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Day of the Jackals as gunned-up vehicles protect convoy

8 August 2023
Imagine heavily-armed armoured vehicles attempting to form a ring of steel around an Oshkosh tanker filled with fuel, roaring down a wide highway.

Not a scene from post-apocalyptic Mad Max movies, but Royal Marines testing their ability to support helicopters in the field.

For five days the relatively quiet airfield at Merryfield in Somerset was dominated by the rattle of gunfire, the clatter and rumble of heavy vehicles, and the smell of burned aviation fuel as personnel in a small, highly-specialised unit demonstrated their collective abilities.

The Aviation Combat Service Support Squadron is unique in the UK Armed Forces, expected to meet most of the needs of Merlin and Wildcat helicopters when operating in the field: providing fuel, food, spare parts, ammunition, medical care, ground transportation – effectively all the logistical support required, bar engineering.

Its ability to deploy rapidly is integral to the success of the Commando Helicopter Force – as is its ability to fend off foes.

The five days of training rolled into Exercise Junglie Defender tested both experienced and new members of the squadron in their ability to move, blend in and hide (‘mobility, camouflage and concealment’) in rural and urban environments.

As with the rest of the Commando Helicopter Force, the squadron is expected to go whether the Royal Marines go: jungle, desert, Arctic, as well as temperate climes like Somerset.

Although it’s high summer, it’s got eyes firmly fixed on the force’s winter deployment to Norway which culminates with the major NATO Arctic exercise, Nordic Response (previously known as Cold Response).

Personnel are expected to plan routes, carry out reconnaissance and, when they reach their destination, give the helicopters what they need: in this instance forward refuelling in the field, far from any base.

So to Merryfield, satellite airfield to the Commando Helicopter Force’s home base at Yeovilton. With Merlins and Wildcats awaiting fuel, the squadron formed a column or convoy of vehicles – here a tanker and a handful of Land Rovers – with a pair of Jackal armoured vehicles equipped with heavy machine-guns as escorts.

The Forward Refuelling Point capability is constantly evolving to current and novel threats, through innovative solutions and deep knowledge of the tactical employment of the kit and equipment we use.

Captain Alan Hunter RM

The Jackals (officially Mobility Weapon-Mounted Installation Kit, or MWMIK) are crewed by operators, who’ve undergone a three-week course from zero knowledge of the vehicle to mastery of day and night ground manoeuvres over challenging terrain tactically to gain a tactical advantage.

They’re guided by commanders – skilled Jackal operators who’ve undergone two weeks bespoke instruction to fully exploit both the abilities of their vehicle’s operator and the Jackal itself, with the goal of out-manoeuvring any adversary.

And then there’s the gunner, who’s received two week’s training on the heavy-machine gun (qualifications mean if they decide to return to the Commando Force they can serve as gunners straight away).

Junglie Defender proved to be something of an eye-opener for marines new to the unit.

“The contribution the squadron makes has to Commando Helicopter Force’s operational output is something I was unaware of while serving within the rest of the Royal Marines,” one green beret said.

“We deploy persistently – in warm weather climates such as with the Littoral Response Group (South) to the Middle East this autumn; and in support of our NATO allies in the High North and Arctic Circle region.

“This blend of training really reinforces why we work so hard to maintain the high standards of our skills.”

Assessors are looking for a combination of skills – imagination, safety, diligence and professionalism – and were impressed by the combination of experience.
Captain Alan Hunter RM says the support squadron has grown into “a product unparalleled within Joint Helicopter Command”.

He continued: “The Forward Refuelling Point capability is constantly evolving to current and novel threats, through innovative solutions and deep knowledge of the tactical employment of the kit and equipment we use.”

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