Pumas In Afghanistan: Successful Deployment Of The Puma Force In Afghanistan.
Since taking over from the Chinook Force on 1 April 2015, personnel from the inaugural deployment of the newly upgraded Puma Mk2 have been providing aviation support to British and coalition troops on the NATO-led mission, Operation RESOLUTE SUPPORT in Kabul.
The British personnel remain deployed in Afghanistan, in non-combat roles, assisting the Afghan government and Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. The Puma Mk2s arrived in Afghanistan with 33 Squadron at the end of March, just 3 weeks after declaring Initial Operating Capability. 33 Squadron handed over the mantle to colleagues from 230 Squadron in June, with 33 Squadron set to deploy again shortly.
The first Puma Force personnel deployed a few weeks before the aircraft arrived to ensure that they could smooth the transition from Chinook to Puma and make sure that nothing was missed in the handover. Once the arriving crews had a chance to become suitably acclimatized to the environment (by doing half marathons on treadmills in support of the Benson attendance at the Reading half marathon), they started to filter through their theatre training. This consisted of jump seat flying in the Chinooks whilst waiting for the Pumas to arrive. The airfield itself is 6000ft above sea level and as such provides challenging conditions for all aircraft operating there. As the training progressed, the congested nature of the operating area became apparent with aircraft being operated by both coalition nations and civilian contractors.
As the first detachment progressed and the Pumas arrived, the issues encountered were less to do with threat, and more associated with operating a new aircraft in an unfamiliar environment. Masts, kites and a reduced flight envelope due to altitude all came together to provide a challenging detachment for the aircrew and engineers. The engineers worked tirelessly to ensure Pumas were available for air moves for every day of the entire detachment; an achievement of which they should be rightfully proud, especially considering the unexpected issues that they encountered.
Squadron Leader James Mastin, Commanding Officer of the first Puma Mk2 detachment said, “Initially setting the detachment up was a significant challenge, especially bringing a new aircraft into theatre that hadn’t deployed operationally before, but the efforts of the guys to make thedeployment a success was remarkable.”
“The aircraft performed incredibly, operating in the challenging hot and high environment of Kabul, moving troops and equipment around the city. In the first detachment since taking over from the Chinook Force, we moved over four and a half thousand passengers, which constituted about thirty per cent of the total NATO tasking within our operating area.”
“I feel very proud to have been in command of the first operational detachment for the Puma Mk2 force. I will certainly look back at my time here with pride and with a great deal of gratitude to everybody that has been here, working so hard to ensure the success of this first detachment. As I take my leave and I handover to Squadron Leader Chris Greenwood, I wish my colleagues from our sister Squadron 230 a safe and successful tour”.
The final weeks of the first detachment were spent ensuring that the hand over to 230 Squadron went as smoothly as possible, ensuring that all the lessons learned were passed on. Squadron Leader Greenwood said, “Jim and his team handed over a well established detachment and set an impressive benchmark during their time. As the first 230 Squadron operational deployment of the Puma Mk2, my team and I looked forward to building on the success of 33 Squadron as we took over the vital role of aviation support to British and Coalition troops in Afghanistan.”
230 Squadron followed the 33 Squadron example throughout their tour and are all set to hand back the well-established detachment to their colleagues as they return home to loved ones. The Squadrons will continue to take turns in providing support to the teams in Kabul until the mission is complete and we have no doubt that they will continue to prove the outstanding capabilities of the aircraft and the Puma Force as a whole.