UK SF Exercise – Chameleon 23-1

Shadow R1 RAF

By Pat Carty.

I wish I had a globe which enabled me to look into the future. There again, I guess if I had paid more attention to the current weather charts, and used them to predict the future weather, I would have had more luck attending the latest British Special Forces Exercise; Chameleon 23-1. The reason being that I had the intention of heading to Scotland to view the exercise from there. However, the weather necessitated changing the exercise location.

Like its predecessor, I anticipated that Chameleon Exercise Planners, who for obvious reasons like to keep relevant details from exercise participants until the last moment, had planned the exercise to be located at the ex-Royal Air Force airfield at Leuchars in Scotland – now home to the British Army. However, as they forecast gale force winds and torrential rain – conditions not suited to “High Altitude High Opening” (HAHO) or “High Altitude Low Opening” (HALO) parachuting – a major component of Chameleon, the exercise was again repositioned to the warmer climes of Cyprus.

Exercise Chameleon is a bi-annual Special Force exercise, which has previously involved various members and units of the United Kingdom’s Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, together with other essential SF ground and support units. 

Due to recent changes to the UK SOF structure, which involved the Royal Marines transforming the new Future Commando Force (FCF), and two new “specialized units” (ASOB and SFOB) and coming under the control of the British Army; not the Director Special Force, who is responsible for the Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, Special Forces Support Group, Special Reconnaissance Regiment, 18th Signal Regiment, and Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing,  I was hoping to take my usual “close look” at the new structure. The idea being to see what if anything had changed – other than an overall attempt to reduce the size of the armed forces, and increase their capabilities with additional training and modern equipment – therefore, make them more responsive to events around the world. I should add that those are the Ministry of Defence’s words, not mine!

Just prior to StartEx, one of the few remaining but trusty C-130 Hercules left RAF Brize Norton, bristling with SOF equipment, for the British sovereign base at Akrotiri in Cyprus. Then, after a brief pause, continued onwards to Jordan.

Two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the Special Forces Flight at RAF Odiham, also departed for Cyprus, followed by two C-130 Hercules, manned by aircrews from the Royal Air Force 47 Squadron Special Forces flight, and 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 Hercs, who routed direct to Akrotiri, the Shadows took a more leisurely route via Marseille, and then Gibraltar, where they overnighted.

The following morning, the Shadows departed Gib for Akrotiri. Then, completed their journey to their exercise Forward Operating Base (FOB); King Feisal bin Abdul Aziz Air Base in southern Jordan. Incidentally, all the aircraft involved, transited using the British Military international ICAO call sign “Ascot” (RRR). 

Following StartEx, Chameleon continued with several Para-drops, both standard static line and freefall, made into the Mediterranean Sea off Akrotiri Air Base. The Chinooks and Hercules aircraft were supported by SD Northern River, a large multi-purpose auxiliary ship, operated by Serco Marine Services. This is their largest, both in terms of dimensions and gross tonnage, and specializes in SF support. Northern River was in turn supported by two Royal Marine craft; callsigns CSB 0005 and CSB0012.

Following the sea jumps off Akrotiri, almost daily static-line and freefall HAHO and HALO jumps were then made into Jordanian training areas.

For the SF troops, these covert insertion sorties were supported by the Shadow R.Mk 1 aircraft, who provide 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 enables 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 aid suite.

Several Herc flights also transited into Amman, enabling the SF troops to use the nearby King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre (KASOTC) – if needed.

Whilst there, I have found it to be a one-of-a-kind facility, covering some 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 accommodates 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 A-300 aircraft with targets to simulate hostage scenarios. Special battlefield effects also provide live fire compatibility 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, KASOTC 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.

During this latest Chameleon SOF exercise, there were a total of ninety-one C-130 Hercules sorties, forty-three Shadow R.Mk 1 sorties, and numerous Chinook sorties. The new-to-the-SF-roll C-17 and A-400 aircraft air and ground crews were also put through their paces – due to the forthcoming demise of the ageing RAF C-130 Hercules. The C-17s achieved a total of sixty-three sorties, and the A-400 sixty, during the three-week exercise. Thus, the exercise total overall was some two hundred and forty-seven sorties!

As usual, I look forward to attending the next Exercise Chameleon, weather permitting, be it located in either Cyprus or Scotland.


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: Beechcraft Shadow R.Mk 1 (14 Squadron RAF)