A partnership between Regular and Reservist soldiers to supply and maintain the British Army’s helicopters on the battlefield has been tested for the first time.
The Regulars of 7 Aviation Support Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (7 Avn Sp Bn REME) and Reservists of 158 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (158 Regt RLC) have joined forces on Exercise Iron Titan to practice how they would operate together to keep helicopters flying and in the fight.
The exercise is the first time the force – called the 1st Aviation Brigade Support Group (BSG) – has worked together, and key tasks include keeping the aviation units supplied with fuel and ammunition and providing specialist repair and maintenance capabilities for vehicles and helicopters.
Lieutenant Colonel Anna Swales, commanding officer of 158 Regt RLC, has been in command of the BSG.
“The two units have come together to run a depot to provide all the supply and maintenance services that the combat units need to do their jobs," she said. “The concept is nothing new, but this is the first time it's been done in the field to enable and sustain 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team.
For both units it’s a new role but it’s been functioning really well - our capabilities complement each other and we’ve built up towards this exercise." Lieutenant Colonel Anna Swales
158 Regiment RLC
"For both units it’s a new role but it’s been functioning really well - our capabilities complement each other and we’ve built up towards this exercise, with a lot of conceptual work and smaller scale training.”
Private Anthony ‘Gus’ Gusterson is a driver with 158 Regt RLC and works in signalling with Network Rail in his civilian life.
“I’ve done a fair few road trips, moving everything from fuel to rations from Wattisham as far as up the country as Arbroath in Scotland,” he said. “You really get to know the person sharing the cab with you on those long journeys!”
“To have this defined role and build relations with a Regular unit has been interesting. We’ve worked together really well - they manage the stores and we transport them, and we need each other to achieve the mission.”
Corporal Kofi Attakorah is an armourer with 7 Avn Sp Bn REME, responsible for maintaining weapons from pistols to the powerful 30mm cannon mounted on the Apache attack helicopter.
“I’m really interested in how weapons work, and the technical challenge of how to keep them working,” he said. “It might not be the most glamorous role but my work is vital - the Apache pilot firing on targets is reliant on me maintaining the gun, and all the other technicians keeping the engines and electronics working.”
"...the Apache pilot firing on targets is reliant on me maintaining the gun, and all the other technicians keeping the engines and electronics working.” Corporal Kofi Attakorah
7 Aviation Support Battalion REME
Exercise Iron Titan is about testing the ability of enablers and sustainment units – such as engineers, signallers and logistics – to deliver combat units to the right place at the right time and in the right condition to win the battle. The six-week-long manoeuvres involve 6,000 troops working out of 22 locations across the South West, West Midlands and Wales.
A key objective has been for troops to operate tactically to be ready for the challenges of the modern battlefield.
Lt Col Swales said: “A key consideration has been to keep a low profile, to make it more difficult for the enemy to find us. So we’re maximising our use of camouflage and concealment, limiting our electronic emissions and dispersing our facilities around the area, to present lots of smaller targets.”
7 Avn Sp Bn REME is based at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk, while 158 Regt RLC has sub-units spread across East Anglia and the East Midlands.