31 Squadron Prepare for Deployment

RAF Marham’s 31 Squadron was recently put through its paces as part of the final preparations for a forthcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

During ‘War Week’, personnel of 31 Squadron faced a variety of scenarios designed to mirror what they may encounter when operating for four months from Kandahar Airfield. These include Tornados scrambling at short notice to go to the aid of troops in danger, simulated rocket attacks on the base and the delivery of immediate first aid to casualties.

Squadron Leader Kevin Gatland is responsible for the operational preparedness of 31 Squadron: “Nearly forty per cent of the squadron strength has not been out to Afghanistan before so having this week of intensive training focuses everyone’s mind because it involves all the essential elements we encounter when we deploy.

“The focussed training of War Week allows us to deploy with confidence. The enthusiasm shown by the entire squadron has been fantastic. Combined with the training elements made available to us everyone is taking the opportunity to maximise their individual and team training to make the most of the week.”

The exercise seeks to train all personnel, whatever their experience or role. As a RAF Armourer, Sergeant Chris Perkins is responsible for all weapons, flares and ejection seats aboard a Tornado.

“War Week reinforces what the armourers learn in training. Here they get to practice the loading of weapons and the RAPTOR reconnaissance pod on a daily basis which gets them into the tempo for theatre.

“It can be a steep learning curve as some of the weapons are not routinely carried in the UK. It goes without saying that safety is paramount in everything an armourer does and the time pressures imposed by War Week due to the active flying programme provides unrivalled training, we can’t get this anywhere else.”

Wing Commander Mike Bracken who leads the team responsible for providing the training said: “31 Squadron have approached this with an extremely positive and professional attitude and some individuals have really stood out during the various exercise scenarios.”

And the scenarios are not limited to RAF Marham. At various locations across East Anglia, RAF Regiment Joint Tactical Air Controllers from RAF Honington are able to call for support from the Tornado aircraft whose presence overhead is often enough to deter insurgents from attacking coalition forces.

The Exercise also involves Apache attack helicopters from the Army Air Corps at Wattisham and US Air Force Pavehawk combat rescue helicopters from RAF Lakenheath, the first time both have participated in a RAF exercise of this type.

The Tornados based at RAF Marham provide vital protection to ISAF troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Using Litening or RAPTOR reconnaissance pods the Tornado has the ability to capture important data about insurgent movements on the ground. This capability, combined with the ability to strike important targets with precision when required, makes the Tornado a formidable aircraft.

In the coming weeks 31 Squadron will depart for Afghanistan where they will relieve IX(B) Squadron who will then return to RAF Marham at the conclusion of their tour of duty.

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