Op Newcombe: EFASS Deployed to Combat Terrorism

UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

Throughout the last decade the UK MOD has been involved in several military and humanitarian operations in Mali, aimed at countering terrorism, instability, and humanitarian crises.

The largest of these was the French Military’s Operation Barkhane, which led counter-insurgency activities in the Sahel region of West Africa from 2014 to 2022. It was supported by a number of countries, including the UK MOD’s Operation Newcombe, which focussed on logistical and airlift support, employing four CH-47 Chinooks and 100 support personnel to achieve this.

Based in Gao, eastern Mali, these RAF Chinooks were central to Operation Newcombe’s activities. Arriving in July 2018 from Joint Helicopter Command, they provided essential air support and transportation to troops on the ground, transporting personnel, equipment, and supplies to and from remote locations throughout the region.

UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

With the Chinook Mk 5 we can move a huge amount of stores around the area of operations and increase the in-theatre manoeuvrability of the French.

RAF Wing Commander
Matt Roberts

When the operation ended in 2022 the Chinooks had lifted over 1,500 tonnes of freight, transported more than 18,000 troops, and recorded 3,000 hours of operational flight time. Their versatility and mobility made them an ideal solution for providing air support in the challenging terrain of Mali, where road infrastructure is often limited or non-existent. From air-lifting vehicles to exfiltrating crashed French fighter jet pilots, the Chinook team proved invaluable.

The helicopters were operated by 1310 Flight—provided by 18 (Bomber) Squadron based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire—supported by personnel from across the RAF, British Army, and Royal Navy drawn from Joint Helicopter Command.

UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

To establish the Chinooks in Mali, the RAF needed hangars. For that, they utilised three Rubb 25m span x 40m long EFASS hangars from their stock.

Shipped to Mali in four 20ft ISO containers per hangar, Rubb’s rapid erect EFASS system was essential in providing shelter and protection for the helicopters and their personnel. Easy access was provided by 21.5 x 7m Rubb-manufactured Heli-Doors, as well as four personnel doors. The hangars were complete with electrics and lighting packages, and 2000kg roof-mounted gantry crane systems. Additionally, a 25m span x 60m long Rubb sunshade was also deployed to protect aircraft from the searing West African sun.

The shelter provided by Rubb’s EFASS hangars were essential to the Chinook operations in Mali’s arid environment where corrosion is a significant risk. The high temperatures and dry, dusty conditions, coupled with exposure to sand, gravel, and other debris, can greatly accelerate the corrosion of metal components, which must be avoided to maintain operational readiness.

At the end of Operation Newcombe in November 2022, the three 25m EFASS hangars were scheduled to be returned to Rubb UK’s Gateshead HQ for refurbishment, commencing in May 2023. This is part of Operation Regain, an MOD effort to consolidate its assets which are spread across the globe. Rubb will return the hangars to A1 (new) condition and bring them up to 2023 specifications before returning them to MOD stock where they will await future deployment.

UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

The contributions of the RAF Chinooks highlight the important role specialised equipment and infrastructure play in aiding military and humanitarian operations in inhospitable climates such as West Africa. Countless hours of manpower, travelling time, and perhaps even lives have been saved by efforts of 1310 Flight, who have demonstrated the tangible benefits of international cooperation.

Working with other countries so closely is fascinating, it gives you the opportunity to look at yourselves from a totally different perspective. We have learnt a huge amount from the way they operate and I hope they’d say the same thing about us.

RAF Wing Commander
Matt Roberts

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