
The dark green Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force are returning to Somerset after more than 12,500 hours in the skies of Helmand supporting the international mission on the ground.
The Sea King Mk4s – known throughout the Royal Navy as Junglies thanks to the deeds of their forebears in the Far East in the 1960s – are flying back to base at RNAS Yeovilton where their crews will begin converting to newer, faster and more capable Merlins.
The Junglies flew their final sortie in support of Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) on September 30, the last of more than 3,800 individual missions since arriving in theatre back in 2007.
Since then they have safely transported more than 80,000 troops from numerous nations around the country and delivered more than 700 tonnes of ammunition, water and supplies to various outlying bases.
The duties of the helicopters – flown and maintained by the men and women of the two front-line Jungly units, 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons – have included ferrying battlefield casualties to field hospital, inserting sniper teams into mountain observation posts and carrying fighting troops and their kit into the heart of enemy territory.
Throughout the squadrons have carried out their duties with minimal fuss – the Commando Sea King Mk4 has not been the poster pin-up of operations in Afghanistan.
Despite the workhorse tag, however, those in theatre are sorry to see the Junglies leave after giving such loyal and reliable service.
Cdr Matt Grindon, Commander of Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) – and a former CO of the Jungly training squadron, 848 NAS, said:
“The Commando Sea Kings have been hugely impressive during their time in Afghanistan.\\\"
“They will be missed by the troops and by my operations team, who often rely on the Sea King crew’s ability and versatility to get the job done.”
The Sea Kings deployed to Afghanistan with improved rotor blades and engines to cope with the climatic challenges posed by the country, as well as defensive aid suites to fend off attack.
For each hour in the sky the helicopters require around seven ‘man hours’ on the ground – which has put considerable demands on the engineers, technicians and maintainers. Luckily, thanks to more than 40 years’ experience working with Sea Kings and the aircraft’s simple, rugged design, it rarely suffers any significant maintenance issues and, when it does, it is relatively easy to repair.
Lt Cdr Lloyd Shanahan, the last detachment commander of the CHF Sea Kings in Helmand, said:
“My engineers have performed admirably to keep our aircraft flying in a difficult and testing environment,”
“My thanks also go to the aircrew: through their determination and will to help our troops on the ground, they have made a real and quantifiable contribution to the war effort in Afghanistan.”
Air and ground crew are now returning to Yeovilton for reunions with loved ones, a spot of leave before returning to work. Their deeds – and those of their predecessors since 2007 – are much appreciated by Capt Matt Briers, the Commanding Officer of Commando Helicopter Force.
“For four years, the sailors and Royal Marines of CHF have provided vital support to the people that matter: the troops on the ground.\\\"
“Whilst the Sea King is reaching the end of its life, we now have the certainty of a new aircraft to take the Force forward, and return to our core role of supporting the Royal Marines.\\\"
“We leave Afghanistan offering our best wishes to those who continue to serve there.”
The Junglies will now begin the conversion process to the newer Merlin Mk3, currently being operated by the RAF in a troop-carrying role; as a larger and more powerful helicopter, it can carry more troops and cargo – and faster too.
Other duties back in the UK include returning to the more usual task of supporting the Royal Marines – CHF’s raison d’être – including training for amphibious operations, desert training overseas and cold weather/mountain training in Norway.