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british special forces » 16 air assault brigade
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16 Air Assault Brigade

16 Air Assault Brigade (16 AA Bde) is Britain's airborne rapid reaction force. In it's role as the Air Assault Task Force (AATF), the Brigade is an air-mobile force with the capability to deploy around the world at short notice. When combined with RAF transport aircraft and heavy lift helicopters, 16 AA Bde has the capability to put three battalions of airborne infantry on the ground, supported by up to eighteen 105mm howitzer guns.

Parachutists from 16 Air Assault Brigade
Soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade carry out a parachute jump over Salisbury Plain, 2014.
MOD photo by Corporal Andy Reddy RLC | © Crown copyright 2014 | used under open government licence

Amongst other tasks, the Brigade might be used to quickly protect another ground force's flank, capture key installations such as enemy-held airfields, or insert behind an enemy to stop their retreat.

16 Air Assault Brigade is based around a core component of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment (2 PARA, 3 PARA), together with other infantry units, specialized artillery, combat engineers, signallers and other supporting units, many of which are parachute trained. Air transport and close air support are provided by helicopters from the Joint Helicopter Force.

Pathfinder Platoon
A member of the Pathfinder Platoon (left) pictured with a French counterpart from Groupement des Commandos Parachutiste (GCP). The Pathfinders are an advance force element that deploys ahead of a 16 AA Bde operation in order to carry out reconnaissance, prepare drop / landing zones and disrupt the enemy.
MOD photo by Cpl Jamie Hart | © Crown copyright 2018 | used under open government licence

At the heart of 16 Air Assault Brigade is the Air Manoeuvre Battlegroup (AMBG). This consists of a Parachute Regiment battlegroup - based around a PARA battalion (2 or 3 PARA) along with various support elements - held at readiness. 2 PARA and 3 PARA alternate between year-long readiness (AMBG-1) or training (AMBG-2) cycles.

3 PARA board RAF Chinook
Paratroopers with 3 PARA line up and board a Royal Air Force (RAF) Chinook heavy lift helicopter. The PARAs are the spearhead of any 16 AA Bde air manoeuvre operation. They insert onto their objective by parachute drop, air landing via fixed wing aircraft, or air assault via helicopters. Once on the ground, if needed, they can secure an airhead for follow on forces.
MOD photo by Cpl Rob Travis RAF | © Crown copyright 2015 | used under open government licence

There are several levels of readiness to which elements of 16 AA Bde deploy at.

  • Readiness 1 (R1) - the Lead Assault Force (LAF), comprising elements of the brigade HQ, a Lead Company Group from the AMBG-1 PARA battalion, and the Pathfinder Platoon, deploys at a two day's notice to move.

  • Readiness 2 (R2) is the responsibility of the AMBG-1 PARA battalion, which maintains a five day's ready to move posture.

  • Readiness 3 (R3), a ten day's notice to move commitment, is given to the Air Landing Battalion, comprising of 16 AA Bde's third infantry battalion. This alternates between 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles (1RGR) and 2RGR on a three year cycle.

  • Readiness 4 (R4) is the preserve of the AMBG-2 PARA battalion, who would rapidly switch from a training to operational footing. AMBG-2 is on twenty day's notice to move.

All levels of readiness are supported by command support, combat support, and combat service support elements. (see order of battle further down the page).

2RGR Gurkhas
Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles (2RGR) pictured during an exercise. 1RGR and 2RGR take turns as 16 AA Bde's Air Landing Battalion, tasked with inserting onto the battlefield via aircraft landing on an airhead already established by the Air Manoeuvre Battlegroup.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Ryan Jernegan, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

16 Air Assault Brigade Order Of Battle

The Order Of Battle (ORBAT) of 16 Air Assault Brigade is flexible and depends on the availability and suitability of units for any given deployment. The current makeup of 16 AA Bde is as follows:

  • 16th (Air Assault) Brigade Headquarters

  • Command Support
  • Air Manoeuvre Battle Group
    • 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment (2 PARA)
    • 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment (3 PARA)
    • 4th Battalion Parachute Regiment (4 PARA) (reserves unit, reinforces 2 PARA and 3 PARA; maintains High Readiness Reserve (HRR) element providing short notice support)

  • Air Landing Battalion
  • Combat Support
    • Joint Effects and Targeting Group (JETG)
      • 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery (7 PARA RHA)
        - operates 105mm light guns
      • A Battery (1st City of London) Honourable Artillery Company
        - operates 105mm light guns
      • 53 (Louisburg) Battery, 5th Regiment Royal Artillery (RA)
        - operates in Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) role
      • 12 (Minden) Air Assault Battery, 12 Regiment RA
        - operating Starstreak HVM in air defence role
        view video of the unit training
      • 21 (Gibraltar 1779 - 83) Air Assault Bty, RA
        - operates DH3 (Miniature Unmanned Aerial Systems)
      • 613 and 616 Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP), RAF Regiment
        - 4-man teams of Forward Air Controllers (FAC) (2) and Signallers (2)
    • Joint Force Engineer Group (JFEG)
  • Combat Service Support
    • 7 Air Assault Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
      - provides forward repair teams for 16 AA BDE vehicles, equipment and weapon systems.
    • 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps
      • 24 Headquarters Squadron RLC
      • 47 Air Despatch Squadron
      • 63 Air Assault Task Force Squadron
      • 82 Air Assault Task Force Squadron RLC
    • 16 Close Support Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps

Brigade Aviation Support

Apache AH1D attack helicopters from 3 Regiment AAC and 4 Regiment AAC provide the Brigade's organic find and strike capability. An HQ element and Apache squadron from either 3 or 4 Regiment is held at readiness for the Air Assault Task Force.

Apache gunship
A 4 Regiment AAC Apache AH1D attack helicopter takes off during a 16 AA Bde exercise.
MOD photo by Cpl Rob Travis RAF | © Crown copyright 2016 | used under open government licence

Wildcat AH1 helicopters from 1 Regiment AAC carry out battlefield reconnaissance, airborne command and control, and the transport of men and supplies.

wildcat helicopter
A 1 Regiment AAC Wildcat helicopter prepares to release its underslung load.
MOD photo by SSgt Si Longworth, AAC | © Crown copyright 2018 | used under open government licence

Royal Air Force Chinook and Puma helicopters are on hand to airlift troops on air assault operations as well as move equipment and supplies via underslung load.

puma and chinook helicopter
RAF Pumas from 33 and 230 Squadrons and Chinooks from 7, 18 and 27 Squadrons are used to ferry 16 AA Bde troops into battle.
MOD photo by Sgt Ray Cooper RAF | © Crown copyright 2008 | used under open government licence

16 AA Bde Equipment

Equipment employed by the brigade includes:

L118 howitzer
Soldiers with the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery perform a pre-combat check on a L118 light gun.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Courtney Hubbard/Released

16 AA Bde Deployments

16 Air Assault Brigade took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since 2006, 16 Air Assault Brigade has been deployed on several tours of duty in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

16 AA Bde Selection

16 AA Bde soldiers with a jump role, and not in the Parachute Regiment, undergo the All Arms Pre-Parachute Selection (AAPPS) course at Pegasus Company (P Coy), followed by a Basic Parachute Course.

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