Mark Ayton visited the ‘Grey Lynx’ community at RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, to look at the training, deployment and operations of 702 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons.
AS A direct consequence of the Royal Navy’s post-Cold War downsizing, in early 1999 the ‘Grey Lynx’ community moved from its home at RNAS Portland, Dorset, to RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, and Portland was subsequently closed. The current ‘Grey Lynx’ community is made up of two squadrons; 702 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) the dedicated Lynx training squadron and 815 NAS, the front line operational squadron.
There are four maritime configurations of the Lynx in service with 702 and 815 squadrons. There are the Lynx HAS.3 and the Lynx HMA.8 — each model is operated in two configurations; either a radar or dual cab aircraft. A dual cab refers to a Lynx fitted with dual flight controls and no radar, the other type is fitted with a radar. The upgraded avionics package fitted in the Lynx HMA.8 added a substantial amount of weight to the aircraft; consequently the loading on the engines and gearbox is greater and the respective service life is reduced therefore the type is not generally used for training on cost-effectiveness grounds.
All Lynx variants are configured for dual controls, though controls are not fitted to, and under, the floor panels of the left-hand seat position of the radar cab aircraft, which gives the observer freer access to his radar screen. In a dual cab aircraft, the radar screen is not fitted — it has an auxiliary instrument panel, which partly duplicates the right-hand side, with engine gauges and the basic instruments required to navigate. It also has a tachometer — an engine indicator, which shows the three power turbine speeds of both engines and the engines’ rotor speed. During auto rotations, the instructor needs to be able to monitor the increase in speed of the rotor head to preserve the life of the rotor disc and the gearbox.
The essential operational difference between a HAS.3 and HMA.8 is that on a HAS.3 the observer takes the target information off the radar and plots it on his board, in order to build the tactical picture. The radar display on a HAS.3 is positioned in front of the observer and is equipped with a Tactical Aid to Navigation (TAN), a Doppler system used as the primary navigation aid, which is manually updated with a separate Global Positioning System (GPS) system. On the HMA.8, the radar picture is fed onto a screen in the middle of the console, called the Tactical Situation Display (TSD): combined with GPS-fed positional data the pilot has a fully integrated tactical awareness. All of the avionics are run through the Central Tactical System (CTS).
Visually the HMA.8 has an entirely different appearance because its nose houses the Sea Owl Passive Identification Device (PID) and an additional avionics package. The HAS.3 and the HMA.8 have the same Seaspray radar, though each is fitted with a different version. On the HAS.3, the Seaspray CP is an analogue system fitted in the nose, while on the HMA.8 the upgraded Seaspray 30/30 is a digital system installed under the chin, both radar positions providing a forward looking capability. The HMA.8’s Seaspray 30/30 has greater processor power and a digital interface with more capability.
The observer can manipulate the radar, pointing it where he wants with a zoom capability in order to get a detailed picture. The radar also has a track scan capability, which allows contacts to be tracked, collating accurate course and speeds: these are fed into the system and on to the TSD. The radar picture can also be placed onto the TSD, so the crew can look at two areas — a detailed area on the radar, and a radar picture overlaid on another area on the TSD. This is particularly effective if the crew have two areas of concern.
The only way to positively identify a surface contact is to identify it visually. At night this can only be done by getting in close enough to actually see the vessel with a lamp — well within shooting range. A HMA.8 crew overcomes the close engagement problem via the PID a fully integrated thermal camera (infra-red). PID trains onto a contact automatically and the observer can then select the picture on the monitor, both day and night. At night, the PID keeps the Lynx outside the missile engagement zone whilst allowing identification (dependent on weather conditions).
The HMA.8 is a better asset than the HAS.3 as it can sweep an area so much faster, allowing the crew to start the identification process sooner using its stand-off capability.
A standard Lynx crew comprises a pilot and an observer, and for certain missions, a gunner. Pilot and observer training is undertaken by 702 NAS, primarily with the Lynx HAS.3. Pilots arrive at 702 following basic helicopter flying training with the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury, Shropshire. Student pilots and observers complete 120 hours over the entire course. Each of the two roles (pilot and observer) has 60 hours allocated to each 13-week phase: a conversion phase is followed by an operational phase. No.702 NAS stages three courses annually, each with four two-man crew (a total of 24 students). The conversion phase teaches student pilots general flying practice (handling the aircraft visually), followed by instrument flying in designated air space. Towards the end of the conversion phase, students learn secondary tasks, such as lifting and winching.
At the end of the conversion phase, the student pilot will be able to fly the Lynx solo safely and is subseguently crewed up with student observers. The latter arrive at 702 from 750 NAS based at RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall, where they will have completed a basic navigation and radar skills course. In a similar manner to student pilots, each student observer completes a conversion phase flying solely with staff observers and staff pilots learning Lynx specific navigation and radar techniques. Having become proficient at operating the Lynx navigation and radar equipment, they are crewed up with a student pilot. Both then fly the operational phase as a mutual student crew, monitored by observer instructors from a rear seat position.
The training culminates in a two-to-three week embarkation phase, in which the mutual student crews learn to fly the Lynx from a moving platform at sea. At the end of it, they complete final tests as a check prior to going to the front line unit.
Ab-initio student pilots and observers who go to 815 NAS are normally crewed up as a second pilot or a second observer on an operational front line flight. They undertake a six-month probationary period, during which they ‘learn the ropes’ of a front line squadron. At the end of that six-month period, 815 carries out certification of competency and examines the students to ensure front line proficiency as a first pilot or first observer.
The operational phase is classed as a tactical scenario, which is built up in stages covering anti-surface warfare and ultimately anti-submarine warfare. An observer’s primary role is to manage the tactical side of the mission: plotting, controlling all tracks at the same time, navigation, and ensuring that the pilot is happy with the tactical picture and has the relevant information on danger zones and on any other issue that comes up, so that the aircraft is safe from threats at all times. The observer sits in the left-hand seat.
On the HMA.8, the observer has access to the TSD and controls the radar and the tactical picture, inputting information (such as weapon danger zones and performance data) with the aid of the pilot.
The observer also undertakes secondary roles: provided the Lynx has two composite crew in the aircraft, the observer can jump into the back and take care of winching, load lifting — or firing if there is no gunner aboard.
RNAS Yeovilton has four systems to replicate the variants of Lynx in operation. There are two full mission simulators, one for the HAS.3 and one for the HMA.8; and two procedural trainers used mainly for observer training. The procedural trainers have no motion and no visuals and simply replicate the cockpit for training procedures such as switch drills. The HAS.3 simulator is 26 years old and has had its visual systems upgraded to keep it in line with system changes on the aircraft. By comparison, the HMA.8 simulator developed and installed by CAE of Canada is only four years old and is a full motion state-of-the-art mission simulator.
The simulator flight serves many customers at Yeovilton, the primary one being 702 NAS. whose students complete lessons and then practise procedures in the procedural trainer, following this up with time in the simulator. Lynx students spend as much time in the simulator as they do flying in each major phase. Every opportunity is taken to use the simulator because it is a far more cost-effective unit, especially in the operational phase. Surprisingly, perhaps, the CAE simulator is more realistic during a simulated weapon release than the real event — so much so that it creates a jolt to simulate the missile as it drops away from the helicopter, it is also more effective. Instructors can enter whatever type of surface unit contact they wish and create all kinds of tactical scenarios to ensure complexity for the observer and pilot. The entire release can be seen in the simulator all the way to target impact.
No. 815 NAS, the front line squadron, is the second biggest customer for the simulator, all of its crew have a remit to complete nine hours of simulator training each year. The training undertaken covers malfunctions, handling, training in tactical sorties and tests their leadership and decision-making skills when faced with problems.
Pilots have to become proficient at landing on the deck, which they accomplish as a crew. Prior to that, staff pilot instructors fly with them in a ‘dual’ Lynx to ensure the student pilot is proficient. Ultimately the trainee pilot will make a solo deck landing, with a student observer in the left-hand seat, and a staff observer in the back. Each student has to complete a bare minimum number of sorties for deck landing qualification, four day and four night. Each sortie will get inherently harder: on the first sortie a minimum of four deck landings must be achieved, and this is followed by two night sorties. On the fifth sortie, malfunctions are introduced to test their ability to land on a moving deck, for example, on a single engine, again day and night.
Before a student crew goes solo, they must have completed eight day and eight night deck landings on their initial qualification. The process builds up in gentle steps, students accumulating successful deck landings until they have eight in their logbook. Crews undertake their initial deck landing ideation training on a frigate or a destroyer. There is little mileage in teaching a student to fly the Lynx proficiently and then have them fail the course at the end during deck landings, this being a very expensive way to fail. When they complete the course, they embark on a multi-spot ship i.e. one that has more than one deck landing spot, such Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Argus. Multi-spot lips are used because of the number of students and helicopters, which need to be embarked at the end of the course. The RFA Argus is a different class of ship, so the first day of the embarkation is spent re-qualifying the pilots on the different deck. To date, 702 has had no problems with student pilots failing the course because they have not completed sufficient deck landings on a frigate or destroyer — even though it is the hardest objective to accomplish in the conversion phase.
Once deck-landing certification has been completed, other training objectives are brought together to simulate tactical scenarios from a moving platform, in the second week, building up over a number of days, the student crews are sent signals introducing a scenario about enemy forces and where UK forces are located. They must analyse the signals and plan their response. Before flying their mission, they must send return signals to convey the forces they have available to commit to the scenario.
Primarily, the Lynx is an anti-surface warfare asset, which is why it has the forward-facing radar to search for surface units, either for interrogation or for relaying information back to the mother ship. Its primary weapon is the Sea Skua missile, and the weapon systems are the same for the HAS.3 and the HMA.8. Sea Skua is a relatively small missile, designed to destroy fast-moving Soviet corvettes. The Lynx is used for going out and finding small vessels, which can be taken out with a Sea Skua. Weaponry is taught during the operational phase of the course, when the students are embarked. All Lynx weapon training is undertaken using dummy weapons. Lynx crew follow set weapon release procedures with a module fitted in the back cabin. It simulates the entire live fire procedure and gives indications of the missile launch in the cockpit, along with other indications to simulate missile jams, which allow the crew to go through the appropriate drills. Real live firings are limited to near-life-expired missiles: when these become available 815 NAS tends to fire most of them on UK ranges.
To undertake the anti-submarine warfare role, the Lynx carries Stingray torpedoes and depth charges, acting as the weapons carrier and working in conjunction with Sea King HAS.6s and Merlin HM.Is used to locate submarines. During a submarine engagement, the Lynx does not enter the hover but maintains forward flight, using its speed and agility to increase the element of surprise in the attack.
Front Line Operations
All front line Royal Navy Lynx are operated by 815 NAS, which commands a Headquarters Flight, 26 ships’ flights to support the fleet of destroyers and frigates and the Lynx Operational Evaluation Unit (LOEU). The squadron has a fleet of 27 Lynx assigned. Ten flights operate a single HAS.3 and 16 operate a single HMA.8. the one exception is HMS Endurance flight, which has two HAS.3s assigned to conduct British Antarctic Survey work. The majority of squadron aircraft have received an updated Night Vision Goggle (NVG) package. The Headquarters flight operates a further eight aircraft: seven are NVG-equipped, three are dual aircraft for pilot training and five are radar aircraft. No.815 NAS undertakes NVG training with two qualified NVG instructors responsible for instructing squadron pilots: observer instructors similarly teach squadron observers and beginners. In the future, it is hoped to move NVG training to 702 NAS as part of the training syllabus, which will reduce the workload of the front line squadron.
No.815 NAS also provides theatre-specific training for the Caribbean and Gulf patrols, including an M3M machine gun refresher course and working training to prepare crew for boarding pass excursions onto ships for anti-smuggling operations, this being a main role on the Atlantic Patrol Task North, Operation Calash and Telic ships.
A standard Lynx flight is made up of a pilot and an observer. The Lynx is very much a crew aircraft in which the pilot is in charge of the aircraft and the observer is generally the chief tactician — a philosophy, which is taught to the trainee crews during their time at 702. However, in the Royal Navy the senior member of the crew is always the aircraft captain, either the observer or the pilot. The observer sets up and configures the weapon system on the Lynx, and in the final stages leading to the launch of a missile, it is the observer who presses the various buttons. Even during an emergency in which the pilot has to take action, the aircraft captain will make the ultimate decision following discussion as a crew.
There are also nine maintainers — a chief, three petty officers, one leading hand, two aircraft mechanics and a LAC (Leading Aircraft Controller). The chief, a senior maintenance rating, is responsible for the flight. To facilitate the FIREAC (Force protection) mission, a ship’s flight has a qualified gunner, who can be either an extra crewmember or a winch man, a member of the maintenance team qualified on NVG and the M3M machine gun.
Under the dedicated integrated ship’s flight programme, each one of the flights in 815 NAS is assigned to a ship. Generally, a flight will hope to stay with the ship for as long as possible, moving only when the ship goes into deep maintenance, or refit.
Deployments undertaken by 815 range from Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) in the Mediterranean, Operation Calash around the Horn of Africa, Operation Telic in the Northern Persian Gulf, plus regular deployments such as the Atlantic Patrol Task North (Caribbean and North Atlantic) and Atlantic Patrol Task South (West Africa region and South Atlantic), each of these having one frigate or destroyer assigned.
When embarked during deployment, the Lynx crew’s daily programme can change hourly. The Lynx is classed as a ship’s asset, consequently between flying ASuW sorties, the crew might be tasked to undertake secondary duties such as CASEVAC (CASualty EVACuation), load lifting or passenger transfers. Certain tasks, such as speed lifting, are planned in advance, using the Lynx in the Vertical Replenishment role to ‘bird-lift’ stores onto the flight deck.
When a flight comes off deployment, it is fully trained because it has been operating on a daily basis as a fully integrated part of the ship. No further integrated training takes place until the flight starts to prepare for its subsequent deployment. That process begins with FOST (Flag Officer Sea Training), followed by participation in a Joint Maritime Course.
During periods of continuation training, a Lynx crew will fly for 15 hours per month under a split schedule, operating for two days per month from the ship to maintain liaison with the Operations Officer on board. One interesting training mission is fighter evasion, which is carried out with the Fixed Wing Standards unit, flying Royal Navy Hawk T.1s. Two Hawks launch against two or three Lynx flying a profile (main route) over Exmoor, during which the Lynx must try to evade the Hawks and avoid being ‘bounced’.
When an 815 NAS flight is deployed to the Caribbean, the Lynx crew’s primary task is to patrol and identify boats in the anti drug-smuggling role. During such a patrol, the Lynx crew has cover support, usually provided by maritime patrol aircraft. In early 2004, 815 NAS was supported by RAF Nimrod MR.2s operating from Curacao in the Dutch Antilles.
Intelligence usually provides 815 NAS crew with the suspect’s point of departure and known routes. The Lynx crew must survey the suspect vessel to determine whether it is conforming to standard patterns or performing non-standard ones: for example, are they under engine power going downwind because they do not know how to sail? All surveys are undertaken from a distance: the crew must record the vessel on video, and take photographs which will be used in subsequent court cases. Without video footage and captive data, the smugglers can quite easily evade justice, even if the people on the vessel are caught.
Deciding on the patrol posture — covert or overt — is crucial because the Lynx is invariably the ship commander’s primary weapon system against the drug-traffickers. To avoid giving away the vessel’s position, the Lynx crew must follow strict rules of operation; they must conduct a visual search without using communications or radar. From a navigational point of view, when working covertly without the radar on, the crew finds its way around by using a mutual reference point between it and the ship. This means that the ship will take up a specific course to the mutual reference point at a specified speed, so that the Lynx crew can always calculate its position during the mission. The ship maintains the agreed course and speed: it is able to zigzag, but it will always be within ten miles (16km) of the course set to the mutual reference point. This gives the ship little freedom to manoeuvre, but it can undertake torpedo counter-measures, and anti-ship and anti-missile counter measures.
Jack of All Trades
Of all the air assets within the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, the ‘Grey Lynx’ community is always deployed with the destroyer and frigate fleets, all over the world. The great thing about Royal Navy Lynx operations is that the crew deployed at sea is a true team — although its members work as part of the ship’s company and with the ship, once airborne the Lynx crew is autonomous. They are the ship’s ‘eyes’ — they venture over the horizon to report what they see, and without them the ship would be ‘blind’. In times of natural disasters or international crises, Royal Navy Lynx are often the first UK air asset to arrive in the affected region, the most recent example being the relief efforts undertaken by HMS Chatham in Sri Lanka following the December tsunami. Despite being a small helicopter, the Lynx remains incredibly versatile, able to undertake a host of missions in support of both humanitarian and combat operations, making it and its crew very much a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.