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TAC Blaze 12-1 

           The RNLAF Helicopter Commands TAC Blaze of 2012 begins.

             Despite a slight delay due to poor weather in the Netherlands the RNLAF latest biannual deployment to Carlisle got underway again on March 12th, all be it with a reduced number of aircraft being deployed this time around. The aircraft detached to this exercise were three CH47ís of 297Sqn and one AS532 Cougar of 300Sqn the reduction was due in part to the recent defence budget cuts made by the Dutch MOD. In spite of the reduction of aircraft, the number of air crews on the course remained the same as in previous years. So in order for the RNLAF to maintain its commitment to their training schedule by using fewer aircraft, extending the time frame would be the answer. What had normally been a two week deployment at this stage of TAC Blaze has now been extended to three. Being a three week course also has the benefit of allowing the planners the scope with which to rearrange training schedules should the program suffer delays due to reasons beyond their control, i.e. technical reasons or the weather.

             TAC Blaze is part of the Royal Netherlands Air Force continuing obligation to maintaining crewís skills and readiness. On the course there is a mix of new and existing air crews. The experienced air crews are here to remain current in their combat readiness and the less experienced crews are here to gain experience in how to remain safe within a hostile environment.

                   Whilst operating from Carlisle the deployment is completely self sufficient bringing with them their ground crews, communications, security even their own meteorologist. In all the Air Force sent 140 personnel of which the air crews rotated on weekly basis. Itís now a well rehearsed drill fir ground crews setting up the FOB (Forward Operating Base) at Carlisle, where they utilise part of a disused runway for the FOB. A set up that the airfield owners Stobart Air (a subsidiary of the transport group) are happy to see continuing by giving their assurances of long term support to the RNLAF for any future deployments.

           Also on site and training alongside the Air Force are around a 100 members from the 11th Air Mobile Brigade of the Dutch Army whose own training overlaps that of the rotary wing by utilize the helicopters, familiarizing themselves in rotary airborne operations. Practicing insertion and extraction techniques and enabling the troops to gain their mission qualifications and becoming fully combat ready. Alongside the air crews, the army too will rotate their contingent each week. Upon arrival at Carlisle and in order to get the flying underway at the earliest, all flying crews are given a brief by the RAF on how to use the UKís Low Flying zones. With the brief complete within an hour the flying program began. The Electronic Warfare Range at Spadeadam has long been a favorite with the RNLAF in a number of ways its location lets pilots train in a terrain dissimilar to their country whilst encountering a variety of simulated threats aimed at them by the Range Controllers.

               A reprieve for 300 Squadron

                  300 Squadrons previous visit to Carlisle was during the last TAC Blaze held in 2011 and the speculation at the time was that this may be their last exercise and the likelihood was that upon returning to the Netherlands the squadron would be disbanded. However after some deliberation by the Dutch MOD it was deemed that the RNLAF would keep three AS532 Cougarís in a SAR capacity. Since then and after further deliberations the Dutch MOD have increased the number of airframes that 300Sqn will operate to eight and increase its duties. So for the time being there is still the requirement for the Cougar and its crews to be combat ready. This is reflected in 300Sqnís present day duties, which are currently operating two AS532 Cougarís from HNMLS Rotterdam on Anti Piracy duties for NATO. This would indicate the return of the squadron for the next TAC Blaze later in the year.