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    TAC Blaze 09-2

   Bringing Gilze-Rijen moves to Cumbria

Carlisle airport owned by Stobart Air saw the return visit of the Royal Netherlands Air Force for TAC Blaze 09-2, for what is now become a biannual deployment and exercise for the Dutch Defence Helicopter Command. On this latest deployment the RNAF flew over seven helicopters from their base at Gilze-Rijen. The aircraft deployed comprised of Three Aerospatiale AS 532ís of 300 Sqn, Three AH 64 Apaches of 301 Sqn and a single CH47 Chinook 398Sqn. From their temporary base at Carlisle they were to conduct numerous sorties into and around the Electronic Warfare Range of Spadeadam over a two week period.

 

Earlier this year on TAC Blaze 01-2009 the RNAF deployed Four Aerospatiale AS 532 this was to test personnel and prove their ability to operate away from their home base whilst being totally self sufficient. The objective of this earlier exercise was also to teach and test a number of new pilots with a variety of tasks. Which included quick stops and carrying under slung loads, most of these operations took place within the confines of Carlisle airfield. Low level flying and map reading took place on and around the Spadeadam range. The crews were then introduced to the electronic warfare aspect of Spadeadam, by being targeted by a wide array of threats, to which the crews could respond by using their counter measures.

 

The TAC Blaze Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Carlisle was set up very quickly a few days prior to the arrival of the main body of personnel and aircraft. Once set up the FOB becomes self sufficient, in all aspects from accommodation to communications. The RNAF now use a unique portable unit instead of tents, know as an expandable this is delivered as a container on the back of a truck and once removed each side is pulled out making it two thirds as big as the original container. Once connected electronically to a generator and via satellite for communications they are ready to use. The units are comfortable bright and air conditioned. They can be used in numerous formats as communications room briefing room, air crew changing rooms, offices, and although on this deployment personnel were accommodated in hotels these expendables could be used for accommodation too. In all some 160 personnel were sent in support of the exercise along with 40 Royal Netherlands Marines they where here as part of their own exercise but carried out the role air assault troops for TAC Blaze and in certain scenarios they played the part of the opposing forces.    

 

The object of this latest deployment TAC Blaze 02 was again to test its service personnel, to operate in the field without support. However for the air crews it was an opportunity to hone their flying skills, by flying an array of scenarios with different aircraft in support i.e. C47 supported by A532 or A532 with AH 64 supporting. At the beginning of the exercise many different situations were set up for each sortie, air support, evacuation, SAR. During which the crews had contending with the continual electronic threats being aimed at them by the Spaeadam team. These sorties would eventually become combined and culminate in a full airborne assault utilising all the helicopters crews and Dutch Marines in one package.

 

A full program of intense flying had been planed for the duration which included a number of night flights. A good rotation of air crews maintain that no one excides their hours during the operation. The aircraft too stood up admirably to their continuous use, with the Technicians having only to perform minimal maintenance whilst completing a fast turn around on the helicopters after each sortie. Throughout the last TAC Blaze Stobart Air fulfilled the refuelling duties, however this time the RNAF brought with them their own browser. With the Apache requiring a particular grade of fuel Stobart Air kindly replaced their own stocks of fuel with the type required for the AH64. In the past the Cumbrian airfield has played host to a number of deployments but at this moment the airfield is under development by its new owners The Eddie Stobart Group. It is hoped that even after the airfield is developed military deployments will still be encouraged.

 

The plan is to continue with more exercises within British airspace under the banner of TAC Blaze and hopefully back at Carlisle next year. My thanks to Lt Col G Bresser and his team for the assistance in compiling this article.