Navy Sea Kings making a big difference in Helmand

Roy­al Navy Sea Kings have over the last five months helped seize more than sev­en tonnes of drugs and stop insur­gents in Afghanistan build­ing over 1,500 home­made bombs.

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A Roy­al Navy Sea King Mk7 Air­borne Sur­veil­lance and Con­trol heli­copter from 854 Naval Air Squadron oper­at­ing as part of the Joint Heli­copter Force (Afghanistan) from Camp Bas­tion, Hel­mand province [Pic­ture: POA(Phot) Mez Mer­rill, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The Sea King Air­borne Sur­veil­lance and Con­trol heli­copters of 854 Naval Air Squadron act as ‘eyes in the sky’, and have guid­ed forces on the ground in mak­ing a series of busts in a sum­mer and autumn of suc­cess­ful operations. 

The Sea King crews’ suc­cess can be attrib­uted to the helicopter’s cut­ting-edge radar which tracks insur­gents so the crews can inform ground troops where to pounce. 

The heli­copters, based at Camp Bas­tion, are fly­ing up to 50 hours a week, using the spe­cial­ist radar in a large grey ‘bag’ on the side of the air­craft — which gives them their ‘Bag­ger’ nick­name — to fol­low the move­ments of insur­gents thou­sands of feet below on the ground. 

In the past fort­night alone 854 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) — which com­pris­es few­er than 50 per­son­nel in Hel­mand — has direct­ed troops to three men trav­el­ling in a truck which was car­ry­ing 570kg of opi­um, while a large amount of hero­in was found on anoth­er vehicle. 

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Air­crew mon­i­tor the radar screens inside a Roy­al Navy Sea King Mk7 Air­borne Sur­veil­lance and Con­trol heli­copter [Pic­ture: POA(Phot) Paul A’Bar­row, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The Sea Kings, known as ‘cloud­walk­ers’ by Afghans, have also this sum­mer helped with the seizure of 7.2 tonnes of explo­sives — enough to pro­duce more than 1,500 ten-pound (4.5kg) small impro­vised explo­sive devices which are then used to kill and maim British, Allied and Afghan troops, and Afghan civilians. 

In addi­tion to these suc­cess­es, the past two weeks have also seen the heli­copters pass on 70 intel­li­gence tip-offs for ground troops to fol­low up. 

Com­man­der Pat Dou­glas, Com­man­der Mar­itime Sea King Force, said: 

“Indi­vid­u­al­ly, these ‘busts’ are quite small, but, col­lec­tive­ly, our small force is mak­ing a very big difference. 

“We may be only oper­at­ing over Hel­mand and envi­rons but the impact of what we do spreads across the entire country. 

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A Roy­al Air Force Chi­nook flies over a Roy­al Navy Sea King Mk7 Air­borne Sur­veil­lance and Con­trol heli­copter on the flight line at Camp Bas­tion [Pic­ture: POA(Phot) Mez Mer­rill, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

“Every sin­gle time a vehi­cle we’ve tracked is stopped and drugs or explo­sives are found by ground forces, we are mak­ing things a per­cent­age safer for Afghan civil­ians and the forces there who are pro­tect­ing them.” 

The Bag­gers have been in Afghanistan since May 2009, with 854 NAS and her sis­ter squadron from Roy­al Naval Air Sta­tion Cul­drose, 857 NAS, tak­ing it in turns to con­stant­ly mon­i­tor insur­gent activity. 

Although their mis­sions are hun­dreds or thou­sands of feet above Hel­mand and the heli­copters are based many miles from the scene of the var­i­ous inter­dic­tion oper­a­tions, Allied troops are very quick to pass on their grat­i­tude for the intel­li­gence the Bag­gers pro­vide. Com­man­der Dou­glas added: 

“We’re told quite quick­ly the out­come of our actions and the feed­back we get is that we’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, which has a big effect on morale — real­ly satisfying.” 

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The Roy­al Navy Sea King Mk7 Air­borne Sur­veil­lance and Con­trol helicopter’s cut­ting-edge radar can track insur­gents thou­sands of feet below on the ground [Pic­ture: POA(Phot) Paul A’Bar­row, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Crews ini­tial­ly used their sor­ties over Hel­mand to build up their knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence of each area and to under­stand life on the ground, day-to-day traf­fic and sea­son­al move­ments (such as harvest-gathering). 

With two-and-a-half years’ expe­ri­ence under their belts, Com­man­der Dou­glas said his men and women are well-attuned and famil­iar with their oper­at­ing areas, mak­ing it eas­i­er for them to spot the unusual: 

“Oper­a­tions now are more focused, more tar­get­ed and much more effec­tive because we know the ground — there’s a lot of knowl­edge in the squadrons,” Com­man­der Dou­glas added. 

“We are on a cam­paign foot­ing. We will con­tin­ue to do the job out there as long as we are need­ed — we stay until our job is done.” 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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