RAF Akrotiri supporting operations in Afghanistan

It is the halfway point between RAF Brize Nor­ton and Camp Bas­tion, and get­ting troops from A to B (Akrotiri to Bas­tion) is one of the cru­cial roles ful­filled by per­son­nel at the RAF’s base in Cyprus.

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A Roy­al Air Force TriS­tar air­craft on the tar­mac at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus [Pic­ture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

But RAF Akrotiri is more than just a strate­gic stag­ing post in the Mediter­ranean; with thou­sands of Ser­vice per­son­nel pass­ing through the sta­tion each year we go behind the scenes to see what it takes to run one of the RAF’s busiest bases.

Akrotiri’s Sta­tion Com­man­der, Group Cap­tain Bar­rie Thom­son, describes the role of the sta­tion:

“Because of our strate­gic place­ment in the Mediter­ranean we have an air­field that allows us to flow men and mate­r­i­al in and out of Afghanistan. This is real­ly our pri­ma­ry pur­pose.”

With 850 per­son­nel serv­ing as part of the Cyprus Oper­a­tions Sup­port Unit it is very much a team effort:

“The major­i­ty of our peo­ple are in hard graft jobs, work­ing 12-hour shifts, han­dling the air­craft in and out, han­dling the freight, han­dling equip­ment moves com­ing in by sea then fly­ing out to Afghanistan,” said Group Cap­tain Thom­son.

“But not just that, all the enabling func­tions like secu­ri­ty, force pro­tec­tion, infra­struc­ture — all of it deliv­ers a capac­i­ty which ulti­mate­ly has an effect on peo­ple deliv­er­ing oper­a­tions.”

RAF Akrotiri han­dles every­thing from fast jets to tanker trans­port air­craft such as the VC10, TriS­tar and Her­cules, as well as the intel­li­gence and sur­veil­lance air­craft that were tem­porar­i­ly based at the sta­tion dur­ing Oper­a­tion ELLAMY, sup­port­ing oper­a­tions over Libya.

Twice a year the activ­i­ty ramps up dur­ing the RiP (Relief in Place) — the changeover of troops in Afghanistan — when up to 14,000 Ser­vice per­son­nel will fly in and out of Akrotiri as they return home or start their tour of duty.

Flight Lieu­tenant Matt Rose is a Duty Air Move­ments Offi­cer respon­si­ble for a traf­fic team of eight staff who con­trol the day-to-day move­ments of the air­craft. This includes the load­ing and unload­ing of pas­sen­gers and freight, as well as the care­ful co-ordi­na­tion of all the teams nec­es­sary to get an air­craft back on its jour­ney:

“The job can have its chal­leng­ing moments, espe­cial­ly when you have three air­craft on the ground at any one time. The turn­around on each air­craft is about 90 min­utes — we do all the back­ground work whilst pas­sen­gers wait in the ter­mi­nal,” said Flight Lieu­tenant Rose.

“As well as my traf­fic team, we have the Vis­it­ing Air­craft Han­dling Sec­tion, the refu­ellers, cater­ing, and the water and toi­let replen­ish­ment vehi­cles all work­ing around the air­craft. When the troops come in our boys and girls can have up to 2,000 bags to unload and move, and they aren’t light!”

One of the youngest serv­ing per­son­nel on the sta­tion is 19-year-old Senior Air­craft­woman Katie Bun­yard, an Air­craft Main­te­nance Mechan­ic on a two-month detach­ment from RAF Brize Nor­ton.

As part of 99 Squadron, Senior Air­craft­woman Bun­yard mar­shals in the C-17, the largest air­craft in the RAF’s inven­to­ry. In Akrotiri, she works as part of the Vis­it­ing Air­craft Han­dling Sec­tion to ensure the rapid prepa­ra­tion of air­craft for the next leg of their jour­ney:

“I get ner­vous when I’m mar­shalling an air­craft because I want to get the air­craft on the right spot,” she explains. “It’s very much a team effort when an air­craft comes in; we co-ordi­nate with the move­ments staff and the refu­ellers to turn around an air­craft. As well as mar­shalling we also get to replen­ish the water and emp­ty the toi­lets!”

One sec­tion that nev­er clos­es at RAF Akrotiri is Flight Oper­a­tions, the hub for all air­craft move­ments at the sta­tion.

Sergeant Andy Smith is a Duty Oper­a­tions Con­troller:

“We cov­er shifts 24-hours-a-day, sev­en-days-a-week, 365-days-per-year,” he says. “My role is to man­age the fly­ing pro­gramme, decon­flict flights and ensure that when an air­craft arrives here we’ll have the facil­i­ties avail­able to look after it.

“I’ll be mon­i­tor­ing flights leav­ing Brize Nor­ton and Camp Bas­tion. Thir­ty min­utes before the expect­ed arrival I’ll call the pilot to get an update then make adjust­ments as required. I take great pride in doing what I can to min­imise delays, keep­ing the move­ments staff informed at all times so they can brief the pas­sen­gers in the ter­mi­nal.”

Offi­cer Com­mand­ing Oper­a­tions, Flight Lieu­tenant Simon Rev­ell, also runs the Res­cue Co-ordi­na­tion Cen­tre as RAF Akrotiri has a Search and Res­cue Squadron that can be called on to assist in emer­gen­cies up to 200 miles (322km) from the base:

“84 Squadron have one Grif­fin heli­copter on per­ma­nent stand­by 24/7, 365-days-a-year, along­side the boats and heli­copters of the Cypri­ot author­i­ties,” said Flight Lieu­tenant Rev­ell.

“We con­trol and co-ordi­nate all res­cues in the Sov­er­eign Base Area which is 98 square miles [254 square kilo­me­tres]. We are a per­ma­nent 24-hour manned unit oper­at­ing on a 60-minute readi­ness, but if there are fast jets oper­at­ing from Akrotiri that is down to 15 min­utes.

“We are quick to respond — the last out-of-hours shout we had, the heli­copter was air­borne, had found and recov­ered the casu­al­ty back to hos­pi­tal with­in 40 min­utes of the call for help.”

“There are two dif­fer­ent roles for us — Search and Res­cue in the win­ter and fire­fight­ing in the sum­mer; we respond to two or three calls a week. An under­slung buck­et can hold a tonne of water from a 30-foot-long (9m) strop — they dip that into the near­est water source, either the sea or a lake, and then fly to the scene of the fire.”

The Griffins of 84 Squadron are the only RAF air­craft per­ma­nent­ly based at RAF Akrotiri. While their pri­ma­ry role is to pro­vide Search and Res­cue cov­er they also pro­vide sup­port to the Army and have a unique fire­fight­ing capa­bil­i­ty.

Offi­cer Com­mand­ing 84 Squadron, Squadron Leader Richard Strook­man, explained the roles:

“Search and Res­cue here is pri­mar­i­ly to sup­port fast jet detach­ments when they arrive on island. But in the wider sphere we also pro­vide Search and Res­cue not only to the Sov­er­eign Base Area but also to the Repub­lic of Cyprus as well and on occa­sion even fur­ther afield.”

Hav­ing a hot cli­mate for much of the year means Cyprus reg­u­lar­ly expe­ri­ences dam­ag­ing fires. For­tu­nate­ly the Griffins of 84 Squadron can be quick­ly fit­ted with under­slung water buck­ets to douse the flames from the air:

“Last year we fought many fires on Cyprus itself but in Decem­ber we were called by the Israelis to help fight some huge fires in Israel and we were the first inter­na­tion­al assets on scene,” said Squadron Leader Strook­man.

The squadron also helps in get­ting per­son­nel used to work­ing with heli­copters before going out to Afghanistan:

“At the moment we’re in the mid­dle of a huge amount of task­ings for an Army exer­cise,” explains Squadron Leader Strook­man. “Troop move­ment is the main thing we do but we can also sim­u­late being an attack heli­copter and pro­vide Med­ical Emer­gency Response Team train­ing.”

One of the major events to take place at RAF Akrotiri this year was the sup­port to Oper­a­tion ELLAMY. Group Cap­tain Thom­son sum­marised:

“We pro­vid­ed a home for the ISTAR [Intel­li­gence, Sur­veil­lance, Tar­get Acqui­si­tion and Recon­nais­sance] capa­bil­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ca­tions facil­i­ties and an imme­di­a­cy of response that allowed peo­ple to set up and deliv­er the effect we all remem­ber from the time.

“The heart­beat of the sta­tion is the peo­ple. RAF Akrotiri per­son­nel are very com­mu­ni­ty-spir­it­ed and they recog­nise there is a mul­ti­ply­ing effect of the com­mu­ni­ty and wel­fare wrap that goes around the place, which has a direct impact on the qual­i­ty of oper­a­tional sup­port we pro­vide.”

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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