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3 (RAF) Force Protection Wing Headquarters

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History and Formation of 3 Royal Air Force, Force Protection Wing Headquarters
3 RAF FP Wg Motto: Parare Et Protegrere (Prepare & Protect)

RAF Tactical Survive to Operate (STO) HQs were established to provide integrated Force Protection (FP) Command and Control (C2) support to any deployed RAF operation. No 3 RAF Tac STO HQ which was retitled when Tac STO HQs became Force Protection Wings is parented by RAF Marham and is aligned to the Tornado GR4/4a Force, based at RAF stations Marham and Lossiemouth. Once deployed, 3 RAF FP Wg HQ provides FP advice to the RAF Force Commander. Under the command and control of the Officer Commanding, a RAF Wing Commander (Wg Cdr), assigned Force Elements (FE) which may include RAF Regiment Field Sqns, a Royal Engineer Air Support Squadron, RAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams, RAF Police and RAuxAF personnel provide the FP of the deployed RAF Force.

No 3 RAF Tac STO HQ was briefly formed at RAF Honington on 1 March 1999 before being sent to Ali Al Salem Airbase on 10 March 1999 to join Operation BOLTON, the ongoing operation following the Gulf War in 1991. In this role, the Tac STO HQ provided Command, Control and Communications (C3) for all aspects of FP for the units deployed to Ali Al Salem Airbase. Under command were Force Elements from the RAF Police, Prototype Biological Detection System (PBDS) detachment and Nos 1 and 63 Fd Squadrons RAF Regiment. The field squadrons, known as the Resident Field Squadrons (RFS), dominated the Area of Responsibility (AOR) with extensive vehicle and foot patrols and provided security for routine 'in and out of' theatre movements. In addition, they also escorted the various weapons convoys and protected RAF aircraft from the threat of Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs) as they took off and landed. The HQ returned to the UK on 19 September 1999.

No 3 RAF Tac STO HQ returned to Ali Al Salem Airbase in Kuwait on 16 August 2000 in support of Operation BOLTON. In November 2000, whilst in Kuwait, the terrorist threat rose significantly. No 34 Squadron RAF Regiment was temporarily augmented by a further 11 gunners until the threat decreased a few weeks later.

On 19 September 2001, 3 RAF Tac STO HQ deployed to Oman shortly after the devastating 11 September 2001 atrocity in America. The HQ lead an RAF detachment of 105 RAF personnel into the Omani desert as part of the RAF's new Deployed Operating Base (DOB) doctrine. The DOB was commanded by Group Captain Abbot and brought with it Nos 1 and 26 Squadrons RAF Regiment. The DOB successfully established and operated a C-130 Hercules airstrip under austere conditions in the desert environment whilst being pitted against elements of the Omani Special Air Service. The HQ returned to RAF Marham on 3 November 2001.

On 12 January 2002, No 3 RAF Tac STO HQ deployed once again to Ali Al Salem Airbase in Kuwait in support of Operation RESONATE SOUTH (formerly OPERATION BOLTON) to coordinate the combined GBAD and field squadron activities of Nos 16 then 26 and 51 then 34 Squadrons RAF Regiment. The HQ returned to RAF Marham on 22 July 2002.

On 15 September 2002, the HQ deployed to Belize to carry out 2 weeks of jungle warfare training. They were supported in this venture by a number of Jungle Warfare Instructors (JWIs) from RAF Honington. Areas covered included: jungle survival, living, patrolling and a number of live firing ranges. The exercise culminated with a couple of days Rest and Recuperation (R&R) on the isle of San Pedro before returning to the UK on 2 October 2002.

During Operation TELIC, the newly titled 3 RAF FP Wg HQ deployed in support of the Joint Helicopter Force (JHF) on 20 February 2003. Initially based at Camp RHINO near Kuwait city, the headquarters provided force protection guidance to the JHF based at RHINO and Ali Al Salem Air Base. Responsibilities included: Preparation for chemical and biological warfare, the organisation of all measures against air and missile attack and, importantly, planning the move forward of the Joint Helicopter Force into Iraq. This work was carried out with personnel from the United States Marine Corps 1st Marine Division and focused on preparations for the deployment of a coalition Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) into Iraq. Just thirty-six hours before the coalition ground attack commenced, a forward element of the headquarters with No 51 Squadron RAF Regiment, 20 Field Squadron RE, elements of Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) and 5131 (BD) Sqn together with communications and medical support moved to an assembly area just south of the border.

Back in Kuwait on the first day of the war, personnel were focused when an Iraqi missile impacted just over 300 metres away from the Kuwait based element of the headquarters. Meanwhile, the lead elements of the headquarters closely followed the Americans over the border into Iraq on 22 March 2003. They were among the first British servicemen to cross the border, securing Safwan airstrip, the surrounding area and nearby village. The HQ remained in these positions for approximately 3 weeks, supporting both British and American air assets, until the advancing land battle required the JHF to move further into Iraq in order to better support 1 United Kingdom (Armoured) Division 1 (1 UK (Armd) Div).

Following the reconnaissance of a number of sites, including the old RAF base at Shaibah, Basrah International Airport was selected as the new base for the JHF. Basrah International Airport was also selected as the location for the headquarters of 1 UK (Armd) Div and also became the home of a team working to develop the location as the British Airport of Disembarkation. Consequently, 3 RAF FP Wg HQ and its subordinate FP units were responsible for a vital operational area containing many high value assets.

The time spent in Basrah presented a number of challenges and around the airport itself much of the supporting infrastructure had been destroyed during the conflict. Looting of the airport was stopped and harassment by former regime loyalists in the immediate surrounding area was dramatically curtailed by the time the HQ left Basrah in mid May to return to RAF Marham.

RAF Honington is the location for RAF's Force Protection Force Headquarters. FP Wing Headquarters comprise a multi-discipline FP capability geographically spread throughout the UK.

Combat Support functions delivered by the RAF FP Force Headquarters are organised into fighting wings focussed to deliver integrated FP in support of expeditionary air operations at Deployed Operating Bases (DOBs) and wider defence tasks.

The functionally orientated RAF FP Force Headquarters staff deliver pan-Unit direction and control across all disciplines to embedded Force Elements (FE) and act as their link to higher formations and agencies. They also act as the interface with higher formations in the development of FP related policy and guidance.

The HQ staff deliver effect at station level and above allowing the wings to focus on the actual delivery of FP combat support within given constraints of time, space and cost.

Images from recent Operations

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