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Air Defence Troop aim for the sky



Live firing exercise: Air Defence Troop training at Manorbier.

Live firing exercise: Air Defence Troop training at Manorbier.

AIR DEFENCE TRooP Royal Marines have just completed a live fi ring exercise at Air Defence Range Manorbier near Tenby in south west Wales. The Plymouth based troop are part of 30 Commando and specialise in using the High Velocity Missile (HVM) anti-air system made by Thales Air Defence Ltd. HVM is one of the most complex short range anti-air missile systems in the world and can be fi red off a small launcher called an LML or off the operators shoulder. HVM missiles go to three times the speed of sound within a second of launching, after which they are controlled by the operator using a small joystick on the launcher which is known as the aiming unit. Missile fi ring camps are highly technical and require months of planning.

Each operator has to do hundreds of shots on a simulator and then has to prove that he is ready to fi re a live missile by repeatedly tracking a target drone with a laser. The drones are called Banshees and are operated by technicians from QinetiQ. The Banshees are about two metres long and are designed to survive the missile engagement. They have sophisticated radar which allows the controllers to estimate if the HVM would have destroyed a full sized aircraft. Safety for the missile fi ring is coordinated by a specialist team from the Royal Artillery Gunnery Training Team (GTT) based at Larkhill in Wiltshire. The missiles are normally fi red from land out to sea because the large range safety template for this system.

Permanent staff at the range ensure all sea and air movement in the area is monitored visually and by radar. “We provide range safety cover and we look after fi rst time fi rers as they fi re using LML and in shoulder launch mode,” says Captain Rob Deane who is the GTT Instructor Gunnery. “Firing shoulder launch is harder because you have no stabilisation platform so we fi nd the stronger guys are suited better to this mode.” This was the fi rst fi ring for some of the marines who fi nished their Heavy Weapons three’s (Air Defence) course earlier in the year.

Air Defence is one of three Heavy Weapons branches in the Royal Marines, the other two being Antitanks and Mortars. “Air Defence is one of the Royal Marines branches you rarely hear about. Not many people even know what sort of missiles we fi re.” says Captain Chris Nutting, Offi cer Commanding Air Defence Troop. “We have made reasonable progress given the weather constraints. It’s quite a steep learning curve using HVM as it relies heavily on the quality of the user,” says Capt Nutting.

“Luckily we have some very capable lads who are able to perform under diffi cult circumstances; particularly in the shoulder launch role which requires a lot of upper body strength and general tenacity, especially when it gets windy.” The HVM missile has a fi rst stage motor which throws it forward from the launcher after which the second stage known as the ‘bus’ kicks in and boosts the missile to over 2000 mph which is faster than a rifl e bullet. The ‘bus’ burns out after less than a second and then three small ‘darts’ separate which are guided to the target by the operator using a laser beam.

Every missile launch is studied in detail by technicians from the missile manufacturer who provide telemetry feedback which allows the Gunnery Training Team to evaluate the success of each engagement. The target aircraft are so small that they need to trail smoke to help the operators’ acquire them in their sights. Although they are designed to survive missile engagements they do occasionally get destroyed by a direct hit. One operator who scored a direct hit was Marine Jamie Morgon, 23, from Reading. “The visibility was good so I had a good length of tracking,” said Mne Morgon.

“I took my time and did the engagement and it was successful. I was happy when I saw the parachute come out and the aircraft come down.” Air Defence Troop are part of Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS). This small unit is the nucleus of the 3 Commando Brigade Reconnaissance Force. Air Defence Troop routinely provide extra manpower to support SRS activities. Marine Andrew Tucker, 25, from Cornwall, was fi ring HVM in the shoulder launch role for the fi rst time. “This was my third missile. It was a lot harder fi ring shoulder launch, because it was windy it was a lot more diffi cult and there was a lot of buffeting about trying to get the tracking right.”

“I joined the troop for the chance to travel, because you can stay Plymouth based if you want but there’s also lots of chances to go away with SRS. I’ve also got additional qualifi cations such as getting parachute and Heavy Machine Gun trained out of being in the Troop because of the SRS connection,” added Mne Tucker. “The biggest issue here at this time of year is always the weather, the wind, the rain are all against us. Trying to fi t fi ring in around this is tricky,” says Capt Deane from the Royal Artillery. “We enjoy working with the Royal Marines though – they are, how you say, ‘hoofing!’

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Delight as foundation phase learners return to class



PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update



PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”


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Sergeant Hillier ‘died doing the job he loved’, says his heartbroken father



THE ARMY SERGEANT who died after being injured in a live firing exercise, has been named locally.

The incident occurred at Castlemartin Training Area, and led to the death of Sgt Gavin Hillier, who was in the Welsh Guards.

In a post on social media, his father wrote: “Absolutely devastated to be writing this post, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“At 3.45am this morning I received a phone call that will forever change my life. My eldest son Gavin Mark Hillier was in a fatal accident yesterday in the army (the job he loved).

“Sleep tight & rest in peace son. I’m so proud of you. Goodnight and god bless, love your heartbroken dad.”

An Army spokesperson said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on March 4.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

It is understood that Sergeant Hillier, who served as part of the Welsh Guards’ motor transport platoon, was due to be deployed to Iraq and had previously been awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal by Prince Charles, the regiment’s Colonel in Chief, in 2019.

The tragic incident is the latest in a number of accidents at Castlemartin.

In 2017, The Herald reported that two soldiers died in a tank explosion, which a coroner ruled was due to a design flaw.

The following year, an Army captain was jailed in July 2018 after a 21-year-old soldier was killed by a stray bullet during an exercise at the range in 2012.

An investigation has been launched into the death of a soldier at Castlemartin RAC Range following a military exercise.

Police were called to the site at just before 10.45pm on March 4.

Sadly, a man was pronounced dead shortly after. Our thoughts are with his family, who have been informed of the incident and are being supported by specialist officers.

An investigation is underway led by Dyfed-Powys Police. Officers are liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and MoD.

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