Saudi Arabian National Guard Readies 1st Aviation Brigade

Military Helicopter Conference Update

How often do you get a chance to take an aviation force that didn’t exist eight years ago, that didn’t have aircraft until 18 months ago, and build it from scratch up,” asked Maj.Gen. Frank Muth, Programme Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG).

Three SANG aviation brigades are in the process of being formed, the first of which are to be ready by the end of 2017, the second in 2019, and the third a decade later in 2021, said Muth, speaking on the second day of the International Military Helicopter conference in London.

With 24 Sikorsky UH-60M digital BLACK HAWKs and 12 Boeing APACHE AH-64E attack helicopters (the latest version) already delivered, the arrival of the Boeing AH-6i Little BIRDs to the unit will bring the 1st Aviation Brigade up to its full compliment of helicopters by the end of the summer.

Pilots have already been in training since 2013, when 12 MD 530F helicopters were delivered from MD Helicopters. The process of generating manpower for the brigades was continuing together with building the training doctrine, maintenance facilities and fully equipping the aircraft

The 1St Aviation Brigade is based at Khashm Al Ain airfield near Riyadh and has been completed. The 4th Aviation Brigade, the training centre, is located at Dirab with an estimated completion date of June 2018. The 2nd and 3rd Aviation Brigades will be located at Hofuf and Jeddah respectively.

With the Bell/Boeing MV-22 OSPREY tiltrotor now well into its service with the US Marine Corps (USMC) Lt.Col. Douglas Ogden, MV-22 Lead, PMA 275, at the Joint Programme Office, said that over 350,000 flying hours had now been recorded.

The latest two customers for the OSPREY are the US Navy (USN) with a requirement for 48 aircraft, and the Japanese Self-Defence Force, who have identified a requirement for 17 aircraft. These aircraft will largely be included in a Multi-Year III procurement, the confirmation of which is expected by the end of the year.

Ogden said that trials had already been conducted with the USN through a fleet battle simulation exercise, where the aircraft had been integrated into the deck-cycle of the carrier’s fixed wing aircraft. The V-22 has already proved its interoperability with a number of allied nations, landing on the UK’s HMS OCEAN, the French BPC DIXMUDE, the Italian carrier CAVOUR and the Spanish LHD JUAN CARLOS I.

One of the developing missions that is planned for the V-22 is the development of the V-22 aerial refuelling systems (VARS). Ogden reported that trail flights had been conducted with F-18 fighters where the aircraft, “didn’t actually plug in to a refuelling nozzle, but pilots reported no issues with the rotor-wash for the V-22s propellers.”

A major asset for any naval customer would be the capability to ‘top-off’ aircraft that had taken off from the carrier’s deck before heading out for a mission, something that would allow them to take off with more weapons due to the lighter fuel load. This would be very relevant to the Lockheed Martin F-35, due for naval operations not only with US Forces but also the UK’s Royal Navy. With further trials planned an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with four aircraft is being projected for 2019.

Other speakers during the second day of the conference included Lt.Gen. Baldev Raj Mahat, Chief of the General Staff, Nepalese Army, who spoke of the tremendous value of air assets during the disaster relief efforts following the disastrous earthquake to hit his country on 25 April 2015. He said that one of the lessons learned was the appreciation of a cargo and pallet system to increase turn-around times when loading and unloading relief supplies.

International helicopter assistance had been provided by several countries including India with 8 Mi17s and six ALH helicopters, three Chinese Mi17s and four USMC MV-22s and three UH-iY HUEYs.

The main challenges faced post-earthquake were the fact that all external aid was received through a single international airport, there were continuous aftershocks which complicated rescue organisation, continuous rain, landslides and building collapses, together with many vital roads impassable.

This has meant that during the critical first phases, the Nepalese Army and foreign helicopters conducted 2237 sorties lifting a total of 716-791kg of relief cargo.

Additional speakers included: Maj.Gen. Khalil Dar, General Offficer Commanding, Pakistan Army Aviation; Maj.Gen. Rozzano Briguez, Chief of Staff, Philippine Air Force; and Kelvin Nunn, Chief of Staff, US Army Program Executive Office (PEO) – Aviation, who revealed that the US Army discovered that a UH-60 BLACK HAWK has a weight gain of around 100lbs per year due to the addition of upgrades and mission equipment. This also included a volume of hidden dirt and paint which accumulates during the aircraft’s operations between deep maintenance. But he said that there was still a need to continually improve each aircraft for survivability (kinetic and avoiding crashes in degraded environments, extending fuel range and avionics upgrades). “When we bring all of this together, it adds weight,” he concluded.

Andrew Drwiega


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