|16 Air Assault Brigade|
|Active||1999 – present|
|Part of||Field Army|
|Colours||Light-Blue & Maroon|
War in Afghanistan
16 Air Assault Brigade (16 Air Asslt Bde) is a formation of the British Army based in Colchester in the county of Essex. It is the Army's rapid response airborne formation and is the only brigade in the British Army focused on delivering air assault operations.
All personnel in the brigade wear the maroon beret, and those qualified as military parachutists wear the appropriate Parachutist Badge.
The brigade was formed as part of the defence reforms implemented by the Strategic Defence Review on 1 September 1999, by the merging of 24 Airmobile Brigade and elements of 5th Airborne Brigade. This grouping created a highly mobile brigade of parachute units and airmobile units, which employ helicopters.
After a ceasefire was declared in North Macedonia between government forces and rebels known as the National Liberation Army, NATO launched a British-led effort, Operation Essential Harvest, to collect weapons voluntarily given up by the rebels. The brigade HQ and some of its elements deployed in August 2001, acting as the spearhead for the NATO operation. It returned home after the NATO mission was successfully completed in September.
After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, NATO established a peacekeeping force in December known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), based in the capital Kabul. The brigade HQ and some of its units deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, 2006, 2008 and again in 2010–11, 16th Air Assault Brigade has deployed to Afghanistan more than any other formation to date.
During the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the brigade, commanded by Brigadier Jacko Page, was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003. The brigade was part of 1 (UK) Armoured Division and after extensive training in Kuwait it took part in the beginning of the invasion on 20 March. Initial speculation in the British media suggested that the brigade would support the American 82nd and 101st divisions in an airborne assault on the Saddam International Airport in Baghdad. This plan did not, however, come to fruition. The brigade's eventual objective was to secure the southern oil fields before they were destroyed by Saddam Hussein's forces. The brigade's 7th Parachute Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery entered Iraq on 20 March to support U.S. Marine Corps forces in their efforts to capture the Rumaila oil fields, nearly all of the oil wells being taken intact. The rest of the brigade, supported by its AAC helicopters, entered Iraq soon afterwards, still tasked with securing Rumaila. The brigade often met sporadic resistance and had to deal with disarming the many explosives attached to the infrastructure.
The brigade was subsequently used to guard the oil fields and protect Allied supply lines with elements moving further north of Basra – Iraq's second largest city – to provide a screen protecting it from Iraqi attack. On 31 March, the brigade, assisted by artillery and air support, attacked an Iraqi armoured column advancing on Basra, destroying 17 T-55 tanks, 5 artillery pieces and 7 armoured personnel carriers. After British forces entered Basra on 6 April 3 PARA was employed to clear the 'old quarter' of the city on 7 April due to the narrow streets making it inaccessible to vehicles.
After Basra's capture, the brigade was based in Maysan Province, centred around the province's capital Al-Amarah. The brigade carried out patrols into towns, helped bring normality back to the south, tried to maintain order and destroyed any conventional weapons caches that were found. The war was officially declared over on 1 May and the brigade began to return home that same month. During one patrol into Majar al-Kabir on 24 June, the brigade suffered its largest casualties in Iraq when six Royal Military Policemen of 156 Provost Company were killed by a large Iraqi mob.
As the British Army's rapid response formation, 16 Air Assault Brigade has served in the vanguard of all of the Army's recent operational deployments to Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the largest brigade in the Army, with 6,200 personnel. It comprises:
The brigade HQ is based in Colchester Garrison and was under the operational command of the tri-service Joint Helicopter Command (JHC). For administrative purposes, it was under the control of 5th Division, now Support Command. As of September 2015, Commander Land Forces will assume operational control of the brigade.
From November 2016, 16 Brigade reports directly to Commander Field Army whilst the Army Air Corps units previously assigned to the brigade will remain under Joint Helicopter Command.
The Brigade Headquarters has personnel from both the British Army and the Royal Air Force assigned, enabling it to carry out air and land operations.
Due to the brigade's mobile role, it is lightly armed and equipped. The brigade's land equipment includes Scimitars, WMIK Land Rovers, Supacats, towed L118 105 mm light guns, Javelin anti-tank and lightweight Starstreak air-defence missile launchers. The aviation element of the brigade consists of three attack regiments equipped with WAH-64 Apache and Lynx helicopters from the Army Air Corps, Chinook and Puma support helicopters from the RAF, and Merlin support helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm (all of which are controlled by Joint Helicopter Command). Furthermore, two four-man Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) manned by the RAF Regiment provide airspace deconfliction, integration of air platforms within the battlespace, and terminal control of air assets.
Main article: Pathfinder Platoon
In 1984, 5th Airborne Brigade was in the process of developing its Limited Parachute Assault Capability (LPAC). This required a formation of 15 Hercules aircraft to drop a parachute battalion group over two drop zones (DZs) in under five minutes, by day or night. To do this, there was a requirement for the DZs to be clearly marked, to ensure that the crews had an easily identified reference point to allow them to drop accurately and consistently. With the demise of the 16th Parachute Brigade in 1977, the disbandment of No 1 (Guards) Independent Company meant that the expertise had been lost. Regimental Headquarters was asked to look at the options for providing this capability. Major Phil Neame produced a paper in October 1984 recommending the formation of an independent platoon, with manpower drawn from all three battalions and coming directly under the command of the Brigade Headquarters. It would number a total of 28 in 7 patrols of 4 men and include 2 Royal Signals operators.
Today, the Pathfinder Group is made up of selected personnel from the armed forces, who have undergone a rigorous selection and training programme. The Group is formed around a platoon to company strength cadre of reconnaissance and communications specialists. Its roles include locating and marking parachute drop zones and tactical and helicopter landing zones for air landing operations. Once the main force has landed, the group provides tactical intelligence to assist operational decision-making within the brigade headquarters. The pathfinders can utilise various airborne insertion techniques, which range from the current in-service Low Level Parachute (LLP), to High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) systems.
The numeral 16 is derived from the 1st Airborne Division and 6th Airborne Division of the Second World War, first used by the 16th Parachute Brigade formed in 1948.
The brigade's original emblem was a light-blue and maroon shield with a light blue Striking Eagle outlined in maroon emblazoned upon it, and was adopted from the Special Training Centre in Lochailort, Scotland, where Special Forces and Airborne troops were trained between 1943 and 1945. The sign was worn on the left arm. The colours chosen were traditional and showed the make-up of the brigade, maroon for Airborne and light-blue for Army Air Corps.
The symbol of 5 Airborne Brigade had been Bellerophon on top of Pegasus (a winged horse of Greek mythology) and became synonymous with British airborne forces during World War II. When 16 Air Assault Brigade was formed there was some controversy when the Parachute units of 5 Airborne had to give up the Pegasus symbol and replace it with the Striking Eagle symbol.
However, following Army 2020 restructuring, command of 16 Air Assault Brigade was transferred from Joint Helicopter Command to Commander Field Army, and the Pegasus emblem returned as the symbol of British airborne forces on 25 November 2015.
The current composition of the brigade after the Army 2020 Refine:
Commanders have included:
WO1 (RSM) Chant was born in Walthamstow on 5 September 1969. He completed his basic training at the Guards Depot, Pirbright, in 1986 and was deployed to South Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 1993. After an attachment to the Pathfinder Platoon from 1997 to 1999, he returned to the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards
Brigadier James R. Martin (late Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment): Commander, 16th Air Assault Brigade, July 2020