Alnwick Rotary Club

AIR DEFENCE: Members of Alnwick Rotary Club visited the RAF School of Aerospace Battle Management and the Control and Reporting Centre at RAF Boulmer.

As the Officer Commanding, Wing Commander Lyn McManus described the role of the school which plays a central part in delivering the training required by aerospace battle management officers of the operations support branch and airmen and airwomen of the aerospace systems operator and aerospace systems manager trade group.

The school is also recognised as a centre of excellence for tactical airspace battle management and its staff provide training for the RAF’s sister services, NATO and other foreign national military personnel. Between 800 and 850 students attend one of the 30 different courses each year and many are subsequently deployed to work in an operational environment such as Afghanistan and recently in Libya.

To demonstrate training for aerospace battle management on deployed operations, the visitors took part in a tactical floor exercise in the Dowding Centre, a small lecture hall where maps can be projected onto the floor.

Flt Lt Neil Poulton presented the Rotarians with a fictional scenario where they were responsible for planning, managing and executing the air aspects of a mission to de-escalate tensions between two neighbouring countries, one of which was a close ally of the UK.

Following their in-brief, audience members participated by allocating air assets to different tasks in order to prevent any escalation from occurring. They were then de-briefed as to whether they were successful in achieving their aims.

The visitors learned that the school provides training for surveillance and weapons control specialists within the ABM branch. Surveillance specialists use sophisticated computer equipment to monitor the skies and identify friendly and enemy aircraft. Weapons controllers are responsible for directing combat aircraft to intercept unknown or hostile aircraft or order fast jets and helicopters to support combat troops under fire.

Flt Lt Rob Hames showed the visitors how students receive their training in weapons control using a computer simulator within the school. Airmen and airwomen of the aerospace systems operator trade act as aircrew as they fly their aircraft around the screen while providing authentic voice communications over a radio. This training suitably prepares the weapons students for controlling live aircraft when they move down into the control and reporting centre to complete their weapons controller training course.

Following this demonstration, the visitors spent some time in the control and reporting centre to see for themselves how staff in both the surveillance and the weapons teams monitor the skies of NATO Air Policing Area 1– an area of approximately 1 million square miles – and conduct day-to-day operations in support of the most important military task within the UK – the air defence of the United Kingdom.

Also included in the visit was a talk by Sgt Neil Parry on the work of the youth activities group at RAF Boulmer. As part of their secondary duties, group members give up their own time to instruct local schoolchildren in team building, leadership, communication and problem solving exercises which help the young people to build their confidence and learn about the skills that they will need when they go out into workplace.

After a fascinating morning, the President of the Rotary Club James Bateman thanked the Club’s hosts for an extremely informative visit and said: ”I expected high standards of competence and professionalism and that’s exactly what we saw.

“I feel reassured that the future of our defence is in safe hands.”