UK and US helicopters have been finding and striking targets and lifting paratroopers and equipment into action together on Exercise Swift Response.
Joint Helicopter Command’s Aviation Task Force 1 (ATF-1), which commands the attack, reconnaissance and support helicopters in the British Army’s global response force, is flying in support of the major multinational exercise in North Macedonia.
The Apache attack helicopters of 4 Regiment Army Air Corps (AAC), 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team and Chinook support helicopters of the RAF’s 18 Squadron are working alongside the Chinook and Blackhawk support helicopters from the US Army’s 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, known as Task Force Lobos (TF Lobos).
On the exercise, mountains over 2,000m high and dusty ground makes for challenging flying conditions, while ground crew are out in the field running Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARP), the military equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop.
A key activity was the combined arms live fire exercise. Protected by the Apaches, Chinooks and Blackhawks delivered soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment into live fire battle runs, with the Apaches providing fire support from their 30mm cannon and Chinooks from their 7.62mm miniguns and machine gun.
ATF-1 Commander Lieutenant Colonel Alex Harris said: “What we’re delivering on Swift Response is incredibly challenging. We’ve deployed helicopters and everything we need to operate them thousands of miles across Europe to set up in an austere location, quickly build a relationship with another unit with different procedures and equipment, and now we’re planning and carrying out complex air assault missions together.
“To be able to do this is testament to the quality of our soldiers - their skills, physical robustness and mindset - and they’re enjoying the chance to get out and do their job.”
Joining forces with TF Lobos improves the support that can be given to ground troops. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel Thompson flies an HH-60 Blackhawk. “Basically, it’s an ambulance in the sky,” he said. “I’ve been flying with British medics and our role is to evacuate casualties, both in the exercise scenario and if there are any actual injuries.
“Together with the British we have attack, heavy lift and medevac helicopters that makes for a pretty powerful team, where each of us has brought different slices to the pie. I first served with the British in Afghanistan in 2003 and we work together really well. This training is about building the trust between us even further, so that we can be ready to respond to any global contingencies.”
Exercise Swift Response sees more than 3,000 troops from eight NATO countries working together in North Macedonia under the command of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, with some 2,000 British soldiers and airmen taking part.
4 Regt AAC’s Lance Corporal Ted Bryant leads a FARP team and acts as the link between the pilots and ground crew during refueling and rearming.
“Working under turning rotors is very noisy and windy and it’s easy to become disorientated,” he said. “To do it safely and efficiently, you have to communicate well and have the confidence that everyone is doing what they should be, when they’re supposed to.
“Coming on an exercise this big has been an interesting experience, and it’s good to show that we can pack up all we need, travel across Europe and operate in a field in North Macedonia just as well as when we’re back at our base.”