Culdrose Sea King Squadrons In Afghanistan

Sea King aircrew from  857 Naval Air Squadron in Helmand / © Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

Sea King aircrew from 857 Naval Air Squadron in Helmand / © Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

Posted By Philip Stevens

Cornwall based 857 Naval Air Squadron and 854 Naval Air Squadron have exchanged responsibility for Sea King airborne surveillance and control duties in Helmand, Afghanistan. Both squadrons are based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose and take it in turn to deploy to Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan.

Commander Pat Douglas, the Sea King Force Commander said “854 Naval Air Squadron are trained and ready to continue with this important task. 857 Naval Air Squadron will now return home for a well earned period of rest and can do so safe in the knowledge that they have made a positive difference in this on-going campaign”.

The squadrons operate the Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASaC) helicopter and were originally assigned to operate from aircraft carriers to provide airborne early warning as the ‘eyes of the fleet’. In Afghanistan, some 450 miles from the sea, the SKASaC Force is employed to provide part of the land surveillance picture. The aircraft collect valuable data, which is analyzed to build the pattern of life picture in Helmand province.

Lieutenant Commander Geoff Hayward, Commanding Officer 857 Naval Air Squadron said “Operating a long way from the sea, this maritime helicopter capability has proven to be a tremendous success in helping to stop the flow of drugs and IED components around Helmand. Its state of the art surveillance radar has provided essential coverage in helping to choke insurgent supplies and has been a key contributory factor in protecting Afghan civilians and coalition troops from the effect of IEDs by assisting in the reduction of availability of the materials to build these lethal devices”.

Afghanistan presents a new set of challenges to aircraft engineers more at home on a pitching and rolling deck. Operating so far from the sea, the normal the risk of corrosion from salt water is replaced by the challenge of maintaining the Sea King helicopters in the hot and dusty conditions in Helmand. They have achieved a convincingly high serviceability rate.

Reflecting on the coming months in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Commander ‘Rex’ Harrison, commanding 854 Naval Air Squadron said “Our sister Squadron, 857 Naval Air Squadron, has done a sterling job over the autumn and we are ready to take on the task. My greatest challenge is to maintain the morale of both engineers and aircrew so as to deliver the Royal Navy’s unique surveillance capability”. He added “Phone calls, e-mails and parcels from home are a tremendous boost during these deployments – but more so at Christmas”.

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Source: Joint Media Operations Centre based in Camp Bastion

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