Royal Air Force Regiment

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RAF Regiment servicemen near Khandahar Airfield, Afghanistan January 2010.

The Royal Air Force Regiment (RAF Regt) is part of the Royal Air Force and functions as a specialist airfield defence corps founded by Royal Warrant in 1942.

The RAF Regiment is trained in CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) defence and equipped with advanced vehicles and detection measures. RAF Regiment instructors are responsible for training all Royal Air Force personnel in basic Force Protection, such as first aid, weapon handling, and CBRN skills.

The regiment and its members are known within the RAF as ‘The Regiment’, ‘Rock Apes’ or ‘Rocks’. After a 32 week trainee gunner course, its members are trained and equipped to prevent a successful enemy attack in the first instance; minimise the damage caused by a successful attack; and ensure that air operations can continue without delay in the aftermath of an attack. RAF Regiment squadrons use aggressive defence tactics whereby they actively seek out infiltrators in a large area surrounding airfields.

The genesis of the RAF Regiment was with the creation of No. 1 Armoured Car Company RAF in 1921 for operations in Iraq, followed shortly afterwards by No. 2 Armoured Car Company RAF and No. 3 Armoured Car Company RAF. These were equipped with Rolls-Royce Armoured Cars and were highly successful in ground combat operations throughout the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s. The RAF Regiment came into existence, in name, on 5 February 1942. From the start it had both field squadrons and light anti-aircraft squadrons, the latter originally armed with Hispano 20mm cannon and then the Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. Its role was to seize, secure and defend airfields to enable air operations to take place. Several parachute squadrons were formed to assist in the seizing of airfields and No. II Squadron retains this capability. 284 Field Squadron was the first RAF unit to arrive in West Berlin in 1945, to secure RAF Gatow.

The Regiment has a museum at RAF Honington near Bury St Edmunds. The RAF Regiment mounts annually the King’s Guard/Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London, with the first occasion being on 1 April 1943.

During World War II, with its first headquarters established at RAF Alma Park, Grantham, Lincolnshire and its first depot at nearby RAF Belton Park the RAF Regiment grew to a force of over 80,000 men in 280 squadrons of 185 men each (each squadron including five officers). Squadrons usually consisted of a Headquarters Flight, three Rifle Flights, an Air-Defence Flight, and an Armoured-Car Flight. The flights were grouped together into wings as needed. It also operated six Armoured Car Squadrons to provide an area response capability to several RAF stations. Light Armoured Squadrons, equipped with FV101 Scorpion and FV107 Scimitar light Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) – (CVR(T) – continued to be operated into the 1980s. Formerly the RAF’s firefighters were also members of the RAF Regiment, although they are now independent of it.

The RAF Regiment comes under command of 2 Group, Air Command. Its members are organised into ten regular squadrons, – Nos 1, 2, 3, 15, 26, 27, 34, 51, 58 and 63/Queen’s colour Squadron – of which eitght are field squadrons and two are specialist CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear units under the umbrella of the defence CBRN Wing (No 20 Wing RAF Regiment -see note below), plus fourRoyal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) Regiment (RAuxAF Regt) squadrons. These are intended to counter ground-based threats to overseas/deployed RAF assets and, to this end, are trained as mobile infantry to move on foot, or in helicopters and protected mobility vehicles, to defend airfields and landing sites. The large area surrounding airfields (regularly up to 140 km square) means RAF Regiment rifle flights (platoons) often spend long periods of time deployed on the ground deterring and detecting potential attackers. Since 2007, some 10 RAF Regiment gunners have been killed in action, and many seriously injured, in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, over the same period, three Military Crosses have been won by RAF Regiment members for conspicuous bravery.

Members of the RAF Regiment are equipped with a range of direct and indirect fire systems and surveillance and night vision equipment. The way a field squadron operates depends upon the threat they are facing, mounting defensive positions or aggressive patrolling outside the airfield boundary. As air bases are fixed and supporting elements are unable to redeploy quickly, field squadrons must engage an attacking adversary at the earliest opportunity to prevent air operations from being disrupted.

Field Squadrons are divided into flights, which are equivalent in size to an army platoon. Each squadron contains several rifle flights, whose task is to engage the enemy at close range, and a support weapons flight, which provides fire support to the rifle flights using machine guns, mortars, and snipers.

The field squadrons are 171 strong making them larger than an infantry company in the British Army although not all personnel on an RAF Regiment squadron are trained gunners, rather specialist support services such as administrators and drivers etc. A typical RAF Regiment squadron has support elements from the RAF but these personnel are not able to deploy on patrols etc. All regular RAF Regiment personnel are male although the Auxiliary Squadrons do recruit women, it is British Government policy that women cannot serve in close combat units. There are approximately 2,000 regular airmen (i.e. Other Ranks), 300 regular officers, and 500 reservists.

Since 1990, the RAF Regiment has conducted operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus, Falkland Islands, Iraq, Kosovo, Kuwait, Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Sierra Leone. Some RAF Regiment officers and Senior Non Commissioned Officers have been seconded to the Army in roles such as Forward Air Controlers with some Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) that co-ordinate Close Air Support for the ground forces. The Regiment provide staff for the Defence CBRN Centre at Winterborne Gunner which trains personnel from all three Services and the civilian police in CBRN defence skills; a flight of some 40 RAF Regiment personnel forms part of the tri-service Special Forces Support Group.

In 2011, as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, it was announced that from December 2011, the CBRN role undertaken by the Joint CBRN Regiment, a combined Army/RAF unit, would be transferred to the RAF Regiment (as lead service) under the new Defence CBRN Wing, formed from 26 Squadron, 27 Squadron and 2623 (Auxiliary) Squadron. The army retains involvement through the continued use of the Royal Yeomanry to provide trained battlefield casualty replacements.

The RAF Regiment’s basic training increased to 32 weeks to incorporate the specialist training centred on air-aware soldiering.

The RAF Regiment have recently begun a large reservist recruitment drive for their reserve field squadrons calling for civilians with and without military experience.

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