HMAS Darwin has eyes in the sky

Published on LCDR Tracey Bellerby (author), ABIS Sarah Williams (photographer)

Topic(s): Operation SLIPPER, HMAS Darwin (F04)

HMAS Darwin's Aviation department with the embarked helicopter 'Blackout', an S-70B Seahawk deploying flares in the background.  (photo: ABIS Sarah Williams)
HMAS Darwin's Aviation department with the embarked helicopter 'Blackout', an S-70B Seahawk deploying flares in the background.

The men and women of HMAS Darwin are currently working hard conducting operations as part of Australia’s contribution to maritime security, counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations in the Middle East Area of Operations. Embarked in Darwin is an S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter with a helicopter crew (known as a Flight) consisting of 16 personnel; six aircrew and 10 maintenance personnel, with most of the Flight living in the Nowra region.

The members of the Flight have been working together since February 2013, undergoing readiness training prior to joining Darwin.

The Flight joined Darwin in June last year to assimilate with the ship’s company and to conduct further training prior to starting their deployment at the start of this year. The embarked Flight’s main role is to extend the sensory capabilities of Darwin in detecting narcotics trafficking and piracy, usually conducted by small vessels. To enable early detection of these vessels, the helicopter conducts two flights a day.

“Though we are away from families and friends for a long period, we know the role the Flight plays in Darwin’s mission is vital,” said the ship’s Flight Commander, Lieutenant Commander Chris Smith.

Commanding Officer of Darwin, Commander Terence Morrison believes the role of the helicopter on this operation cannot be underestimated.

“Without organic aviation, Darwin would be severely limited in her capacity to detect and track vessels that are key to success in our mission,” Commander Morrison said.

“The dedication and professionalism exhibited by Flight 1 is excellent and has consistently delivered a safe and effective aviation platform throughout our deployment.”

The six member aircrew consists of four pilots and two aircrewman. The role of the aircrewman, also known as a Sensory Operator (SENSO), is to operate radars, acoustic systems and cameras and is also responsible for the weapons onboard the helicopter; being a 50 calibre machine gun or a general purpose machine gun. To be a SENSO, nine months of intensive aircrew training is undertaken, followed by the Sensory Operator course, which covers varying aircraft types and takes up to 18 months to complete.

Though away from their families and friends, care packages and emails sent to Darwin make the absences a little easier to handle. Darwin regularly updates the families via its Facebook site, with information such as charity fundraising activities, brief profiles on ship’s personnel and short messages to loved ones.

Darwin is assigned to the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) to conduct maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.

The CMF is working to defeat terrorism, prevent piracy, reduce illegal trafficking, and to promote the maritime environment as a safe place for mariners with legitimate business.

Darwin is the 57th Royal Australian Navy ship to conduct a rotation of the Middle East Area of Operations since the first Gulf War in 1990. This is the 33rd ship to deploy in support of Operation SLIPPER duties. Operation SLIPPER is the Australian Defence Force Contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime strategy.