Helos hop from deck to deck to prove combined air capabilities at sea

This article has photo gallery Published on CAPT James Hook (author), LSIS Steven Thomson (photographer), LSIS Ronnie Baltoft (photographer)

Location(s): Bay of Bengal

Topic(s): Helicopters, Exercise AUSINDEX, HMAS Canberra (L02), HMAS Parramatta (F154), Indo-Pacific Endeavour

An Indian Navy Sea King helicopter lands on HMAS Canberra during cross-deck training exercises during AUSINDEX 2019. (photo: LSIS Steven Thomson)
An Indian Navy Sea King helicopter lands on HMAS Canberra during cross-deck training exercises during AUSINDEX 2019.

Indian and Australian air crews have highlighted their navies’ interoperability during AUSINDEX in the Bay of Bengal this month.

An MRH-90 from HMAS Canberra and an MH-60R from HMAS Parramatta landed on the frigate Indian Naval Ship (INS) Sahyadri and the corvette INS Kiltan, while a Sea King from INS Sahyadri and a Chetak from INS Kiltan cross-decked to the Australian ships.

Parramatta’s Flight Commander, Lieutenant Commander Damian Liberale said the procedure for landing helicopters on a foreign warship was heavily regulated.

“Before we flew, we physically visited each of the ships while alongside at Visakhapatnam,” Lieutenant Commander Damian Liberale said.

“We looked at the markings on the flight deck and took the chance to have face to face conversations with the Indian crews. Only then were we authorised to land on their ships.”

Parramatta’s pilots Lieutenant Jarrod Huisman and Lieutenant Mitchell Sanders flew their ship’s Seahawk ‘Warlock’ to Sahyadri and Kiltan.

“Landing is the tricky part, so we both had a turn on each ship,” Lieutenant Huisman said.

“All Australian ships use the same visual markings on their flight decks, but the Indian ships are different. There’s no circle, and the line-up lines are for different aircraft.”

The pair performed ‘yoyo’ landings and take-offs on each flight deck before returning to Parramatta, where they were guided down by flight deck marshaller Leading Seaman Aircraft Technician Avionics Aaron Lever.

“My job is to make sure it’s safe for the pilot to land, and to liaise with the landing safety officer,” Leading Seaman Lever said.

“The Sea King was the biggest helicopter any of the current crew has seen land on Parramatta; it was a sight to see as it used up all of the flight deck’s operating area.

Royal Australian Navy sailor Leading Seaman Aviation Technician Avionics Aaron Lever signals for an Indian Navy Chetak helicopter to land on HMAS Parramatta's flight as part of a cross-deck exercise during AUSINDEX 2019.

Royal Australian Navy sailor Leading Seaman Aviation Technician Avionics Aaron Lever signals for an Indian Navy Chetak helicopter to land on HMAS Parramatta's flight as part of a cross-deck exercise during AUSINDEX 2019.

“The Chetak was really entertaining: the three crewies were squashed together on a bench seat like they were driving a Kombi van.

“They all gave me a wave as they flew away.”

Lieutenant Commander Liberale said both nations’ landing procedures were a variation of those used by NATO.

“We are now confident of operating to Indian flight decks,” he said.

“There are more similarities than differences between our two nations.”

AUSINDEX is a biennial bilateral naval exercise between the Indian Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.

The task group took part in the exercise during deployment on INDO-PACIFIC ENDEAVOUR 2019, which aims to deepen engagement and partnerships with regional security forces.