RAF Regiment 75th Anniversary

DS is grateful to Howard Wheeldon FRAeS for the following article celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force Regiment. ‘The Rocks’, as they are affectionately known in Royal Air Force (RAF) circles, unjustifiably do not always get the level of public recognition as flying squadrons do. Like the essential ground support elements of the RAF, their stalwart and professional service can sometimes be overshadowed by more media friendly ‘sexy’ fast jets.

What may be less well known is that the officers, airmen and airwomen who serve in the RAF will have had the pleasure of basic training under the tutelage of ‘Rocks’ and later, in productive service, conducted Ground Defence Training (GDT) under their paternal guidance. The latter including the infamous ‘Gas Chamber’ where raw recruits learn very early in their career that the thing you wear to prevent inhalation of noxious substances is a ‘Respirator’ not a ‘Gas Mask’! As an aside, DS is given to understand that the responsibilities of the RAF Regiment may now extend beyond ground based air defence security to include Command oversight for Armed Forces Veterinary services. Now that is flexibility.

So Happy Birthday ‘The Royal Air Force Regiment’ – long may your distinguished record of dedicated service continue. Please read on:

Per Ardua ‘Through Adversity’

As members of the RAF Regiment we have total pride in ourselves, the Corps and the unique contribution to Air Power that we provide. We look to no one else for example, interested only in maintaining the highest personal standards and levels of professionalism. We are known for our unwavering spirit and steadfast loyalty to each other and the Corps. Our determination, intelligence and ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances allow triumph through adversity as we fight on the ground in order to ensure control the air”.

It has long been recognised by enemies and would-be aggressors alike that it is far easier to damage the potential application of air power through attacking it on the ground as opposed to attacking it in the air. So it is that ‘Force Protection’ (FP) has become a universally recognised term used to describe trained specialist capability that is able to counter hostile enemy or terrorist action against all air power assets. No one does ‘FP’ better than the Royal Air Force Regiment (RAF Regt) and today, 1st February 2017, we celebrate 75 years since its official formation in 1942.

Over the seventy five years of its existence the RAF Regt has not just been a vital component of air power that is able to prevent enemy attack on Royal Air Force (RAF) or allied air assets and able to ensure that RAF and other personnel are fully protected whether deployed or on base, the RAF Regt has through its well-developed skills, experience, professionalism and single minded dedication become the accepted global leader in FP.

From its foundation in 1918 the RAF recognised that it would need to place strong emphasis on protecting vulnerable air assets, and importantly, the military personnel that operate and control air power assets wherever they are on the ground. Initially, after the WWI had ended, the RAF formed Armoured Car Companies but as the use of air power expanded so too did the need to recognise that ‘FP’ would need to be a stand-alone element of the RAF. Thus the RAF Regiment was born.

Force Protection isn’t a choice it is, to my mind, an absolute necessity that we must all recognise as being a crucial requirement of the air power concept. Without it today, no aircraft asset would be able to deploy to a conflict zone without attracting very considerable risk. Reducing this risk and providing protection of air assets thereby providing reassurance to military personnel is what the RAF Regt does and it does that job very well. Today, more than ever before, the importance of ‘FP’ and of the RAF Regt to the concept of air power is absolutely vital.

Established by a Royal Warrant signed by His Majesty King George VI on the 1st February 1942, today we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the RAF Regiment. Dedicated as ever and justifiably proud of its distinguished history, heritage and many achievements the RAF Regt may be said to fight on the ground to enable control of the air. Professionally the RAF Regt is looked up to by peer air forces for its leadership and skill in FP, and, in my view, ths is as relevant today as it was on the day the RAF Regt was formed in February 1942. Arguably, even more so in a world where the threat of terrorist and chemical attack has never been greater.

Leading as it does on FP and being responsible for ensuring the protection of almost all deployed RAF assets on the ground, including Fast Jet, Transport, ISTAR, Logistics and other assets, the RAF Regt is also responsible for training other branches of the RAF, the mounting of aggressive fighting and recce patrols out to 10km (up to 25 kms on deployed patrols in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq) around any airbase they are charged to defend in order to deter potential attackers. Suffice to say that gunners of the RAF Regt provide constant round the clock ground security, protection and reassurance for RAF operations deployed or when they are at home* on base.

Tracing its origins back to RAF armoured car companies that first formed in 1921, what has been known as the RAF Regt since 1942 can rightly claim to be the world’s oldest, dedicated air force ground combat organisation. And it remains an integral and vital part of RAF capability having at is heart warfighting.

The RAF Regt is also the recognised world leader in Air Dismounted Close Combat and Air-minded FP. It is essentially to be considered a highly specialised ground combat capability and one that is both experienced and battle-hardened in following sustained deployed operations that have honed its capabilities. Therefore, Air-mindedness, agility, very high readiness, physical and mental robustness and ‘warrior’ ethos are central to ‘Corps’ culture.

Since WWII and right up until British forces departed Afghanistan in 2014 the RAF Regt had been on constant operations for every single day of its existence, something that as far as I am aware is only matched by UK Special Forces. Over the past forty years this has included the Falkland Islands invasion by Argentina in 1983, Gulf War 1 and 2, operations in the Balkans and subsequently those in Iraq from 2003. In addition, the RAF Regt was deployed in Afghanistan throughout the period that UK forces and our allies were involved. Of note too is that the RAF Regt served with distinction in Northern Ireland, protecting RAF bases and air operations in the Province for almost 40 years. The RAF Regt was also extensively employed providing specialist United Nations Mission monitoring staff throughout the 1980 and 1990’s.

Today, all those of us engaged in supporting air-power recognise that its effects are delivered through a range of assets and yet, collectively, fewer air platforms than before. However, carrying the range of sophisticated technology, complex weapons and ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) means these assets are not just vital components of air power but hugely expensive and valuable too. All assets require protection, as do their essential enablers such as maintenance personnel, logistics and those engaged in information and communications, be they deployed overseas or on base. The loss of just one combat aircraft or any of the enablers could seriously impact the successful application of air power. So it is also worth noting here that any significant losses, particularly in manpower, has a tendency to undermine public and political resolve.

Experienced RAF frontline military pilots and ground crew are trained to face a spectrum of ground threats ranging from espionage and subversion, potential attack by ground intruders or from stand-off rockets. Neither can direct ballistic missile and other forms of air attack ever be discounted, meaning that slow moving transport and other aircraft assets arriving or departing from a base and that are absolutely crucial to mission success are extremely vulnerable to surface-to-air fire from missiles or small arms. RAF Regt FPn field units provide a significant proportion of the required training and capability to protect assets and personnel on the ground from attack and they are, just as they have been doing since they were founded 75 years ago, absolutely central to operational planning and command and control requirements.

Understanding the wide role and observing the intense training that those who join this elite unit of dedicated professionals known as the RAF Regt go through is important. I have been fortunate to observe RAF Regt personnel in training at RAF Honington and other RAF bases in the UK on several occasions and I have also seen them operate in theatre in Iraq.

However, the role of the RAF Regt reaches out well beyond perimeter security and it may, as mentioned previously, include aggressive fighting and recce patrols in the surrounding base area out to 25 KM when deployed (the Air FP concept is more normally 10kms) with limited numbers of personnel, the role and overall requirement are diverse.* While the principle role is FP, assets and base security, the role of the RAF Regt extends to Tactical Air Control (TAC), Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) detection and decontamination, combat search and rescue and special-forces support.

In terms of equipment the RAF Regiment has at its disposal a vast range of firepower and vehicle assets are available. These include: the Mobility Weapon-Mounted Installation Kit (MWMIK) ‘Jackal’; Foxhound light protected patrol vehicles; Weapons Mounted Installation Kit (WMIK) Land Rovers; WMIK mounted L1A1 HMG 12.7mm heavy machine guns; together with mounted General Purpose Machine Guns (GMPG) plus other heavy and light machine guns, light anti-armour weapons and a wide range of support and small arms equipment including Sniper Rifles, Grenade launchers, Mortars, Anti-Tank weapons plus other equipment. RAF Regt units most probably have greater firepower than their equivalent army units.

As with all other aspects of Officer training, for those joining the RAF Regt this will be conducted initially at the RAF College Cranwell from where young officers will then move to RAF Honington for their specialist training. Some may also undergo additional specialist training at the School of Infantry at Warminster. Although personnel numbers have been further reduced, in 2013 the strength of the RAF Regiment was approximately 2,100 airmen, around 300 officers plus approximately 500 part-time reservists. Working on a squadron basis with field units, the latter usually comprising up to 150 personnel. Responsibility for operation of the RAF Regt falls under the responsibility of Air Officer Commanding No 2 Group, Air Vice Marshal Gav Parker and the Commandant-General of the RAF Regiment is Air Commodore Frank Clifford. The annual costs of the RAF Regiment in 2013 was approximately £120 million.

Having mentioned the above, the reader may be interested to observe that in 1960 the strength of the RAF Regt was around 2,500 personnel within a RAF total establishment estimated at around 104,000 personnel (2.4%). At 2,400 permanent members today with a full-time RAF establishment of approximately 32,000 (7.5%) I would have to conclude that this demonstrates the importance and perceived value of the RAF Regt to the RAF in cost-conscious times. To this thought may also be added that RAF Regt tasks are essentially ‘manual’ and where there is limited room for a technology solution led savings culture.

RAF Regiment satellite units comprising multi-disciplined FP capability are geographically spread throughout the UK. Force Protection Wings and Field Squadrons together with CBRN units operate from various RAF bases including RAF Lossiemouth, Coningsby, Marham and Leeming. The Head Quarters (HQ) is RAF Honington in Suffolk.

While responsibility of the UK’s Defence CBRN will eventually transfer from the RAF Regt to the Army, as part of already announced intentions within SDSR 2015, for the immediate future my understanding is that the RAF Regt at Honington will remain responsible for the Defence CBRN Wing (20 Wing) which provides the CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) reconnaissance, monitoring, detection and decontamination support as required by all three of armed services and also, where necessary, by the civilian authorities.

It is worth noting that the RAF Regt is responsible for manning the Queens Colour Squadron (QCS), a unit that undertakes all major Royal Air Force ceremonial duties. They have previously been involved mounting the Guard at Buckingham Palace and providing Guards of Honour for visiting Heads of State. They are also a Field Unit in their own right available to deploy.

The RAF Regiment is not alone of course defending RAF bases and all uniformed personnel based at an RAF station have a secondary ground defence role for which they are trained to defend their place of work against ground attack and CBRN attack. Training for this is provided by RAF Regt instructors and this is provided on courses at station level.

RAF Honington and the satellite base units comprise multi-discipline FP capability and units are spread geographically throughout the UK. Combat Support functions delivered by RAF Honington are organised into fighting wings to focus on delivery of integrated FP in support of expeditionary air operations at ‘Deployed Operating Bases’ (DOBs) together with wider defence tasks. RAF Regt FP HQ staff deliver pan-unit direction and control across J1 to J9 disciplines to embedded Force Elements (FE) and act as their link to higher formations and agencies. They also act as the Station interface with higher formations in the development of FP related policy and guidance. HQ staff deliver effect at station level and above, allowing the wings to focus on the actual delivery of FP combat support within the constraints of time and cost.

RAF Regiment ‘Force Protection’

The Force Protection Wing has its origins in the 1920’s when No 1 Armoured Car Company of the newly formed RAF were deployed using Rolls-Royce and Ford armoured vehicles across the Middle East, including in Iraq. Fitted with a turret and machine gun, the mobile teams proved successful in helping to prevent attacks on vulnerable outposts. However, it took a military disaster at the Battle of Crete in 1941 to persuade Whitehall that a special FP regiment was required to protect its far flung air-power assets in all corners of the world.

RAF Honington

A former front-line RAF bomber station, RAF Honington was originally opened in May 1937 and became the home of the RAF Regt in June 1994. At that time, all basic, advanced, field and specific air-defence training was moved from RAF Catterick and RAF West Raynham respectively. Today, RAF Honington is HQ for all RAF FP and Regiment operational forces, the RAF FP Centre and the Defence Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Wing (20 Wg RAF Regiment).

The current basis of RAF Regiment operation by unit:

1 Squadron RAF Regt

Located at RAF Honington 1 Squadron RAF Regt is at the forefront of the Regiment’s Very High Readiness operational Field Squadrons. With a proud sense of heritage, the personnel of the Squadron are always ready to live up to its motto – Arkish Surrish – (swift and sudden) and ready at short notice for tasking ranging from Non-combatant Evacuation Operations or standing commitments in support of contingency operations worldwide. Tracing its routes back to December 1921 as the No 1 Armoured Car Company the history of operations and achievements over its long existence are huge. In more recent times, the Squadron redeployed to Kuwait in 1999 as part of Op DESERT FOX and again in 2002 as part of Op RESINATE SOUTH. They deployed to Afghanistan as part of Op FINGAL, to Iraq again as part of Op TELIC and to Afghanistan again as part of Op HERRICK.

On 24 MAY 2010 the existing Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) Operations Squadron was renumbered to 26 Squadron RAF Regt. Their current role is to deliver specialist CBRN defence capabilities at very high readiness in support of national strategic operations. This is achieved through the following functions:

Overseas Sampling and Identification of Biological, Chemical and Radiological Agents Military Sampling Team (SIBCRA MST) to exploit CBRN programme/event scenes globally and recovering evidence and intelligence to approved analytical agencies in a safe & forensically-sound manner in order to support national strategic decision-making. Support to UK Explosive CBRN Counter-Terrorism (CT) as part of the Technical Response Force (TRF) delivering Hotline Command, contamination control and casualty evacuation during the disablement phase of ECBRN Terrorist incidents in the UK. Support to UK Nuclear Accident Response through radiation monitoring, contamination control, and casualty evacuation for Nuclear Weapon, or Defence Nuclear Material, incidents throughout the UK, in order to safeguard both civilian and military public safety.

2 Squadron RAF Regt

With a long and proud heritage that can be traced back as No II Armoured Car Company RAF at Heliopolis, Egypt in 1922, No 2 Squadron (Sqn) is today an RAF Regt Field Sqn under command of the RAF FP Force located at RAF Honington. The Squadron operates at Very High Readiness in support of UK Defence for worldwide contingent operations. It is the only RAF Regt Field Sqn with parachute capability and as such serves as a feeder unit for the RAF Regt element of the Special Forces Support Group and 16 Air Assault Brigade Tactical Air Control Parties.

The Sqn consists of a HQ Flight, 3 Rifle Flights, a Support Weapons Flight, a sniper section and an Engineering section and it has its own integral communications and combat service support elements. The unit is prepared to undertake a wide range of FP tasks in support of air assets and is capable of day and night operations in hostile environments. The unit remains agile by maintaining a ‘light’ ethos that allows it to meet any operational requirement. This is vital to ensure securing the lower airspace around critical air assets; allowing them continued freedom to operate. According to the official RAF website, II Sqn RAF Regt has an establishment of 174 personnel, although due to fluctuating manning levels across the Force it is seldom fully manned. II Sqn RAF Regt together with its sister Auxiliary Sqn, 2620 Sqn RAuxAF Regt based at RAF Marham, form No. 3 FP Wing.

15 Squadron RAF Regt

The primary role of 15 Sqn RAF Regt is to provide FP for air assets overseas although it may also be tasked to support UK operations as well. The diverse role could see 15 Sqn providing small teams to defend RAF aircraft operating around the globe or deploying as a Squadron to defend an airfield. The gunners of the Sqn place their understanding of the air environment at the centre of their defensive duties.

15 Sqn RAF Regt has nine Officers and one-hundred and sixty Airmen (Gunners), arranged into a HQ flight, 3 rifle flights, a support weapons flight and a number of trade personnel who provide the squadron with Motor Transport, an armoury, communication equipment and supplies. This formation allows the Sqn to deploy without the requirement from additional or bolt-on support. The Sqn is equipped with a variety of weapons, from the L85A2 rifle to the Grenade Machine Gun. This variety of weaponry provides the Squadron with the capability to provide FP to air assets in all environments using several armoured vehicles; the Foxhound, Panther and RWIMIK. These vehicles provide the Sqn with the ability to move over large distances with a high level of protection in order to provide the best defence to the RAF.

Formed in June 1946 the Squadron has been frequently deployed including in more recent years in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and was, coincidentally, the last UK combat element to leave both Iraq and in Afghanistan at the end of operations in that theatre.

26 Squadron RAF Regt

The current role of 26 Squadron is to deliver specialist CBRN defence capabilities at very high readiness in support of national strategic operations. This is achieved through the following functions: Overseas Sampling and Identification of Biological, Chemical and Radiological Agents Military Sampling Team (SIBCRA MST) to exploit CBRN programme/event scenes globally, recovering evidence and intelligence to approved analytical agencies in a safe & forensically-sound manner in order to support national strategic decision-making.

26 Squadron provides support to UK Explosive CBRN Counter-Terrorism (CT) as part of the Technical Response Force (TRF) delivering Hotline Command, contamination control and casualty evacuation during the disablement phase of ECBRN Terrorist incidents in the UK. It also provides support to UK Nuclear Accident Response through radiation monitoring, contamination control, and casualty evacuation for Nuclear Weapon, or Defence Nuclear Material, incidents throughout the UK, in order to safeguard both civilian and military public safety.

27 Squadron RAF Regiment

This Squadron is one of 2 Regular squadrons under the command of 20 Wg RAF Regt (Joint CBRN Wing) and one that is continuously operationally aligned and held at a very high level of readiness. 27 Squadron RAF Regiment provides operationally focused, expert personnel able to deliver specialist Counter Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (C-CBRN) capability in support of Defence in the UK and when required, across the globe. The Squadron is trained to provide this on a 24 hour day x 365 basis across the full spectrum of possible operational theatres and has parachute capability to achieve this.

2 Wg and 34 Sqn (RAF Leeming)

No 2 RAF FP Wing HQ was formed at RAF Leeming on 1st April 1998 and comes under HQ 2 Group RAF. No 34 Squadron RAF Regt is a Field Squadron and as such is a highly mobile, flexible and well-equipped fighting force. With a strength of 164 personnel, including specialist engineering and support staff, the Squadron’s firepower is provided by a wide range of infantry weapons including sniper rifles, general purpose machine guns and light and medium mortars. Fully air portable, the Squadron’s cross-country mobility is mainly provided by Land Rovers, although motorcycles and all-terrain trucks complete the transport capability. Battlefield communications systems and a highly effective range of surveillance and night observation equipment complete 34 Squadron’s inventory to make it a flexible and powerful force capable of deploying anywhere in the world to defend British air assets or to take part in wider military action.

5 Force Protection Wg and 51 Sqn (RAF Lossiemouth)

5 Force Protection Wing is one of seven RAF FP Wing HQs that are optimized to provide operational planning, command and control for Force Protection assets deployed on operations. 5 FP Wg is made up of an 11 strong multi-disciplinary specialist Force Protection team. 51 Sqn RAF Regt and 2622(H) RAuxAF are attached to 5 FP Wg.

With a long and illustrious history that predates the official formation of the RAF Regiment, due to the need for an additional very high readiness Field Squadron, No 51 Sqn RAF Regt was reformed at RAF Honington in 2001 but was quickly moved to RAF Lossiemouth where it has been ever since. The Squadron whose motto is “CELERITER DEFENDERE’ (Swift to Defend) been very regularly deployed including Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

2623 Squadron RAuxAF -Regiment

RAF Honington also serves as the base for 2623 Squadron RAuxAF Regt and the Regional Rehabilitation Unit (RRU) at RAF Honington. RRU provides musculoskeletal (MSK) rehabilitation services to service personnel within the Eastern region including, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, Norfolk and parts of Suffolk. The custom-built facility offers assessment and treatment areas, four fitness suites and shares the use of the Station gyms and swimming pool. This enables staff to determine the optimum combination of rehabilitation services for those referred to the RRU Wing.

*[Note that in policy terms, the RAF Regiment is not responsible for internal defence of airbases in the UK. This role is tasked to the RAF Police and station personnel. External to the base and beyond the perimeter fence, responsibility passes to the local authorities – civilian police – although the RAF Regiment would most probably be requested to supplement civil authorities in relation to protection against a serious threat]

CHW (London – 1st February 2017)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS