Helicopter power comes together
Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) guided attacks from Tiger helicopters.
Chinooks lifted soldiers and howitzers in air-mobile operations and artillery raids.
MRH-90 Taipans inserted recon teams and retrieved casualties in aero-medical evacuations.
All were part of the month-long Exercise Vigilant Scimitar at Townsville Field Training Area which wrapped up in late November.
The exercise was designed to integrate the three aircraft types and prepare Task Group Pegasus for potential operations, the Sea Series of exercises and Talisman Sabre next year.
It was also the first time the battlegroup flew together in 2020.
Task Group Commander and 5th Aviation Regiment Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Martin said the exercise achieved integration, planning outcomes and development of junior aircrew.
“A major finding is that we need to fly together often so we can work on integrated missions and combined procedures,” Lieutenant Colonel Martin said.
Some missions featured Tigers escorting air-mobile lifts of infantry and M777 howitzers by MRH-90s and Chinooks.
One of the escort pilots, Captain Ashley Duckling, was alert to threats to the air packet during the exercise.
“We were looking ahead to confirm the landing zone or to identify alternatives,” he said.
“Then we confirmed the landing zone was clear and ready for the arrival of friendly forces.
“We could provide close fire for the troops on the ground, and observation for the guns, all in support of the ground force’s objectives.”
Some Tigers might have had to escort the lift aircraft home while others would support ground forces.
Combined crews from the 1st and 5th Aviation Regiments topped up aircraft fuel – day and night – from tactical forward arming and refuelling points.
Refuelling also was done from tanks set up in Chinooks in a practice known as a ‘fat cow’, a play on the Chinook squadron’s call sign Brahman.
Hoses ran from the fuel tanks in the Chinook to conduct hot refuels.
“If we were doing a long-range mission and we needed to get fuel part way to extend our range, or more ammunition to re-arm the Tigers, a Chinook would insert ahead to enable the aircraft to project forward or stay in the fight,” Lieutenant Colonel Martin said.
Fat cow refuels can extend aircraft range and were used operationally during the North Queensland floods last year.
Tigers later in the exercise unleashed 70mm rockets and 30mm gun rounds during two days of live fire.
While it was the aircraft battle captain who fired the weapons, Captain Duckling said Tiger pilots didn’t have a free ride.
“The pilot gets the aircraft into flying profiles that will allow weapons to be ready quickly,” he said.
“The pilot is the eyes and ears for the battle captain.
“It’s a team effort.
“We’re essentially two qualified pilots who can fly from both seats.
“We need to work as a well-oiled machine to operate the Tiger effectively.”
Six Tigers, four Chinooks, five MRH-90s and more than 100 support crew took part in the exercise.