Culdrose Sea King squadrons say goodbye to Bastion

854 Naval Air Squadron are back on British soil having witnessed the lowering of a White Ensign, marking the final contribution of the last fully formed Royal Naval unit on operations in Afghanistan. The final Sea King aircraft is due to arrive back at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose today.

Since May 2009, 854 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) and sister Squadron 857 NAS, have played a vital role flying Sea King Mk 7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASaC) aircraft for more than 9,000 hours over 2,000 sorties to support troops on the ground as part of 903 Expeditionary Air Wing.   

In five years of unbroken commitment, the Culdrose Sea King Force has located insurgents’ arms caches, tracked drugs shipments and followed the movements of insurgents.  Their actions have directly helped to save the lives of Afghan citizens and coalition troops.  Since the ceremony in Camp Bastion last week, the personnel and helicopters left Afghanistan for their Cornish home of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.

The contribution of the SKASaC force over five years has been magnificent, taking the fight to a determined enemy in a vastly unfamiliar environment. Your vital work saved many lives and proved the value of the aircraft over land.

Admiral Sir George Zambellas, First Sea Lord

As 854 departed, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “I am pleased to be able to pay tribute to the contribution made by the 854 Naval Air Squadron, which has played an essential role in supporting troops on the ground in Afghanistan.” 

The Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, said: “The contribution of the SKASaC force over five years has been magnificent, taking the fight to a determined enemy in a vastly unfamiliar environment.  Your vital work saved many lives and proved the value of the aircraft over land.” 

During their continued period in theatre, 857 and 854 Squadrons have enabled the discovery of significant amounts of IED-making equipment, arms, drugs and suspect insurgents.  They have regularly directed ground forces to vehicles laden with fertiliser, electric wiring and batteries, all of which are used to make explosives.

The Commanding Officer of RNAS Culdrose, Captain Mark Garratt said: “We are enormously proud of the contribution of the whole Sea King ASaC Force.  Personnel have been deployed to operations in Afghanistan for long periods during the past five years and the Sea King Force has had sterling support from all at Culdrose, but we must also thank the families of those involved who have had their loved ones miss birthdays, Christmas and other important family occasions.” 

As well as the Fleet Air Arm, thousands of members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines have previously served in Afghanistan in support of Operation Herrick. During Herrick 5 in 2006 and 2007 and Herrick 9 in 2008 and 2009, 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines HQ and 42 Commando RM and 45 Commando RM were deployed. At those times Royal Navy and Royal Marines made up around 40 per cent of UK troops. Individuals from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines will continue to serve in Afghanistan until the conclusion of combat operations by the end of the year.