Last Updated: 30 June, 2015
The Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW) was formed on 02 April 2001, bringing together 657 Squadron Army Air Corps (AAC) and 7 Squadron RAF into a single unit to provide Lynx and Chinook helicopters in support of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF). In 2008, the JSFAW incorporated 8 Flight AAC (later renamed 658 Squadron AAC). It has also been suggested that 651 Squadron AAC became part of the JSFAW in 2006, but left in 2008.
2.0 Operational Command
The JSFAW is located at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, England and is under the peacetime command of the Station Commander, a Group Captain (OF-5), of RAF Odiham. However, the single Services retain full command of their respective personnel.
RAF Odiham is an operational flying station. As well as the regular station functions of Base Support Wing, Engineering Logistics Wing and Operations Wing, the Station is home to No 18(B) Squadron, No 27 Squadron and the JSFAW.
3.0 JSFAW Elements
The JSFAW is commanded by a Wing Commander (OF-4) and consists of three Squadrons, one RAF and two AAC.
3.1 7 Squadron RAF
7 Squadron RAF, formed shortly after the Falklands War, is equipped with the twin-rotor Chinook (HC2 variant) helicopter and operates in support of NATO and UK interests’ worldwide, providing direct support to the Army.
The role of 7 Squadron is three-fold:
- The insertion and extraction of UKSF personnel and vehicles/boats (at land or at sea);
- Counter terrorism operations (typically fast-roping UKSF personnel onto their objectives); and
- Resupply of UKSF personnel (often deep behind enemy lines).
7 Squadron also carry out more general squadron duties such as cargo transport.
3.2 651 Squadron AAC
651 Squadron AAC is located at Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station, Aldergrove, Northern Ireland from where it operates the Defender fixed wing aircraft.
Historically, 651 Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF) formed up on 01 August 1941 at RAF Old Sarum, under command of Squadron Leader ED Joyce. In 1957, with the formation of the Army Air Corps, 651 AOP Squadron was redesignated 651 Squadron Army Air Corps, based at RAF Debden in Essex.
In 2003 the Squadron was disbanded but reformed in 2006 at RAF Odiham, as the primary operator of the Defender AL1, providing fixed-wing manned airborne surveillance in support of counter terrrorist operations. It is at this point that the Squadron became part of the JSFAW.
The Squadron moved to Northern Ireland in July 2008, becoming part of 5 Regiment AAC, and (query) leaving the JSFAW, but still supporting SF missions as required.
3.3 657 Squadron AAC
657 Squadron AAC is equipped with the Lynx (AH7 variant) helicopter, and reports suggest more recently the Mk9a variant, and operates in support of NATO and UK interests’ worldwide, providing direct support to the Army.
3.4 658 Squadron AAC
In 2006 or 2008 (sources vary), 8 Flight AAC was amalgamated into the JSFAW. On 01 September 2013 8 Flight AAC was upgraded and formally re-designated 658 Squadron AAC (AirForces Monthly, 2014). The unit flies the AS365N3 Dauphin II and Gazelle AH1 in support of UKSF and is based at Credenhill Barracks, Hereford (AirForces Monthly, 2014).
Painted in civilian colours the Dauphin helicopters can blend in to normal civilian air traffic and thus allow UKSF to be transported quickly, but covertly, around the UK.
In addition to covert transport, 658 Squadron AAC can also fly UKSF into action during Counter Terrorism operations. The Dauphin helicopters are believed to be fitted with external threat detection, sensor and jamming pods, plus a set of antennas for secure radio communications gear housed inside the cabin.
AirForces Monthly. (2014) News Briefs. AirForces Monthly. January 2014, Issue #310, pp.7.