Story by Pat Carty.
Due to the ongoing situation in Ukraine, I doubt if there were many in the military, especially NATO, who did not expect their training to be either delayed or postponed, due to the necessity to prepare to be ready or move. However, that was not the case for British Special Forces, as their planned exercise “Chameleon 22-1” went ahead as scheduled.
Exercise Chameleon is a bi-annual Special Force exercise, involving members of the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, together with other essential SF ground units who support them.
Due to a slight relaxation with Covid-19 restrictions, I had my bags packed and ready to head to Leuchars in Scotland, to observe the exercise. However, that turned out not to be the case, as a few weeks prior to StartEx, the Governments Meteorology service forecast gale force winds and torrential rain – conditions not suited to observing military exercises, or High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) or High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachuting – a major component of Chameleon.
In view of the forecasted weather, two Chinook helicopters from the 7 Squadron Special Forces Flight at RAF Odiham, departed instead for the British sovereign base at Akrotiri in Cyprus. They were followed by two C-130 Hercules, manned by aircrew from the Royal Air Force 47 Squadron Special Forces flight, based at RAF Brize Norton. Two days later, two Shadow R.Mk 1 aircraft followed, crewed by 14 Squadron at RAF Waddington. However, unlike the Herc’s, who routed direct to Akrotiri, the Shadows took a more leisurely route via Marseille and then Gibraltar, where they over-nighted. The following morning, they left Gib for Akrotiri, and then completed their journey at their exercise Forward Operating Base (FOB); King Feisal bin Abdul Aziz Air Base in southern Jordan. Incidentally, all aircraft transited using the British Military international ICAO call sign “Ascot” (RRR).
Chameleon then commenced with a number of Para-drops, both standard static line and freefall, made into the Mediterranean Sea, just off Akrotiri air base. The Chinooks and Hercules aircraft were supported by the SD Northern River. This large multi-purpose auxiliary ship is operated by Serco Marine Services, and is currently the largest ship operated by Serco, both in terms of dimensions and gross tonnage, and specializes in SF support.
I should add that SD Northern River had replaced the “normal” Chameleon support ship; SD Victoria, which for some unknown reason has been moored up in Halifax Navy Base, Canada, for some months.
Following the sea jumps, again almost daily static line and freefall HAHO and HALO jumps were made into Jordanian training areas. For the SF troop covert insertion sorties, the troops were supported by the Shadow R.Mk 1 aircraft, which provided invaluable “Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance” (ISTAR) by using their high definition electro-optical and electronic sensors, this data enabling analysts to prepare comprehensive intelligence reports. The Shadows Satellite communications links also enabled information to be downloaded to troop commanders on the ground, and also provide up-to-the minute Forward Air Control support. I should add that the Shadows are also fitted with a defensive aids suite.
A number of Herc flights also transited into Amman, enabling the SF troops to use the nearby King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre (KASOTC). When I have been there previously, I found it to be a one-of-a-kind facility, covering twenty-five square kilometres. It was safe, secure and isolated and equipped with multiple distance ranges; from a 1300-meter unknown distance range to a 300-meter, moving target range, which accommodate most firearm requirements. It also has a four story; close quarters battle (CQB), live-fire structure and the largest mock city in existence; 67 buildings, which include numerous arrangements from an Afghan village to an embassy compound, driving ranges, an Airbus A300 aircraft with targets to simulate hostage scenarios. Special battlefield effects also provide live fire compatible throughout, with a fibre optic network connecting the Range Operations Control Centre (ROC) to the hundreds of cameras, microphones, target systems, and simulators, all testing the user’s creativity in tactics, techniques and procedures. Together with on-site lodging, dining, gym, pro-shop, weapons/equipment rental and storage; it is easy to see why KASOTC is the ideal place to do what is necessary to prepare forces for the challenges of armed conflict. Finally, it is also the venue for the annual SF Warrior Competition, a contest where the best Special Forces teams from around the world participate in live fire exercises and drills.
As usual, I will look forward to attending the next Exercise Chameleon, weather permitting and be it in Jordan or Scotland. As for the troops who participated, I know, having seen numerous Chameleon exercises in the past that they will have benefitted from the training. I guess the RAF crews will also have looked forward to putting their feet up, after having flown a total of fifty four C-130 Hercules sorties, forty-nine Shadow R.Mk 1 sorties, and numerous Chinook sorties, in the three week exercise.
Author: Pat Carty is a NATO accredited journalist who covers military news, events, operations, and exercises; including special operations forces. He is a contributor to SOF News as well as several other military defense publications.
Photo: C-130 “Oman 01” over Jordan (RAF)