RAF Fuel Operation

27 March 2011

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RAF Fuel Joint Operation In Afghanistan

Bahram Chah, Southern Afghanistan, towards the Pakistan border, is an insurgent strong hold and considered to be one of the largest narcotics and weapons smuggling areas.

It acts as a major route for opium trading as well as cross border movements of insurgents. But not anymore due to a recent joint operation between U.S and UK forces. The aim of the operation was to disrupt freedom of movement and to destroy AQ training camps.

A small detachment of RAF Tactical Support Wing (TSW) personnel supported the operation. Corporal Jamie ‘Gibbo’ Gibbon-Sissons, one of the team, said: “Our small team (me plus, Corporal Terry ‘Dukey’ Duke and Senior Aircraftmen James ‘Bainsy’ Bain and Chris McCann, were tasked to support the operation providing vital fuel support to allied helicopters via Rotor’s Turning Refuels (RTR) at a variety of austere bases, starting with Forward Operating Base (FOB) Payne.”

RAF Fuel Joint Operation

The operation began with a lorry convoy of about 17 vehicles departing Camp Bastion, Helmand before the sun was up. The convoy continued steadily until it reached its overnight stop at the Main Operating Base (MOB) Dwyer. The TSW team then joined up with the U.S 3rd Brigade Light Armoured Reconnaissance Division for the rest of the trip to FOB Payne.

For the next part of the mission, plans were made to move the fuel even further south towards the Pakistan border, this time to Patrol Base (PB) Wolfpack. Using Under Slung Loads (USL), Air Portable Fuel containers were filled with aviation fuel and delivered to a Helicopter Landing Site. Throughout the operation U.S Blackhawks and British Chinooks and Apaches were frequently refuelled, with over 20,000 litres of fuel being used a day.

RAF Fuel Joint Operation

For the main part of the operation the TSW teams’ equipment was dropped off in 3 separate locations around the PB. Six temporary helicopter landing pads and markings were erected making the Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) ready to go within four hours to quickly receive 4 US Cobra attack helicopters and 2 medi-vac (medical evacuation) Blackhawks. With the insurgent threat increasing, a fighting pit was built and a 24 hour guard rota system was introduced with an American machine gun being used as firepower. A constant stream of helicopters needed to be refuelled, from combat assets to resupply aircraft, providing the weapons, ammunition and basic provisions required for the operation.

RAF Fuel Joint Operation

By day, the Cobras were quick to use most of the available fuel which meant British Merlins arrived to provide a Forward Arming and Refuelling Equipment (FARE) capability which, for the Merlin, is almost entirely built into the aircraft. Using the aircraft fuel pumps and dumping system the Merlin donated fuel either directly to other aircraft or into a storage system. In this case the Merlins quickly replenished dwindling stocks.

After 15 days of refuelling helicopters to carry out their missions, the operation objectives were assessed as being achieved - the Bahram Char area had been successfully cleared and secured.

Post filling in their fighting hole, the TSW team packed up in record time and returned to Camp Bastion.

RAF Fuel Joint Operation

WO John Taylor RAF, Officer in Charge TSW (Bastion) joined his team at an informal post operation ceremony with the 373rd Marine Wing Support Squadron, at which an RAF Ensign and Marine Corp Flag were exchanged. In presenting the Marine Corp Flag, Major Joe Lopez offered his thanks to the TSW team. At the ceremony, he said: “We enjoyed working with the RAF who offered a vital capability to the operation, all of you performed to the highest standards and showed that you are true professionals. We look forward to working with you again.”

On a lighter note one of the US marines was overheard saying: “… and I thought all the Brits were stuck up, meeting these guys makes you want to go to England.”

Photography: RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2011.

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