UK — Training tactical radio teams to speed up casualty extraction in Helmand

Fol­low­ing requests direct­ly from the Hel­mand front line, tac­ti­cal radio teams are being trained in spe­cialised skills to increase the speed of casu­al­ty extrac­tions from com­bat zones.
In line with the new ini­tia­tive, sol­diers from 1st Bat­tal­ion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) have been recent­ly trained on the pilot Tac­ti­cal — or Tac — Sig­naller Course.

Speak­ing at the Caer­went prov­ing area in Wales, Sergeant James Nicholl, Roy­al Sig­nals Infantry Sup­port Team, 1 RIFLES, explained the think­ing behind the four-week programme: 

“The require­ment was dri­ven by real­i­ties on the ground in Afghanistan — it’s all about the speed of extrac­tion from the field,” he said. 

“We’ve had improve­ments in com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment and now the Tac Sig­nallers will bring faster, more accu­rate infor­ma­tion to the unit.” 

The deci­sion to draft in spe­cial­ist radio oper­a­tors will allow sec­tion com­man­ders to focus on win­ning the fire­fight and plan­ning the next move rather than deal­ing with com­mu­ni­ca­tions traffic: 

“The sec­tion com­man­der has more time to plan the extrac­tion because the Tac Sig­naller deals with the liai­son with medics and set­ting up a land­ing area for the Med­ical Emer­gency Response Team [MERT],” said Sgt Nicholl. 

Dur­ing the intense course, sol­diers were thor­ough­ly tutored on top-of-the-range com­mu­ni­ca­tions kit that allows them to speak direct­ly to sup­port units such as mor­tar teams and casu­al­ty evac­u­a­tion helicopters. 

A major enhance­ment to the equip­ment is the 117 Har­ris radio — pre­vi­ous­ly only used for spe­cial oper­a­tions — which is now with every bat­tal­ion in Afghanistan: 

“These radios are on VHF, UHF and satel­lite chan­nel, and with a tac­ti­cal satel­lite it’s not line-of-sight, you just have to hit a satel­lite and you’re in con­tact,” said Sgt Nicholl. 

“Tac Sig­nallers can go straight to the base­line with­out going through the whole com­mu­ni­ca­tion chain. 

“Some­one in Kan­da­har with our chan­nel can lis­ten to us in deep­est Hel­mand or wher­ev­er else we are as long as we hit a satellite.” 

Before deploy­ing to Afghanistan next year, 1 RIFLES hope to have trained 50 Tac Sig­nallers, giv­ing each patrol access to the skill-set. 

The con­cept is now being eval­u­at­ed across the Army and may be rolled out to oth­er infantry bat­tal­ions via their respec­tive Roy­al Sig­nals sup­port teams. 

As well as deal­ing with radios, Tac Sig­nallers are trained in emer­gency first aid, enabling them to pro­vide full-time med­ical teams with cru­cial details on the con­di­tion of casualties: 

“As trained medics they can treat a casu­al­ty, send off all the impor­tant infor­ma­tion and direct the MERT in,” said Sgt Nicholl. 

“It’s not just a case of being able to use a radio — they must be fit, strong, robust, intel­li­gent and able to have a calm­ness in the heat of battle.” 

One of the sol­diers select­ed for the course’s ground­break­ing first run was Rifle­man Steven Pike. 

After deal­ing with a casu­al­ty and call­ing in a heli­copter while under sim­u­lat­ed ene­my fire dur­ing an exer­cise ser­i­al, he said: 

“This has giv­en me an insight into the radios on the ground. The fact that a Tac Sig­naller can call in every­thing for every­one will real­ly help to speed things up and make it quick­er to extract casualties.” 

As well as speed­ing up the casu­al­ty evac­u­a­tion process, the sol­diers’ tech­no­log­i­cal prowess will add to the intel­li­gence armoury of the infantry battalion. 

Along with their mul­ti-chan­nel radios, they will car­ry ruggedised high per­for­mance wave (HPW) lap­tops with the abil­i­ty to send infor­ma­tion back to base or wher­ev­er else it is required: 

“You can take a pic­ture of a bad guy out on the ground and send it wher­ev­er you want in the world via the HPW,” said Sgt Nicholl. 

“So if you’re out on patrol you can send back infor­ma­tion and images to the FOBs [for­ward oper­at­ing bases] or main base allow­ing them to build up an intel­li­gence pic­ture. This is the top stan­dard of kit we are work­ing with.” 

Those cho­sen to become Tac Sig­nallers will car­ry heav­ier loads and take on more respon­si­bil­i­ty than most of their col­leagues on patrol. 

But rather than see their role as a bur­den, these expert­ly-trained sol­diers realise they will be sav­ing lives and are ready and will­ing to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to the Army’s front line operations. 

This arti­cle is tak­en from the Octo­ber 2010 edi­tion of Sol­dier — Mag­a­zine of the British Army. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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