816 Squadron is the Fleet Air Arm’s MH-60R ‘Romeo’ operational support squadron deploying up to 8 Flights in the Navy’s destroyers and frigates. A multi-role Maritime Combat Helicopter, 816 Squadron aircrew and technicians are specialists in flying and maintaining the MH-60R in order to provide a ship or task group with an enhanced anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capability. Requiring a crew of three, the Aircraft Captain, Mission Commander and Sensor Operator combine to maximise the employment of the Romeo.
The MH-60R is an advanced multi-role helicopter that has a highly integrated cockpit to provide the aircrew with a comprehensive picture of the battlespace. The Lockheed Martin mission system fuses information sourced not only from its wide array of on board sensors such as APS-153 RADAR, AAS-44 Multispectral Targeting System, AQS-22 Dipping Sonar, and ALQ-210 Electronic Support Measures, but from other platforms utilising a number of sophisticated integrated networks. The Romeo can then employ an array of weapon systems including the Mark 54 Torpedo, AGM-114N Hellfire, APKWS Rocket, 12.7mm, and 7.62 guns while defending itself from threats with its ALE-39 Chaff and Flare dispenser.
In addition to combat missions, the Romeo’s comprehensive sensors and excellent performance make it an ideal helicopter for conducting a number of secondary roles which include search and rescue and utility operations (winching and external load lift).
A typical Romeo mission will involve a co-ordinated set of pre-flight checks undertaken by both aircrew and technician to ensure the aircraft is configured with the correct weapons and sensors. The aircraft will then launch from the ship for up to four hours of low-level operations over the sea, by day or night, in all weather. On completion, the aircraft will recover to the ship using a haul down system designed to enable safe operations in sea states that leaves the deck wet with spray and moving dramatically in pitch and roll. 816 Squadron technicians then fuel, fold, and stow the Romeo in order to prepare for the next mission.
The aircrew operating a Romeo are a high performing team who must have an inherent and unshakeable trust in one another. The pilot is assigned as the Aircraft Captain whose primary function is to control the helicopter and is responsible for its safety during all phases of flight. The Mission Commander is a Maritime Aviation Warfare Officer (AvWO) who is responsible for the tactical employment of the aircraft and weapons, while the Sensor Operator (SENSO) is an Aircrewman who operates all the aircraft’s sensors, including the hook and hoist. The relationship between aircrew is not independent, but represents a Venn diagram because of the overlapping relationships between the roles. To explain, the AvWO must have the skills and knowledge to act as the co-pilot and control some sensors, while the Pilot must have some warfare acumen to ensure the aircraft’s capabilities can be fully exploited.