847 NAS make history guiding F-35 bombing runs

For the first time the wings of the Royal Marines have guided F-35 stealth fighters on a live bombing run.

Garvie Island – a rocky outcrop off Cape Wrath at the north-west tip of Scotland – was hit by two 500lb Paveway bombs, dropped by US Marine Corps pilots operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Directing the bombing runs was 847 Naval Air Squadron, whose Wildcat helicopters provide wide-ranging battlefield support for commandos on the ground.

In this case Lieutenant Dom Savage was in a Wildcat acting as the airborne Forward Air Controller, directing the F-35s of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 – operating from the flight deck of the UK’s new carrier, alongside Royal Navy and RAF F-35s of 617 Squadron.

Working hand-in-hand with the Wildcat crew was a specialist commando unit, 148 (Meiktila) Battery Royal Artillery, who ‘paint’ the target – pointing a laser beam at it for the bomb to aim at.

The opportunity to drop live ordnance from F-35Bs hasn’t happened before, so to be a part of the first live control is a privilege

Lt Dom Savage, 847 NAS

And it played out like this:

Lt Savage: Avenger 1-1, cleared hot.

F-35 pilot: Avenger 1-1, cleared hot.

F-35 pilot: Avenger 1-1, one away. Time away: 30 seconds.

F-35 pilot: Ten seconds.

F-35 pilot: Hulk [call-sign for the 148 Battery Observer], laser on.

BOOM!

F-35 pilot: Avenger 1-1, splash.

Lt Savage: Observing good effects on target.

The uninhabited granite outcrop of Garvie Island is used as the target due to indestructability and its resemblance (ish) to a major warship – it’s roughly the same width and length as a capital ship.

“Working alongside our US Marine Corps brethren as well as the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers of 148 Battery has been extremely rewarding,” said Lieutenant Savage.

“The opportunity to drop live ordnance from F-35Bs hasn’t happened before, so to be a part of the first live control is a privilege.”

It’s not the only ordnance the Royal Marine and his comrades from the Yeovilton-based squadron have been observing raining down on the Cape Wrath range.

The fliers have been working with 29 Commando Royal Artillery and NATO nations to enhance and strengthen working relationships as well as tactics, techniques and practices.

Four 847 Wildcat Pilots were qualified as ‘Air Observation Posts’ working with 29 Cdo’s L118 Light Guns to bring 77 105mm high-explosive rounds crashing down on the Cape, assisted by the Wildcat’s enhanced targeting suite.

The training in Scotland – part of the latest Joint Warrior exercise hosted by the UK’s armed forces – concludes with the Wildcats directing the guns of participating British and NATO warships against targets on the Cape Wrath range, known as Naval Gunfire Support.

847 is the only helicopter squadron in the UK military’s inventory capable of acting as spotters for ground-based and naval gunfire and calling in air strikes.