The following is a paper written by Capt (later Brig) Tim Donkin, proposing the amalgamation of the unit Air Troops into a Brigade Air Squadron.

3rd Commando Brigade Air Flight
3rd Commando Brigade
Royal Marines
BFPO 164

24 August 1967

The Commander, 3rd Commando Brigade Royal Marines



1. ULA were first introduced into the Commando Brigade ever two years ago in accordanee with DCI(U) 714/64. Since then this Brigade has gained considerable experience in operating ULA during operations in Borneo and testing exercises in various countries both with and without the Amphibious Group. From the outset Unit Air Troops have been an integral part of their parent units and have operated as such. Recently, however, a new system of "Brigading" the Air Troops was tried and proved to be very successful.


2. The aims of this paper are as follows:­

a. To examine fully the present method of operating ULA in Unit Air Troops.

b. To examine fully the "Brigaded" method of operating all Cdo Bde ULA in one Flight / Squadron.

c. To determine which method is most efficient and most suitable to current requirements within this Bde, and set out the best organisation of Air Flight/Troops with which to operate this method.

Integral Unit Air Troops

3. Currently Bde HQ, 40 and 42 Cdos and 95 Cdo Lt Regt each have their own Air Flight / Troops cotlprising 3 Sioux operated by an average of 3 pilots, 7 technical ratings/ORs and 3 GD ORs. The advantages and disadvantages of this system. are outlined in the following paragraphs.

4. Advantages

a.. Established and accepted method of operating ULA throughout the British Army.

b. Easy and personal contact between Unit Comnander and his Air Troop Commander and pilots.

c. Simple, direct tasking from unit HQ.

d. Swift response time on receipt of task call.

e. "Personal touch" between Air Troop pilots and sub-unit commanders.

f. Individual command for Air Troop Commanders.

5. Disadvantages

a. Serviceability rate is difficult to maintain for long periods when operating only 3 aircraft.

b. Stores backing is, through neccessity, large to cater for all eventualities and is consequently akward and uneconomical for a 3 aircraft Air Troop. There is no-pne complemented nor qualified in the unit to administer these technical air stores.

c. Lack of positive control on aviation matters from higher, more experienced authority.

d. On operations/exercises a lack of thorough knowledge of other units' air, ground and fire plans in in the remainder of the Bde/Formation AOR.

e. On operations/exercises there is no air traffic link-up with a proper air traffic control organisation i.e BASOC.

f .Individual Air Troop SOPs produce discrepancies between Air Troops within this Bde.

g. The complement of 3 pilots per Air Troop has to be found from within unit resources, thus depleting the unit's Officer/SNCO state.

h. Air Troops find it difficult to operate satisfactorily without an increase in their complements of at least 3 GD ORs, who again must be found from within unit resources.

i. There is a heavy burden of administrative and technical paperwork which falls upon each Air Troop in the Bde, none of which are staffed to deal with this burden.

j. When 2 or more Air Troops are embarked in the LPH or LPD:

(1) There is no one pilot automatically in charge of all embarked ULA and Air Troops if the Bde Flight Commander is not present. This causes confusion and inconvenience to the Air Department who find themselves dealing with different agencies when ascertaining Air Troop Units /flypros/ requirements etc.

(2) There is no one Maintenace Rating automatically in charge of all Air Troop personnel. This causes considerable confusion to the Air Troops themselves and to the Air Department in that there is no cohesion in organising maintenance watches/routines and combining the maintenance effort available from the different Air Troops.

(3) Individual Air Troops attempt to fly their own aircraft. It is usually quite unrealistic to attempt to extricate and range individual Air Troop aircraft from the always congested hangars, yet this practice is still attempted instead of flying the most readily available aircraft.

Brigaded Air Troops - Brigade Air Squadron

6. The term "Brigaded" used in this paper refers to the amlgamation of all the unit Air Troops into one organisation, namely the Brigade Air Squadron. A possible suggested organisation is set out in skeleton form at Annex A, which should be studied before reading the remainder of this paper.

7. The advantages and disadvantages of the projected Bde Air Squadron are outlined in the following paragraphs.

8. Immediate Advantages. By centralising all Bde ULA pilots and Maintenance personnel into one organisation, the following advantages would be effected immediately:-

a. Efficient operational, administrative and technical control by the Bde Air Squadron Commander.

b. Standardisation and early control of all maintenance personnel and their technical work by the Chief Aircraft Artificer.

c. One centralised, comprehensive, technical store instead of four under the integral Unit Air Troop organisation.

d. Standardisation and easy execution of all pilot training which is the Bde Flight Commander's responsibility, although, at present, it is very difficult to implement planned pilot training in practice due to conflicting unit requirements.

e. Effective, comprehensive and centralised briefing for all pilots on operationa l/ exercise and/or airtraffic matters.

f. One set of ULA SOPs becomes effective within the Bde.

g. Higher serviceability and availability rate due to more economicall tasking and utilisation of flying hours.

h. Easy deployment of variable sized detachments to units for specific tasks and periods if so required; i.e. units may now task as many ULA as they require and are no longer limited to their previous maximum of 3 Sioux.

i. Reduction in amount of paperwork being carried out by Unit Air Troops at present.

j. Reduction in administrative responsibilities of units for Air Troop personnel and stores.

k. Pre-planned phased second line servicing depleting overall aircraft strength by a minimum at one time.

9. Long term Advantages

a. Easy transition from relatively simple Sioux ULA to their more advanced replacement, either the Scout, SA 340 or the LOH. It is considered that "Brigading" of ULA will become inevitable in Army Aviation with the advent of the Sioux replacement, due to the more technical maintenance and scale of field spares that will be required.

b. Easy acquisition and incorporation of future complex aircraft armament programme which will inevitably accompany the Sioux replacement.

c. Capability of carrying out much, if not all, second and even third line servicing with specialised equipment built into the G1098 scale for teh Bde Air Squadron.

d. Saving in cost / effectiveness of operating all Bde ULA from one base under one centralised system of control, manning and stores.

e. Probable overall reduction in numbers of all ranks currently employed in the 4 unit Air Troops, Annexes A and B refer.

10. Disadvantages

a. Possible slower response time in meeting immediate task calls though the suggested new tasking system should counter this possibility, Annex A refers.

b. Lack of "personal touch" between pilots and unit and sub-unit commanders.

c. No command opportunities for would-be Air Troop commanders. This criticism can be off set by the fact that the Bde Air Squadron would be split into detachments whenever required. These detachments would be commanded by the senior pilots in the Bde Air Squadron. These detachments would be highly flexible and could be augmented or depleted easily to provide the requisite ULA detachment for any unit requirement.

Other Factors

11. Confrontation - Borneo Operations. Unit Air Troops operating in Borneo during confrontation played an invaluable part in supporting their parent units and their efforts cannot be slighted in any way. However, it is worth considering that each commando unit in Borneo could have had more than their normal 3 ULA had the Bdo Air Squadron been in existence. On certain occasions this luxury would have been greatly appreciated by unit commanders.

12. Vietnam Operations. Both American and Australian Forces operating in Vietnam use a "Brigaded" system of f'ixed and rotary-winged ULA. Reports from Vietnam indicate that this system provides the best solution to both the operator (Air Squadrons) and the user (units/battalions). On the one hand the operator is able to operate and carry out pre-planned phased maintenance at the "safe" base , whilst still providing the requisite number of ULA daily to the forward units. On the other hand the user knows that he will have the exact ULA support he has asked for, yet he is not involved in any way in their control, defence, maintenance or any other of their problems. This is how the Cdo Bde Air Squadron could and should work with the units of the Bde, whether on a peace-time or active-service footing.

13. Radfan and Little Aden Operations. All helicopters, be they ULA or Troop Lift, operate in the Rafan and Little Aden from fixed, "safe" bases / airfields forward to their units on a daily basis.

14. Brigade Operations - Exercise FIRM STRIDE. During the Bde Operation on Exercise FIRM STRIDE, all ULA were ordered be "Brigaded" on a temporary basis. This was effected quickly, though many differences between Air Troop SOPs and maintenance standards became very apparent. Once "Brigaded", all pilots were given a thorough, detailed briefing on all aspects of the forthcoming Bde Operation. All pilots, therefore were prepared for last minute swapping to other pilot's tasks if required. In the event, due to unserviceabilities at the very last moment in both of one unit's ULA, two Bde Flight pilots carried out tasks previously allotted to unit pilots. Further, one ULA had vital radio failure at a critical moment at the start of the operation and since all ULA were under one control it was possible to allocate a spare aircraft immediately. If ULA had not been "Brigaded", it is most unlikely that the two examples (there were many others) of flexibility could or would have occurred.

15. Bde Flight, 40,42 Cdo and 95 Cdo Lt Reg Air Troop monthly reports for July all report on the success of "Brigading" the ULA during Exercise FIRM STRIDE.

Practical Problems to Brigading

16. Location. On completion of the Dieppe Barracks building programme two unit Air Troops will be situated in No 2 Hangar in Kangaw Barracks while the other two will move into their new offices and hangar in Dieppe Barracks. In the evont of "Brigading" this split would be unacceptable, and all four Air Troops should move to Dieppe Barracks. At first sight this would appear to be impossible but such a move would, in fact, be perfectly feasible as there is sufficient room in the new ULA hangar, office and dispersal complex to operate a maximum of 12 Sioux and "house" some 15 Officers, 35 ORs and all associated stores.

17. Command. It has been established that ideally the Brigade Flight Commander should be a Wessex pilot, a Sioux QHI, a Royal Marines Captain and should have at least 1000 flying hours to his credit. This is not possible at present and the Brigade Flight Commander, a local Captain, is the only pilot in the Bde approaching these qualifications. The AOP Troop Commander is a substantive RA Major who is not due to return to UK until early 1968. While he has not been commando trained and has 870 hours flying experience of which little has been spent in the Amphibious Group role, due to his seniority it is for consideration that this officer should command the Bde Air Squadron.

18. Non-Commando Trained Personnel. 95 Cdo Lt Regt AOP Troop pilots and REME maintenance personnel have not undergone commando training and, therefore, are not technically qualified to serve with the Cdo Bde. All REME personnel replacing RN ratings, in RM Air Troops, will be commando trained and it would appear unjust to expect those new arrivals to serve with members of their own Corps, who have not had to undergo Commando training. This problem should be short-term only as it is understood that REME reliefs for the AOP troop will be commando trained.


19. To operate ULA in this Bde to a maximum degree of operational readiness, efficiency and cost effectiveness, all Air Flight/Troops should be "Brigaded" into one operational and flexible formation, capable of serving the Bde as a whole or providing small or large detachments to individual units, as dictated by operational requirements.

20. There are no great disadvantages or problems to "Brigading"; yet there are many important advantages to be gained which are not, on face value, readily apparent to the user, but which become more than obvious after careful consideration.


21. It is strongly recommended that:

a. Bde Flt, 40 and 42 Cdo and 95 Cdo Lt Regt Air Troops should be amalgimated into one Bde sub-unit, to be known as the Bde Air Squadron.

b. The Bde Air Squadron should form on the day Dieppe Barrack's ULA hangar complex is completed and it should be situated there in toto.

c. The Bde Flight Commander should draw up and submit plans for the manning and equipping of a permanent Bde Air Squadron, outlined at Annex A, after a trial period of 3 months using the temporary organisation at Annex B.


T.P.T Donkin
Captain RM

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