With the terrorism danger perpetually high in both the United States and Europe, Special Operations Forces (SOF) are always honing their counter-terrorism (CT) capabilities, whether in a ground or maritime environment. To respond to a terrorist incident, however, SOF units need to get there first. And that’s where elite aviation units come in.
American SOF units rely on the experts of the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) to infiltrate and exfiltrate them from targets. Their British counterparts rely on the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW), which is a joint unit comprised of both Royal Air Force (RAF) and Army Air Corps (ACC) squadrons.
Earlier this year, the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) held a week-long maritime counter-terrorism exercise in the Altcar Training Camp, England. Exercise Faraday Field involved units from all three services of the U.K. military. Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) elements were inserted by the RAF and Royal Navy (RN) helicopters on maritime targets in the nearby Morecambe Bay. The bay is the second-largest natural gas field in the U.K. and is thus, dotted with numerous natural gas rigs, pipelines, and processing terminals. It’s importance to the country’s economy makes it a plum target for ambitious terrorists.
On the aviation side of the exercise, 7 Squadron (RAF) provided heavy-lift capabilities with its MH-47G Chinooks, while RN Wildcat and Merlin helicopters provided force protection support and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) support.
Only recently, the SBS had to respond to a real-world incident when the Italian cargo ship Grande Tema was threatened by four Nigerian stowaways who had hidden in the ship and attacked the crew as it approached British shores. Around 25 SBS operators fast-roped onto the deck of the cargo ship and quickly neutralized the Nigerian stowaways, who were handed off to U.K. law enforcement.
Recognizing the importance of SOF aviation, the British government has decided to strengthen its units. Last fall, it was announced that 7 Squadron, which is Special Operations-capable and tasked with supporting the SAS, SBS, and other UKSF elements, would receive 16 MH-47G Chinook helicopters. The unit is a rough equivalent to the 160th SOAR.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) allowed for the final day of Exercise Faraday Field to be open to the public.
Alongside the SAS and SBS, the UKSF is also comprised of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), which specializes in intelligence-gathering operations and operational preparation of the battlefield (OPB) operations, and the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG), which provides additional firepower to SAS and SBS operations.