Exercise HERRICK EAGLE
Gary Stedman reports from Wattisham as the Army prepares for Afghanistan. All pictures by the author
A major deployment exercise involving Royal Air Force and Army assets was conducted throughout the UK in late January and early February. Involving up to 3,000 personnel, Exercise 'Herrick Eagle' was intended to prepare the Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade (AAB) for deployment to Afghanistan later this year. The exercise took place across England, with units operating from Wattisham, Stanford Training Area, Sculthorpe and then across to Salisbury Plain Training Area before moving on to operate in the North of England.
As announced in June 2004, the UK has agreed to deploy the Headquarters Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), a British-led NATO headquarters, to command the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from May 2006 to February 2007.
As well as the Army Air Corps, RAF support helicopters were also heavily involved, part of the Joint Helicopter Command concept. The majority of the exercise took place in the usual military training areas although the aviation assets made use of several forward operating locations not normally utilised. Detachments from AAC regiments at Wattisham and Dishforth were both forward deployed in the exercise's early stages, 3 Regiment deploying to Catterick and Dishforth's 9 Regiment in the opposite direction to Wattisham.
Wattisham airfield in Suffolk became a major hub during the exercise, with all aircraft types involved being seen at some point. A Forward Arming and Replenishment Point (FARP) was set up amongst one of the old HAS complexes on the rarely used northern side of the field, ensuring a steady stream of the Army's new fuel tankers to and from the base. Starting on the opening monday, RAF Hercules and Chinooks became daily vistors to the airfield, the C-130s usually only staying long enough to be turned around, but the large Chinooks made a impressive sight as they were refuelled at the FARP before returning to parking on the old disused runway.
The Apache and Lynx detachment from 9 Regiment also operated from Wattisham throughout the first week of Herrick Eagle, returning to the FARP at frequent intervals. As part of 16 AAB, 9 Regiment will make the first UK Apache operational deployment when the brigade goes to Afghanistan.
Flying continued into the first weekend, Saturday in particular being busy, with Chinooks moving several underslung loads between Wattisham and Abingdon during the day and several mixed formations also leaving for the Oxfordshire base. The exercise concluded the following thursday, with most assets returning to their bases and the Wattisham FARP being taken down.
The MoD is also assessing options for a British military contribution in Southern Afghanistan as part of NATO's expansion of the ISAF in 2006. Its intention is to establish a new British-led Provincial Reconstruction Team at Lashgar Gah in the Southern province of Helmand. A final decision won't be made until the MoD is satisfied that it has the right force configuration, other resources are sufficient, particularly on development and finally, negotiations within NATO on the overall force configuration in the south are concluded.