By MC3 Robyn Melvin
Navy Public Affairs Support Element Southeast
Sailors from the British Royal navy arrived at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville May 3, to assemble their new Helicopter Maritime Attack (HMA2) Wildcat, which will accompany the Royal navy fleet auxiliary fast fleet tanker (RFA) Wave Knight (A389), on a seven-month deployment.
In order to make the transatlantic journey from the United Kingdom to the U.S., the Wildcat was disassembled and shipped with the crew on a C-17 cargo plane to NAS Jacksonville to be reassembled. The base provided accommodations and support while the team completed their task of building the helicopter.
"We give them hazardous material support, we help with any logistic issues and we provide them with hangar space for their helicopter," said Doug Chaney, NAS Jacksonville airfield manager. "We also provide them with administrative space. Basically we give them the same services that we give our U.S. detachments, and we do whatever we can to support them."
After the helicopter is reassembled, it will be transported to Naval Station Mayport where their ship the RFA Wave Knight is temporarily docked and awaiting deployment. It is typical to have a Westland Lynx helicopter accompany the ship, however for this deployment they are introducing an upgraded model called the Wildcat.
"The radar and the camera are the main differences between the Wildcat and the Lynx," said Lt. Amy Gilmore, flight commander of the Wildcat. "The Wildcat works really well as a surveillance platform now because our sensors have been increased. Our new radar can see up to 200 miles where as the Lynx could only see up to 50 miles, and our radar can see 360 degrees as opposed to just in front of us."
While in Jacksonville they have also been training with the U.S. Coast Guard in order to improve their counter narcotics procedures.
"The [Royal Navy] used their new aircraft against our equipment during an exercise on the St. Johns River," said Lt. Ian Culver, Coast Guard instructor pilot for airborne use of force counter drug missions. "They get our take on how they perform airborne force counter missions, and we learn from them as well."
Culver and Gilmore both agree that intermixing militaries is a great way to learn how to work together efficiently and learn new tactics.
"I've learned a different way to approach crew resource management from them," said Culver. "It is essentially how the crew engages and uses each others' experience and knowledge to get the mission done."
According to Chaney, NAS Jacksonville's main mission during the Royal navy visit was to help them as much as possible so that they would want to return in the future. The team responded by saying that the partnership was a success.
"The guys here at NAS Jacksonville, especially Mr. Chaney and his team, have been fantastic in supporting us with the facility and assistance around the base," said Lt. Jason Steele, force logistics officer for the Wildcat maritime force for the Royal navy. "We are very much looking forward to coming back soon."
Once the Wildcat is loaded onto the ship it will embark on a seven-month deployment primarily consisting of conducting counter narcotic missions and providing humanitarian assistance during hurricane season in the Caribbean. Once the deployment is over the Wildcat and its crew will return to NAS Jacksonville where it will be dissembled and shipped back to the United Kingdom.