2017 NATO Tactics Meet
Following a period of uncertainty, the 2017 NATO ‘Tactics’ Meet was given the green light, giving the Mighty 230 Squadron the go ahead to embark on their valiant endeavour.
With great gusto, OC 230 Sqn, Wg Cdr Toby Sawbridge, gave his rallying cry, unleashing the DetCo, Sqn Ldr ‘Birty’ Birtwistle on his foray across the English Channel to Landivisiau Naval Airbase, near Brest, France. Perhaps misunderstanding the chant of ‘to Brest!’, a small contingent of cycling enthusiasts, led by the Froomesque Sqn Ldr Monahan immediately set forth from Benson, racing down the length of France; their daring story is chronicled in another ‘tail’ in this edition of the Lion’s Roar, and is certainly worth a read!
Meanwhile, Flt Lt Eleanor Hoogewerf and the fearless Flt Lt Frost, along with the fledgling Sgt Al ‘Dolf’ Dixon, and wannabee Tiger Sgt Lewis Quilter, bounded across the channel in their Puma 2. Arriving with remarkable precision, the Puma reached Landivisiau just as the 2 other UK participants, 814 and 849 Squadron from the Royal Navy, made landfall from Culdrose. The triumvirate of UK rotary wing assets joined 55 other aircraft from 20 Squadrons, in one of the biggest air exercises of the year to be held in Europe.
For those new to the NATO Tactics Meet, the pace is frantic, and the tone set from the outset. The Exercise is an opportunity to showcase your Squadron and nation’s skills and identity on a competitive yet friendly international stage.
First and foremost, come each nation’s prowess in the air. Every day, two waves of mission are launched. The morning wave is the main COMAO (Composite Air Operation) consisting of various helicopters, Fast Jets, AWACS as well as ships, ground based air defence systems and army ground units. These missions are planned the preceding day in considerable detail, and the execution of them requires a great deal of precision, not least because the participating units come from all over Europe and consist of pilots whose mother tongue tends not to be English. Communications between the multiple assets have to be thought through and with 55 aircraft departing and arriving within a very short time frame, each callsign is given only a one minute window; if you miss it you’re out! As the Exercise progressed the complexity and intensity of the mission sets ramp up as nations get used to operating with each other, and each nation is given the opportunity to be the mission commander for one of these complex sorties. For senior crews this represents a significant challenge, and for newer members of the squadron, being part of the planning and execution of these missions is a real eye opener. The success of the mission though relies on every part of the detachment working together: engineers, ops, squippers, all play vital part and that cohesiveness and cooperation significantly increases the bond and relationship between the various elements and led to a fantastic atmosphere.
The competition on the exercise did not end with the flying though. On most evenings there was an event laid on, designed to allow everyone to integrate and build relationships in a social atmosphere. An international night was a chance for nations to showcase their nation’s cuisine (or lack thereof!), attire and culture as a whole. A sports day offered the chance to flex a bit national muscle and a skit night was an opportunity to show off our famous British sense of humour! Indeed the 230 Sqn skit which was described reverently by one of the German viewers as ‘very close to ze bone!’, proved victorious amongst all the skits, granting us honours at the final prize giving ceremony; ‘Only you Britishers can get away with zat sort of thing!’.
Unlike almost every other exercise of its sort, with its friendly good natured competition and excellent training opportunities, the NATO ‘Tactics’ Meet once again proved its worth both in terms of improving participants skill sets and morale, as well as integrating us into the international fraternity of nations. TTT!