The Merlin Helicopter Force has commenced a 4 month training exercise in the United States as the final stage of preparation for its end of year deployment to Afghanistan.

The Merlins, from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, will provide vital support to ground operations, increasing the capacity of UK helicopter lift in Afghanistan by a further 25%.

Exercise MERLIN VORTEX will train crews for the unique challenges of the Afghan environment: the ‘hot and high’ conditions and constant threats they will face on a daily basis.

With temperatures soaring to 50°C and rarely dropping below 35° C at night the ‘Hot’ part of the training requirement is met, along with the opportunity to test landing in dusty conditions. ‘High’ training comes in the form of mountain ranges of varying heights, which with the high temperatures means the environment allows the Merlin to operate to the limit of its capabilities, providing outstanding preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.

RAF Sergeant Tom Pringle, Merlin Crewman said:

“The environment out here is very challenging but I believe that it will prepare us well for success in Afghanistan. Train hard, fight easy. The facilities are great and the Americans have been very welcoming and supportive.”

RAF Flight Sergeant John Stone is a Merlin Crewman on the Training, Development and Standards Flight:

“To train effectively for survival aspects in Theatre we need to be operating with all the same equipment that we would have on operations. From a tactics point of view I believe that the combination of live firing ranges, to practice self-defence, and representative terrain have enabled us to put together a comprehensive and realistic package of pre-deployment training that is well paced”.

RAF Squadron Leader Dave Morris is Officer Commanding B Flight, 78 Squadron:

“We came out here to undertake ‘Hot and High’ training for Afghanistan. The area provides a wide variety of terrain allowing us to achieve a high standard of instruction in new techniques. The environmental conditions are representative of Afghanistan and the effect of training in this unique location will be to increase the confidence and ability of the crews to a level where they are ready to deploy. You can never be too prepared and there is always more training to come but the lessons we learn out here will allow the Merlin force to deploy with confidence”.

“The entire Merlin Force will be able to experience the highest standards of training in a representative environment. The overall feeling is one of confidence that the training received here will allow the Merlin Force to take up its role in Afghanistan and provide the same outstanding level of support that it gave to ground forces in Iraq”.

Background Information
1. The RAF’s Merlin helicopters form part of the Joint Helicopter Command; the tri-Service organisation responsible for battlefield helicopters.

2. The Royal Air Force (RAF) crews will be based at the Naval Air Facility El Centro (NAFEC) in San Diego; the US Navy’s main training facility.