Last Updated: 08 August, 2016
299 Signal Squadron (Special Communications), 299 Sig Sqn (SC), is a specialist volunteer unit and the only Special Communications (SC) unit in the British Army. The Squadron is part of 1st Signals Brigade, one of two future independent Squadrons in the Royal Corps of Signals, and is based at Bletchley near Milton Keynes.
The Squadron employs Royal Corps of Signals soldiers both in trade and as Special Communications Operators. The SC Operator role involves soldiers working in support of specified Other Government Departments (OGDs) in the UK and overseas in a wide variety of unique and challenging roles.
Deployments are often at short notice and usually involve deploying alone or in small teams. There are also a number of secondments to specialist training and equipment development teams based throughout the UK.
1.1 Women and Special Communications
In accordance with current Government policy on the employment of women in the UK military, service in 299 Sig Sqn (SC) is open to male and female volunteers.
On 08 July 2016, the MOD announced that all Ground Close Combat Roles (RAC, Infantry, Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment) would be opened to women by 2018 (British Army, 2016).
The role of 299 Sig Sqn (SC), commanded by a Major (OF-3), is to provide Independent Communication Support (ICS) and command support to specified OGDs in the UK and worldwide in order to facilitate the collection and dissemination of national information through the provision of Special Communications and specialist intelligence gathering skills.
Eligibility to become a Special Communicator is open to any trade and gender, from Signaller to Corporal, Regular Army or Army Reserve. A candidate must be Fully Employable (FE) and have a recommendation from their Officer Commanding when submitting their PD 206.
Selection criteria and further information is contained in SOinC(A) PD 206, which must be completed and submitted for attendance on the Special Communications Briefing Course. For further information aspirants should contact the Recruiting NCO at 299 Sig Sqn (SC).
3.0 Briefings and Preparation
The Squadron’s recruitment team provide briefings for all Royal Corps of Signals units, both Regular Army and Army Reserve, to promote greater awareness across the Corps.
The Squadron also sponsors a two-part selection process consisting of:
- Special Communications Briefing Course; and
- Special Communications Assessment.
3.1 Special Communications Briefing Course
299 Sig Sqn (SC) sponsors a 3-day Special Communications Briefing Course (SCBC) for SC aspirants, typically held at Longmoor Camp. There are currently four courses per year delivered internally by the Squadron’s training cell.
Throughout the SCBC, candidates will be assessed on their aptitude, navigational skills, technical ability, presentation skills and general military knowledge. The briefing courses are not overwhelming and are designed to assess a candidate’s suitability, as well as providing an opportunity for the soldier to have an insight into the unit.
Candidates who successfully complete the SCBC will then attend a Special Communications Assessment (SCA), the last hurdle before potential Special Communications Operators are loaded onto the Special Communications Course (SCC) (The Wire, 2014).
3.2 Special Communications Assessment
Since 2014 a second filter has been added to the selection process. Successful candidates from the SCBCs will attend a SCA at Aldershot, delivered after the final SCBC of the current training year.
4.0 Special Communications Course
The SCC is 26-weeks in duration and is designed to train in and not select out potential operators through three modules of SC training. The current SCC training model was revamped in the latter stages of 2013.
The course requires basic MATT level standards which are tested and then built upon as the course progresses. Each course has approximately 10 students ranging in rank from Signaller to Sergeant.
4.1 Module One
The primary aim of Module One of the SC Course is to ensure that all candidates have the required military skills to operate efficiently, both as part of a team and as an individual, whilst on operations. This is achieved with a mix of both theory-based and practical lessons taking place in the classroom, and delivered on the surrounding training area. The skills covered throughout Module One include field-craft, navigation, medical training, marksmanship and of course, physical training. Due to the nature of Module One, and the amount of work on the timetable, these 7-weeks will pass by extremely quickly, paving the way for the Module One Test Exercise.
4.2 Module Two
Initial tuition for Module Two is focused on communication principles, mainly satellite and GSM. These lessons serve as a good foundation and refresher for all candidates, many of whom may have never been exposed to satellite communications.
The main bulk of the communication lessons revolve around satellite bearer systems and different VHF/UHF radios that are utilised by the Squadron during operations. This module involves a move away from the widely used Bowman systems in order to become familiar with a new system, which is small and very capable.
Module Two includes a Personal Protection Package (PPP) which involves pistol shooting and the introduction of new techniques and firing positions. These shoots also integrate the use of cover, vehicle contact and fallback drills. Each day ends with a competition that tests speed, accuracy or both.
PPP concludes with 3-days of scenarios in which candidates will be deployed to conduct a task, either alone or with a partner. Scenarios include: caught up in a riot; civil order situation; or a robbery.
4.3 Module Three
Module Three consists of OGD specific training delivered by external instructors. As such, Module Three builds towards the candidates final, overseas confirmatory exercise where all of their newly acquired skills will be put to the test.
4.4 End of Course
The course ends with a graduation evening which is a black tie function, attended by all available serving members of the Squadron, members of the Foreign Commonwealth Office, Officers of the Metropolitan Police Force and any other outside agency that has assisted with training during the SCC.
5.0 Desert SERE Training
Desert SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Extract) training is designed to develop individuals with SERE level C experience as Unit SERE Instructors (USI) in the desert environment (The Wire, 2013).
As well as Personal Recovery (PR), the course covers lesson delivery and advanced survival and evasion training, culminating in a final 4-day escape and evasion exercise across differing desert environments within the Mojave Desert, Nevada.
In order to develop the Squadron’s SERE credentials and enhance training during Pre-Deployment Training (PDT), Squadron personnel may attend the course, returning as unit level Desert SERE instructors.
6.0 Recruitment and Retention Pay
Successful completion of the course and posting into the Squadron entitles individuals to a golden hello and SC pay.
The regulations for recruitment and retention pay, previously known as additional pay or Special Forces pay, are laid down in JSP 754 Tri-Service Regulations for Pay and Charges Chapter 6 Sections 13, 14 and 16.
Since 01 April 2011 the type of recruitment and retention pay (RRP) an individual receives is dependent on:
- RRP (Special Communications) (RRP(SC)), based on qualifying post and unit;
- RRP (Special Forces Communications) (RRP(SFC)), based on qualifying post and rank; and
- RRP (Special Intelligence) (RRP(SI)), based on class and time in service.
For those who wish to serve with the Squadron, but not as a Special Communicator, there are RSE, CLS and CSE posting opportunities. These are fantastic opportunities for support trades to be employed in a specialist environment, working in civilian attire and with unique travel opportunities. CSEs posted into the Squadron will have the opportunity to support OGDs on short term tasks in various locations around the world, working on technical civilian communications systems and networks.
The Wire (2012) Wider Employment Opportunities. The Wire: The Magazine of the Royal Corps of Signals. February 2012, pp.111.
The Wire (2013) 299 Signal Squadron (SC) Bletchley. The Wire: The Magazine of the Royal Corps of Signals. February 2013, pp.89-91.
The Wire (2014) 299 Signal Squadron (SC) Bletchley. The Wire: The Magazine of the Royal Corps of Signals. August 2014, pp.89.
ritish Army (2016) Ground Close Combat Roles Open To Women. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.army.mod.uk/news/28632.aspx. [Accessed: 08 August, 2016].