In December 2013 the 325nd Special Operations Group (SOG) deployed to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire for a routine training exercise. Michael Buckle reports for AeroResource.

Mid 2013 saw the arrival of two new aircraft types to RAF Mildenhall’s 352nd SOG. The delivery of the CV-22B and MC-130J marked the initial phase of a replacement program to retire the ageing MC-130P/H fleet.

The addition of any new variation of aircraft requires vital training and evaluation to ensure a smooth transition into future operations. A key mission for the SOG is the ability to forward deploy their assets to a remote airfield and conduct operations. ‘Logistics Exercise 2013’ (LOGEX13) brought 130 personnel and six aircraft to RAF Fairford to practice and test their ability to forward deploy in such a manner.

On Monday 9th December three CV-22 Ospreys and three MC-130J Commando IIs touched down on RAF Fairford’s 10,000ft runway. Unfortunately due to poor weather cancelling scheduled flying activity on Wednesday, only one full evening of operations were conducted prior to their Thursday departure. The majority of flying performed was tactical landings, low-level flights, airdropping and aerial refuelling.

Scenarios conducted at Fairford included CV-22 ‘hot refuelling’ from a MC-130J at a Forward Area Refuelling Point (FARP). In darkness the MC-130J set up a temporary FARP at the western end of the airfield ready for the CV-22 to arrive. With only its navigation and rotor-tip lights to light up the area, the Osprey is marshalled into position with ground crews standing-by to begin fuelling. As soon as the refuelling process is completed the CV-22 taxis away from the FARP and departs to its next mission. Within minutes the MC-130J can pack up and depart the area.

Operations were also carried out at Salisbury Plain Training Area, which involved live firing in “Delta 123” and “Delta 125” the Imber and Larkhill danger areas. They are two of the very few places in the UK that live weaponry training can take place. The Osprey is equipped with either a 7.62mm or .50 cal ramp mounted machine gun for protection while entering hostile environments.

The majority of pilots currently flying the MC-130J have converted from the previous MC-130P/H types and are very impressed with the enhancements and new capabilities that the J has provided them. Maj Gregory Lecrone, a MC-130J pilot assigned to the 325nd SOG explains: “The MC-130J is approximately 10 percent faster and climbs higher than the older aircraft while still being more fuel efficient. It does this with a little more than half the crew compliment of the older aircraft. It is able to take off and land on more airfields due to the increased performance.”

The exercise appeared to be a success and the group has already announced they do wish to return to Fairford to carry out further exercises. This is due to the local nature of Fairford to their home base, and it’s lack of stationed aircraft giving them an empty airfield with no interference.