171st Aviation Squadron (Australia)

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171st Aviation Squadron
Soldiers from the Australian Army 2nd Commando Regiment fast rope from an S-70A-9 Black Hawk from the Australian Army 171st Aviation Squadron during exercise Talisman Sabre 2015.jpg
Commandos from the 2nd Commando Regiment fast rope from a 171 Avn Sqn Black Hawk during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015
Active 2004–
Country Australia
Branch Australian Army
Role Provide aviation support to special operations
Part of 6th Aviation Regiment
Garrison/HQ Holsworthy Barracks
Aircraft flown
Helicopter S70A Blackhawk

The 171st Aviation Squadron (171 Avn Sqn) is an Australian Army helicopter squadron equipped with S70A Black Hawk helicopters and provides support to the Special Operations Command. The squadron is based at Luscombe Airfield, Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney and forms part of the 6th Aviation Regiment.[1]

Overview[edit]

The Squadron primarily supports the Tactical Assault Group, troop lift support is also provided to other Special Forces based at Holsworthy and Perth, and to other east coast and southern Australian based units.[2]

In March 1997, the Board of Inquiry into the Black Hawk Training Accident in June 1996 recommended that dedicated Army aviation assets be allocated in support of the counter terrorist and special operations capability and that the units be collocated during training, planning and the conduct of operations.[2]

History[edit]

The 171st Aviation Squadron traces its lineage back to the 161st Reconnaissance Flight which was formed in June 1965 based at RAAF Base Amberley.[3][4] The Flight was part of the 16th Army Light Aircraft Squadron which in 1967 became the 1st Aviation Regiment.[5][4] The Flight served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1971 and during this period was renamed the 161st (Independent) Reconnaissance Flight.[3] On return from Vietnam, the Flight was based at Oakley.[3] On 31 January 1974, the Flight was re-designated as the "171st Operational Support Squadron" following a restructure of the 1st Aviation Regiment using the number from the disbanded 171st Air Cavalry Flight.[3][5][6]

On 19 December 2002, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Special Operations Command and that the government would accelerate the purchase of the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters to enable a squadron of helicopters to be based in Sydney as a potent addition to the Tactical Assault Group East.[7][8]

On 28 November 2004, 'A' Squadron of the 5th Aviation Regiment based at RAAF Base Townsville swapped designations with the 171st Operational Support Squadron.[9][10] The Squadron was equipped with the Sikorsky S-70A Black Hawk with the role of providing support to the Special Operations Command.[10]

The Squadron separated from the 1st Aviation Regiment and was placed under the command of the 16th Aviation Brigade as an independent squadron and was re-designated as the "171st Aviation Squadron".[11][9] The Squadron was commanded by a lieutenant colonel in addition to the conventional squadron commander of Major rank.[9]

In July 2005, Holsworthy Barracks was selected as the location in Sydney to relocate the Squadron.[12] In December 2006, the Squadron relocated to temporary facilities at Luscombe Airfield with the redevelopment of the airfield expected to be completed by late 2008.[13]

The Squadron was involved in operations in East Timor as part of Operation Astute.[14] On 29 November 2006, a Squadron Black Hawk helicopter crashed during Operation Quickstep while attached to HMAS Kanimbla off the coast of Fiji.[9] The helicopter's pilot, Captain Mark Bingley, and Trooper Joshua Porter from the Special Air Service Regiment were killed in the crash.[15][16]

In March 2008, the Squadron became part of the newly raised 6th Aviation Regiment following implementation of a recommendation from the Board of Inquiry into the Crash of Black Hawk 221 to raise a regiment.[1][17][9]

Equipment[edit]

A Commando from 1st Commando Regiment jumping from a 171 Avn Sqn Black Hawk in 2013

The Squadron is equipped with S-70A-9 Black Hawks and was planned to transition to the MRH 90 Taipan an Australian variant of the NHI NH90, however significant problems were encountered and it could not be certified for special operations including fast roping and an issue re-siting a machine gun used during fast roping or rappelling.[18][19] In December 2015, the Army advised that the Black Hawk will continue to be operated as a result until the end of 2021 with 18 based at Holsworthy and two retained at the Oakey Army Aviation Centre in Queensland.[18]

In February 2016, it was announced in the Defence White Paper 2016 that dedicated light helicopters will be acquired to support Special Forces operations which can be rapidly deployed in Boeing C-17 Globemasters, and can insert, extract and provide fire support for small teams of Special Forces undertaking tasks ranging from tactical observation through to counter-terrorism missions, or hostage recovery.[20]

Further information was provided in the Integrated Investment Program which accompanied the Defence White Paper, that: "A new fleet of light reconnaissance and attack helicopters will be acquired from around 2025 to provide air mobility support optimised for special operations missions. The new helicopters will likely feature some light armament and modern intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications capabilities for integration with the joint force. They will be able to be deployed rapidly as a small force element of three to four aircraft and personnel by the Globemaster".[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "6th Aviation Regiment". Australian Army. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "171st Aviation Squadron" (PDF). Statement of Evidence to the Parliament Standing Committee on Public Works. Department of Defence. October 2005. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Unit History". 161 Possums. Retrieved 3 August 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "Army aviation in Australia 1970–2015" (PDF). Australian Army. Australian Army Flying Museum. Retrieved 4 August 2016. 
  5. ^ a b "1 Aviation Regiment". The Australian Army Aviation Association. Archived from the original on 2009-06-22. 
  6. ^ "1st Aviation Regiment". The Australian Army Aviation Association. Archived from the original on 2006-07-21. 
  7. ^ "Expansion of Special Forces Counter Terrorist Capability and new Special Operations Command". Prime Minister of Australia. Archived from the original on 2003-02-23. 
  8. ^ Foxcroft, Sgt Sybelle (9 September 2004). "Need a lift? Army looks to Europe for troop-lift carrier". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1105 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 2011-03-22. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "Black Hawk 221 Board of Inquiry 2007–2008" (PDF). Australian Defence Force. Retrieved 3 August 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "5th Aviation Regiment". Australian Army. Retrieved 3 August 2016. 
  11. ^ "1st Aviation Regiment". Australian Army. Retrieved 3 August 2016. 
  12. ^ "Black Hawk helicopters to be based in Sydney". Minister for Defence (Press release). 30 July 2005. Archived from the original on 2005-12-31. 
  13. ^ "Aircrews fly high at new work site". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1160 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. 22 February 2007. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 2011-04-04. 
  14. ^ Webster, Flt-Lt Lauretta (9 August 2007). "Choppers rotate in Timor-Leste". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1172 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 2011-04-04. 
  15. ^ "Report of the Board of Inquiry into the Crash of Black Hawk 221 Released" (Press release). Department of Defence. 15 July 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  16. ^ "Two of our best lost in tragedy". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1158 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. 14 December 2006. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 2011-03-21. 
  17. ^ Gubler, Abraham (2008). "Army Aviation's New Decade of Growth". Asia Pacific Defence Reporter. 34 (5): 16–19. 
  18. ^ a b Kerr, Julian (2 December 2015). "Australian Army to extend Black Hawk service lives for special forces use". Jane's Defence Weekly (53.4). Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 
  19. ^ Farrell, John Hunter (2016). "Special Operations Aviation Capability". Australian & NZ Defender Magazine. Autumn 2016 (93). Brisbane Market: Fullbore Magazines. ISSN 1322-039X. 
  20. ^ 2016 Defence Whitepaper (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 978-0-9941680-5-4. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 
  21. ^ 2016 Integrated Investment Program (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 978-0-9941680-6-1. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Eather, Steve (1995). Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-15-3.