Search & Rescue conference 2013 – Report by Alan Warnes

 


Alan Warnes looks at some of the highlights coming from the 17 speaker presentations at SAR 2013, held at Grand Hotel, Brighton on June 4-5, 2013.

 

TANGENT LINK was delighted to secure the services of Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey KCB, CBE Chief Executive, Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) to deliver the keynote speech:

“While most people are aware the UK’s Search and Rescue (SAR) role is going through a period of change, the MCA is also in the midst of restructuring.  There were 18 Rescue Monitoring Coordination Centres (RMCCs) running largely because of the enthusiasm of people working in them.  However, it was inefficient with three people generally working at any one station regardless of conditions time of year or workload.

“A decision was taken to cut the number to 11 with 68 people, with three open 24 hours but it was rejected by workers and now a new network is being created that will we brief people as the system evolves.  Most employees are now positive about the way ahead.
“Civil helicopters at four bases will expand to ten.  Bristow Helicopters won a 13 year contract [worth £1.6 billion signed on March 26, 2013] that will start from 2015, with all the Sea Kings gone by 2017. Retirement of the Sea King was the ‘tipping point’ for the contract.
“The decision to out source the SAR work was not taken lightly, and seeks significant investment from Bristow Helicopters.  Many nations are looking on to see how this will work, looking at it as a novel approach to maintaining a 24 hour SAR capability.
“There will be ten bases housing 22 helicopters, every aircraft will bear HM Coastguard livery and there will be strict guidelines to ensure it operates well.
“New service will be 360 degrees – inland and at sea.  As a result the coastguard could in effect take on Police and Air Ambulance responsibilities. One central co ordination centre will create a more efficient system and helicopters could multirole, if some had the appropriate equipment on board.
“We are looking at the idea of integrating the Air Rescue Coordination Centre at RAF Kinloss into the MRCC, probably in 2017 when the new contract starts. Bringing the ARCC into the MCA responsibility would make the operation slicker and undoubtedly save some costs.

“The Coastguard operates civil helicopters, so it was decided that UK SAR could easily fit into its network.

“There is also a case for looking at the Fixed Wing capability, as SAR goes out to 30 degrees west (917 miles from Scottish coast) and there was no replacement for the Nimrod when was retired [in 2011].  We can use the C-130s some times and MPAs from partner nations.  We have outsourced some work to Cessna 400s [Reconnaissance Ventures Ltd] looking for oil pollution as top cover’.

 

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 Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey KCB, CBE, Chief Executive of Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) delivers his keynote speech at Tangent Link’s UK SAR Conference. All photos, Alan Warnes

 

Lt Andy Watts 771 Squadron CO talked of his unit’s rich tradition, born from the North Sea floods that affected East Anglia and the Netherlands in 1953.  He went on to tell everyone that the Sea King retirement is expected to take place in March 2016.  This relies upon the MCA’s new UK SAR contract with Bristow helicopters being in place and ready. The Royal Navy helicopter Search and Rescue (SAR) celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

 

John Morphew, Assistant Director, Asset Management of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, is tasked with delivering the UK SAR helicopter programme.

“There are mechanisms in the contract to ensure Bristows meets the availability goals and other targets and the response times will be the same as now.

“If the appropriate asset is owned by Bristows it will be deployed whatever the emergency situation is.  The contract will commence in September 2015, there will be 22 helicopters – 11 AW 189s and 11 S-92s.  Two will be used for training. These will also be available for emergency call out during surge times”

 

UK SAR Helicopters Transition Schedule

Lot/Helo (No)    Original Base     Bristow Proposed    Infrastructure              Transition

1 S-92 (2)           Leconfield          Humberside              New Build                  1.04.2015

2 AW189 (2)      Lossiemouth       Inverness                  New Build                  1.04.2015

1 S92 (2)            Valley                 Caernarfon               New Build                  1.07.2015

2 AW189 (2)      Wattisham          Manston                   New Build                  1.07.2015

2 AW189 (2)      Chivenor            Cardiff                     New/Hangar Refurb   1.10.2015

2 AW189 (2)      Prestwick           Prestwick                 New Build                  1.01.2016

1 S92 (2)            Culdrose             Newquay                  New Build                  1.01.2016

2 AW189 (2)      Lee on Solent     Lee on Solent           Existing Facility          1.04.2017

1 S-92 (2)           Sumburgh           Sumburgh                 Existing Facility          1.04.2017

1 S-92 (2)           Stornoway          Stornoway                Existing Facility          1.04.2017

 

With the cutting back of 12 bases to ten, the coverage currently being provided at Portland and Boulmer will see their responsibilities taken on by other Bristow facilities.

 

The key features of contract are:

• 98% availability

• Response to SAR incidents within 15 minutes during the day and 45 minutes during the night.

• A service that can reach all very high, high and 75% of medium risk areas within 60 minutes of take off.

• Can surge multiple aircraft to an incident.

• All aircraft will be tasked by the MCA through the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) at RAF Kinloss. MCA is keen to stipulate this is not privatization…

• Operating from ten bases

• All aircraft will carry HM Coastguard livery.

• An overall faster response time reduced from 23 minutes to 19 minutes.

The migration of military personnel to the contractors has been controlled, under the Managed Transition agreement, to ensure the Fleet Air Arm do not run short of key personnel.  Anyone interested should have applied by May 31, 2013. The crew mix in the UK SAR contract is expected to comprise one third civilian aircrew and two thirds existing military aircrew.

 

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 John Morphew spoke about the key features of the UK SAR contract and the timetable that will see Bristow Helicopters take over from Navy and RAF Sea Kings.

Captain Esteban Pacha, Director General, International Mobile Satellite Organisation  (IMSO) spoke of his agency’s responsibilities to its 97 state members. IMSO oversees public satellite safety and security communication services to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). IMSO also acts as co-ordinator of the Long Range Identification and Tracking of ships (LRIT) system, which has been appointed by the International Maritime Organisation to be established worldwide.  LRIT offers communication infrastructures to disseminate maritime safety co-ordination, route distress calls, locate and track ships in need of assistance and ensure proper co-ordination of all search and rescue operations. The system is being used in the Gulf of Aden and Western Indian Ocean to provide naval forces involved in operations against piracy.

 

Lt Cdr Pedro Coelho Dias, Deputy Ops Manager at Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Lisbon talked about Portuguese SAR response.  His SAR coverage is the second biggest SAR region in the world, with an area of almost some 3,800,000 square miles (6,000,000 sq kms). The waters are crossed by 180,000 different ships each year, which is increasing.  It covers the Lisbon – Azores-Madeira triangle and the airborne assets used to cover are Portuguese Air Force P-3s, Casa 295s and EH 101s.

UAVs trials have taken place to detect targets with constraints but a system is being developed to keep a cheaper eye on the coastlines, while working with the AIS.

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With the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) looking at a complete solution to its Fixed Wing SAR requirements, Lt Col Chris Conway, the Director for Air Requirements (Air Mobility and SAR) spoke of Canada’s current Acquisitions and its future requirements.

Canada’s vast and unevenly populated country has lead to the development of a unique SAR system that sees overland SAR as important as overwater SAR.  Stretching 3400 miles (5,500 km) from east to west, with six time zones and a landmass roughly equivalent to the European continent yet with only 5% of its population, it represents a unique operational challenge. There is seven million sq miles (18 million sq km) of land, six million square miles (16 million sq km) of water to be covered and a population of 34.5 million people.

It relies heavily on space based sensors and frequently on CASARA (Canada’s Civilian SAR Association, while maintaining eight aircraft (four primary Fixed Wing SAR and four Rotary Wing) at five locations:

Comox, BC                    CC-115 Buffalo, CH 149 Coromorant

Winnipeg, MB               CC-130 Hercules

Trenton, ON                   CC-130 Hercules, CH 146 Griffon

Greenwood, NS             CH 149 Cormorant, CC-130 Hercules

Gander, NL                    CH 149 Cormorant

While the CC-130 Hercules now performs many of eastern Canada’s SAR operations, the short take off and landing (STOL) capabilities of the CC-115 Buffalo have kept it in use in the Rocky and CoastalMountain ranges.  All six are employed by 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of Comox, BC.  The squadron is responsible for the SAR Zone stretching from the BC – Washington border to the Arctic, and from the Rocky Mountains to 1200 km out over the Pacific Ocean.  The 13 CC-130s are faster and with a longer range is more suited than the Buffalo to attend a SAR emergency anywhere in the Canadian AOR.  The Hercules are flown by 413, 424 and 435 (T&R) Squadrons.

The RCAF’s primary dedicated SAR helicopter is the CH-149 Cormorant which operates in the most rugged of conditions.  A Mid Life Upgrade (MLU) is a necessity with new sensors a top priority, initial operating clearance (IOC) for the MLU is 2020. The three engined helicopter is operated by 103, 413 and 442 Sqn.

It is augmented by 15 CH1-46 Griffon painted yellow and configured for SAR, surveillance, recce, casevac and relief operations, they have also played their own part in national and international humanitarian relief operations.

No 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron at CFB Trenton is the primary SAR squadron, flying CC-130 and CH-146. The remaining 10 yellow CH-146s are split up between 417 Sqn at ColdLake, 439 Sqn at Bagotvile and 444 Sqn at GooseBay, all Combat Support Sqns in support of Wing Utility and SAR Ops.

These are Secondary SAR Sqns and technically just the same as the CC-138 Twin Otter, CH 124 Sea King and CP 140 Aurora that form the second tier of SAR resources, as could a CF-18 Hornet.

The CC-115 Buffalos are expected to soldier on until 2018-2020 while the CC-130H is expected to continue to 2021. Canada is now committed to replacing its existing Fixed Wing SAR (FWSAR) fleet, with a new capability expected to have reached IOC in 2017.  It is imperative that a solution is found well before they retire.

The RCAF want to acquire a new, already certified, FWSAR aircraft fleet(s) with military aircrew and military first line maintainers and a service life of 20 years.  A mixed fleet is a possibility if that is thought to be the best way ahead.  There will be one single point of accountability’ with one prime contractor for the fleet and a Canadian ISS integrator. Another stipulation is that training has to be carried out in Canada.

It is a capability based procurement rather than prescribed-based, when in the past the RCAF has used whatever aircraft they have had in its inventory.

“It is a mandate to procure an asset that can get to the very extreme” Lt Colonel Conway explained .

“We have already released many of the Basic Air Vehicle’s requirements, and by late summer we will release the Draft Request for Proposal, followed within a year by the full Request for Proposal” he added

The platform should be equipped with a search-radar and a dual sensor station, a SAR payload of 3374 lbs (1530 kgs), be certified and fitted with a ramp.

Aircraft currently been considered are Embraer 390, V-22 Osprey, CC-130, C-27J, CASA 295 and upgraded Buffalo.

The Embraer 390 came to the competition late, but it is being considered, although it is the only jet option.  It would seem to meet requirements and could do the job, but the challenge for Embraer is the time frame. First aircraft has to be delivered in 2017, with IOC in 2018 and the aircraft has not flown yet. Full Operating Capability is set for 2021.

The Osprey is an interesting option and could be a game changer, with the tilt-rotor certainly posing a challenge to the way the RCAF currently does FWSAR operations.  The upgraded Buffalo is being proposed by Field Aviation and Viking.

 

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 Lt Col Chris Conway spoke of the need for a new fleet of Fixed Wing SAR aircraft, based upon capability procurement rather than using existing aircraft already in the RCAF inventory. These are the candidates.

 

CN 235 aircraft as a Support for Long Distance SAR Operations was a combined effort delivered by Baba Devani of Avincis, UK which came very close to clinching the UK SAR helicopter contract.  The other person was Nestor Perales who is responsible for the national Search and Rescue service in Spain –SASEMAR.

Avincis as a global company, specializes in life and rescue, safety and co-ordination and energy support.  It owns four companies – INAER, Bond Helicopters, Australian Helicopters and Norway Helicopter Services.

INAER has some 2,213 employees working in Chile, France, Italy, Portugal, Peru, Spain and the United Kingdom with a fleet of 305 aircraft. The business operates in medical emergency, civil protection, sea and mountain search and rescue, coast and fishing surveillance, firefighting, aerial works, training and aircraft maintenance. Based in Spain, INAER is the leading global provider of aerial emergency services and aircraft maintenance for mission-critical operations.  INAER has a strong commitment to ongoing investments in innovation, development and constant fleet renewal.

One of its commitments is the Salvamento Maritimo, the Spanish Coast Guard which was established in 1992 to provide SAR and maritime pollution coverage.  The agency has 73 vessels, 11 helicopters comprising two S-61s and nine AW139s and three CASA CN 235s.  There are 14 bases to be maintained all over Spain, manned by INAER personnel:

North Atlantic/Cantabrian Sea coverage:

Cee (AW139), Coruna (S-61), Gijon (AW139), Santander (AW139), Santiago (CN 235).

Mediterranean Sea:

Reus (AW139), Palma de Mallorca (AW139), Valencia (AW139 and CN 235).

Strait of Gibralter:

Jerez (AW139), Almeria (AW139).

Canary Islands:

Tenerife (AW139), Las Palmas (S-61 and AW139)

The two S-61s will be replaced by two EC 225s next year.

 

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Baba Devani talks about Avincis, which unsuccessfully bid for the UK SAR contract.

 

Roly McKie, Staff Officer Maritime Operations, MCA provided a fascinating overview of the hazards that SAR and Offshore Renewable installations can offer.  Offshore windfarms can be particularly dangerous when a SAR recovery is required, particularly the big blades that are getting bigger, and the danger increases when there are a large number of them in a confined area.  A lively discussion took place with many people providing input.

 

The Icelandic Coast Guard’s Lt Cdr Reynir Clint’ Brynjarsson, a Helicopter SAR Crew member and helicopter technician provided an overview of SAR in Hostile Environments.

The ICG’s main role is safety, security surveillance and law enforcement at sea, so it covers several roles:

• Fisheries control and enforcement

• Pollution surveillance and response

• Natural resources and ecology protection

• Protection against illegal activities such as illegal migration and drug trafficking.

• Salvage and Rescue diving

• International co-operation

He provided some amazing footage of one of the AS332s hovering over a ship with no power as it was tossed around in the sea, trying to rescue the crew.  Some of the imagery showed how precarious the conditions are most of the time during SAR missions around Iceland.

The Coast Guard operates three AS 332 Super Pumas and a single Dash 8 Q300.  The latter is impressively equipped.  With a maximum endurance of ten hours, normal surveillance can last some 5-7 hours.  The aircraft is used to monitor vessels from all over the world in their waters, using a Elta 2022 maritime surveillance radar, MSS 6000 Side-looking radar, Wescam MX-15 EO/IR sensor integrated with AIS.  Pretty impressive and its not surprising it has been used for operations in Africa, Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean.

 

Integration of Irish Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue with a Health Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) was presented by Ciaran McHugh a SAR Winch Op and Winchman Instructor on S92A.

The first HEMS approved S-92A has been operating from Shannon since July 1, 2012 and will be followed by another at Sligo on July 1, 2013; Waterford on September 1, 2013 and Dublin in September 2013.  A fifth training helicopter is being used at Shannon but this may eventually move to Waterford.  The helicopters use a L3 Wescam MX-15Hdi for pinpointing the emergency location.

The IRCG operated four S-61s but these are now being phased out, with the first one already sold and further examples will be retired as further deliveries take place.

Ciaran also mentioned that a Irish Air Corp AW139 is on a 12 month trial in the centre of Ireland being used as a back up for the Irish Coast Guard.  It’s trial has been extended for an additional three months.

 

 

Dave Wilson is the Operations Officer/Watch Leader, Maritime New Zealand at the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) he provided a gripping insight into the dangers of SAR in the Antarctic.

The RCCNZ’s erea of responsibility spans 11 million square miles (30 million square kms), with New Zealand only occupying 103,000 square miles (268,000 square kms) of that. Many vessels down that way are in the area, to catch Toothfish, a popular delicatessen in many countries, particularly in US, where they are called Chilean Sea Bass!

As you can imagine there are many challenges when it comes to SAR, predominantly the distances, resources and harsh environment.  The only SAR assets based in Antarctic are three helicopters – an AS350 Squirrel and two Bell 412s.  McMurdo Sound where the US has a science station is some 3,700 miles (5,954kms) from New Zealand’s capital Auckland.

Coverage can be maintained by US LC-130Rs based at McMurdo Sound during the summer months, while C-17s can also carry out the role while shuttling down from Christchurch.  The New Zealand Defence Force offers a C-130H, Boeing 757 and a P-3K Orion long range maritime patrol aircraft.

A bilateral agreement with Chile and Australia sees all nations co-ordinate closely with each other in SAR jobs.

There were 18 SAR ops during 2012 unfortunately 33 people lost their lives – 22 from the same fishing vessel.  Dave spoke of two SAR operations – one involved a Russian fishing vessel, the Spartan with 32 crew members in December 2011.  The boat was taking on water and got stuck in ice and frantic efforts over several weeks only succeeded when a Korean vessel capable of breaking ice got to them and led them out.  In between the RNZDF had airdropped a pump in a bid to get the water out of the ship.

The second operation involved a Twin Otter, C-GKBC that had crashed at 13,000 ft close to the summit of Mt Elizabeth in January 2012.  Numerous efforts to find the aircraft which still had its emergency beacon functioning, were attempted by helicopters leap-frogging’ to the crash site using fuel caches dropped from the air.  It took the helicopters four days to get to their destination because of the bad weather, when they saw that there had been a catastrophic crash that no one could have survived. The earliest they will be able to recover the lost crew will be October when the weather starts to improve.

This was one of the most interesting presentations, which most people enjoyed.

 

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 The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) area of responsibility spans a whopping 11 million square miles (30 million square kms).

 

Future Coastguard Modernisation was presented by Peter Dymond, OBE the Acting Chief Coastguard, who has just a few months to run until retirement. He definitely has had a busy past few years…

He has been trying to modernize the Coastguard over the past few years.  There were initially 18 MRCCs grouped into nine pairs covering specific areas. While the MRCC pairs offer some support between the two MRCCs, beyond the pairings support to the remaining MRCC pairs was sparse. Such structures limited flexibility, resilience and interoperability between MRCCs, making it difficult to spread workloads to cope with the increases in emergency/non emergency calls between them.

“In recent years there has been a lack of progression in trying to be more efficient.  We are now trying with an improved level of service at less cost.  This will lead to increased rewards with more career opportunities for those working in the Coastguard.” Peter told us.

There have been many consultations and the way forward is now clear.  The main requirement is security and safety which will be achieved through:

• Maritime Surveillance – the systematic and continuous observation of the maritime domain to achieve effective situational awareness.

• Maritime Domain Awareness – the understanding of activities carried out at sea to support timely decision making in the fields of Maritime Security and Maritime Safety.

• HM Coastguard role – pro-active vessel traffic monitoring, as per EU Directive and sharing intelligence data across EU network.

There will be a fundamental shift of the area based concept of operations with limited interoperability and resilience that brings resource and functional challenges. Instead the national networked service and concept of operations will become a single virtual entity, nationally distributed for resilience and retention of distributed knowledge.

These new MRCCs will be housed at Falmouth, Milford Haven, Holyhead, Belfast, Humber, Aberdeen, Stornoway, Shetland and Dover with a purpose built National Maritime Operations Centre at Portsmouth which was earmarked as fire operations centre but will now be at the hub of the maritime operations.

It was revealed during one of the subsequent networking discussions that two Cessnas owned by Reconnaissance Ventures (previously Air Atlantique) are re being used by the HM Coastguard for surveillance.  Meanwhile Direct Flight, with two Cessna F406s, is being used by the Scottish Fisheries for maritime surveillance work.

 

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 HM Coastguard’s eight new MRCCs will be co-ordinated by the NMOC as depicted here.

 

Marcus Gurtner, Chief Sales Officer of Airborne Technologies told us of the turn key solutions in aircraft/sensor work the company is involved in. Based at Wiener Neustadt in Austria, Airborne Technologies is currently focused on the integration of sensor systems on two fixed wing aircraft.  The Tecnam MMA, restricted to a 848 lbs (385kg) payload can be equipped with an L3 Wescam MX 10 or FLIR Ultra Force 350 with a Scotty Satcom and the Euroavionics operator workstation.  The other platform is the Vulcan Air P-68TC Observer with a MX-15 or FLIR Star Safire, a Scotty Satcom and Euroavionics operator workstation.  Airborne Technologies has recently delivered the first such P-68TC to the German Police in Hessen while the company has worked with Indra on a Tecnam P2006T  MRI (EC-LUM) for the Spanish Coast Guard.

Interestingly, Marcus revealed at the conference that Airborne Technologies is now working on an Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) version of the Tecnam MMA with the impressive Selex 5000E Seaspray maritime surveillance radar. He expects the OPV will be able to stay airborne for 10+ hours.

Airborne Technologies has recently upgraded two German Police Eurocopter EC 135 helicopters with a new more modern surveillance system.  The work includes the L3 Wescam MX-15 with digital recording integrated into a new mission control system.  With carbon fibre used wherever possible, making it lighter, an extra 20 minutes has been added to the EC 135’s mission time.

 

Brett Hartnett is the Exercise Director/Technical Manager of Exercise Angel Thunder a Personnel Recovery/Combat Search and Rescue exercise that takes place in the south west of USA.  Some 23 nations attended with 3,017 participants and 109 aircraft at this year’s event.  It has grown from 175 participants in 2006.

Angel Thunder 13 trained 14 US squadrons for spin up’ training before deploying overseas, all in one area in two weeks.  With a budget of just $1.75 million, six full time and three part time contractors managed to deliver an exercise that spanned New Mexico, Arizona and California.  The exercise covered 730 miles (1175kms) heading west to east, including the Pacific and 280 miles (451kms) north to south, covering an area similar to the same size as Afghanistan.

Participants came from the USAF, USASOC, USMC, USN and US Interagency teams like US Forest Service and Homeland Security Investigation.  There were 13 international participants and five observers.  Brazil and Colombia sent a C-130 while Singapore sent three CH-47Ds from FortRucker in Texas.  On one scenario A-10s landed and taxied across a dry lake bed, while a HC-130 tanked HH-60s over the sea.  “This was the seventh Angel Thunder exercise, and unlike many US military exercises hasn’t been a victim of sequestration because of the value for money it is perceived to offer.” Brett told us.

 

Captain Sergio R Carbonelli discussed the Response at Sea in Spain. He is the head of International Relations, for SASEMAR Sociedad de Salvamento Y Seguridad Maritima.

He gave a fascinating overview of how Spain prepares and responds to oil spills at sea, often at huge expense to the taxpayer.

 

Director of Operations for the French Air Force’s 1/67th Helicopter Combat Squadron (EH 1/67) Cdt Guillaume Vernet spoke about the need for Long Range Combat SAR.  The ability to conduct missions with a limited footprint, an extended combat radius and the capacity to manage equally rapid response and long term operations is essential to the execution of combat missions.  The capability to recover isolated personnel from hostile or denied territory is a key factor.  Its requirements are in-between political and military operations.  For that reason, nations or coalitions cannot plan on deploying troops without a robust combat rescue supporting asset.

Having been on a three year exchange at Moody AFB, Georgia, Cdt Vernet discussed CSAR from a US perspective and looked at the unsuccessful bid to free the hostages in Iran in 1980 – Operation Eagle Claw.  He explained how a CH-53 hit a HC-130 while taxi-hovering that resulted in both aircraft catching fire and destroyed, which meant five other CH-53s could not refuel from the HC-130 and were left behind.  Eight troops were KIA.

He pointed out that the CSAR title is no longer in vogue, having now been succeeded by Personnel Recovery, which encompasses the recovery of downed aircrew, captured people (hostages) and other civilians in danger.

Operational effectiveness is improved by Forward Armament and Refueling Points (FARPs) and he showed a map that illustrated all the FARP locations in Afghanistan.

He highlighted how the helicopter was vulnerable during air to air refueling, while on a  CSAR mission and gave an example of this during a sortie in Afghanistan: “I took off from Kabul, then head for tanker support in RC North.  The doors of the helicopter (EC 725) were taken off for brown-out reasons.  We hit’ the drogue and when pressure was released from the probe, the gas flew in the cab and my visibility was minimal, in fact it was very blurry.  You don’t need that when you are doing air to air refueling.”

When I asked him about ops in Mali, he told the audience that initial ops were in Bamako then headed to Timbucktu and then into the mountains in the north of the country, where most of the rebels were hiding out, fighting with government-backed troops.  He said that there had been over 200 medevac sorties and around 24 bodies, mainly of Chad and Mali troops were recovered by his unit.

 

Lt Col Peter van den Broucke, the Commander of Koksijde Air Base in Belgium provided an honest overview of the effects the NH90 delays are having on his Belgium search and rescue assets. Back in 2007, the Belgium Government ordered eight NH90s – four in Tactical Transport version (TTH) and four in a NATO Frigate Helicopter version (NFH).  After 40 years of dedicated service of the Sea King and Alouette III, the NH90 NFH is a welcome replacement for the Belgian SAR capability and Navy seaborne operations.

 

Delivery schedules

No                   Initial Plan       Revised Plan

NBEN01         June 2011        June 2013

NBEN02         Sep 2011         Oct 2013

NBEN03         Nov 2011        March 2014

NBEN04         Jan 2012          June 2014

However as the above table shows, the programme has been delayed two years so far and Lt Col de Broucke is not hopeful the revised deadline will be met. “As a result we will be forced to re-invest in the Sea King.  The old aircraft should be retired by the end of 2015 but its more likely to be 2016 now.  As a result 40 Squadron is likely to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Sea King that year…so we should have a big party!”

Delivery of the third helicopter in May 2014 is planned to coincide with retirement of the first Sea King.  Initial Operating Clearance in December 2014 should see 60% of the 24 hour SAR requirement being met by NH90. He is confident the first and second helicopters would be delivered with in the revised timescales, but was more skeptical about the third and fourth.

He voiced his concerns when I asked him about the likelihood of the NH90s being delivered on time: “I am afraid that No 3 and 4 which have been shifted backwards to 2014 will not be ready. I need these four machines to re-start [take over] SAR operations. However in my opinion this is likely to occur sometime in 2016.

“What I hear from industry is that No 4 is ready for production, but they don’t have enough parts to start working on it.  So if that gets delayed, I will be forced to go back to the Sea King”.

The first NH90NFH was expected to be handed over at Eurocopter’s Donauworth plant in Germany, to the Belgium Government on July 11, 2013 and it is then expected to be flown to Marseille to commence pilot training. The new helicopter completed its first flight on April 5.

Lt Col de Broucke summed up his frustration by adding “European industry must improve its job, it should take a look at itself because its reputation is at stake. These delays are very frustrating and industry should be aware of that.”

 

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 Eight NH90s will be split between Beauvechain (4xNH90TTH) and Koksijde (4xNH90NFH) with maintenance also carried out at Beauvechain.

 

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 Military staff from four nations – Cdt Guillaume Vernet (French Air Force), Lt Col Chris Chambers (Royal Canadian Air Force), Cdr Reynir Clint’ Brynjarsson (Iceland Coast Guard), Lt Col Bruno Kuhberger (Austrian Air Force).

 

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 SAR Demonstration in full flow,with delegates looking on, from the Grand Hotel’s 6th floor. A nice day for it!

 

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 Carsten Sommer, Chief Technical Officer of DDCATED protective clothing based in Denmark shows off their new protective suit usually worn under a flying suit.

 

Chairman: Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB FRAes

Principal VIP Sponsor: Avincis

Strategic Sponsor: Airborne Technologies

 

 

Report by Alan Warnes.

follow Alan on twitter: twitter@warnesyworld