As all children soon learn, an unbreakable toy is normally extremely good for breaking other toys. Students of military affairs will testify that the British Army has a wide and varied collection of very unbreakable toys. The RAF on the other hand seems to prefer the better-looking but less robust variety of playthings. This creates a difference between the two services both of whom are of the unswervable opinion that their way is by far the most superior. Interservice rivalry is a game taken so seriously by the participants that there is a constant search for novel ways to upset or score points off the opposition. The most senior protagonists in this field are so keen on this pastime that they also invent new and exciting methods to stimulate the other members of their service to adopt a similar attitude to themselves, thus ensuring its continuance from generation to generation. Unfortunately however this is not always as easy as both sides have widely differing roles and a not uncommon aim. This non-competitive situation (almost unthinkable) enhances rather than lessens interservice cooperation. To counter this lamentable state of affairs it was decided that in certain spheres of operations one arm should be made dependant on the other creating inferiority and superiority complexes (respectively) among those taking part.
One role that was very much in the RAF's favour was para or airdrop. This operation could be carried out with the minimum of risk to the RAF personnel involved whilst keeping the Army pleasingly vunerable. So conditioned were the soldiers to their role that they would unthinkingly hurl themselves from the back of an aircraft at the mere sight of a green light. This Pavlovian reaction is conditioned into the participants by Royal Air Force parachute jump instructors (PJI's) who paradoxically don't often jump out of aircraft themselves but encourage others to do so with threats of violence. Of course the RAF soon learned that they were able to switch the green light on at any geographical location that they chose, and the soldiers that were about to jump were none the wiser as to where they were in relation to the earth. As was often the case sounds of raucous laughter from the flight deck would accompany whole platoons of airborne infantry as they descended with graceful profanity into a conveniently placed lake.
The Army could have been forgiven for expressing themselves with less restraint, but soon entered into amiable negotiations with the RAF on a subject called Tactical Airland Operations (TALO). The concept of TALO involves the landing of the soldiers at their destination whilst still in the aircraft obviously precluding the need to jump out whilst still airborne. TALO is therefore a direct insertion of soldiers and equipment into a target area to achieve its rapid seizure. From the Army's point of view this had its advantages. Parachutes were getting increasingly expensive, and were being increasingly misemployed as a source of almost indestructible material for double-gusseting WRAC and WRAF knickers (this was done as a part of MOD policy as much to try and help them achieve a more normal sexual orientation as for the flame retardant properties of the fabric). Another benefit was perceived with the realization that the RAF were not normally renowned for intentionally landing on lakes or other inhospitable terrain. Furthermore, if the landing area proved to be too well stocked with the opposition it was always possible to not get off the aircraft and depart again pretending you had an altogether more pressing engagement elsewhere. Finally this concept would give the Army a chance to drive their unbreakable toys with officially sanctioned recklessness in the proximity of our more delicate offerings.
From the RAF point of view however, this concept was far less alluring. Flying an aircraft is a hazardous enough operation at the best of times. Landing successfully at foreign airfields is often achieved more by luck than judgement (to the pilots of the tactical transport fleet there is a very fine distinction between a crash and a landing). Intentionally landing at an airfield occupied by fully armed enemy beggars belief. For a while it seemed that the RAF would never get involved with such a concept until it was mentioned that the act of actually landing on foreign soil entitled those participating to full duty-free allowances. And so, on the promise of 200 cigarettes and a bottle of gin, TALO became a viable alternative to the parachute assault.
TALO at once offered job opportunities to UKMAMS who would be responsible for conducting the offload at the arrival-landing zone. Previously the parachute assault would have been conducted by personnel of 47 Air Despatch who are badged Royal Corps of Transport and provide back-up muscle for the PJI's. Thankfully for all concerned the RCT do not have the necessary training, but it is rumoured that some of them have learned to read and write, and soon UKMAMS may have to look to its laurels if they are to avoid a takeover.
It is a necessary prerequisite when landing an aircraft at an enemy held airfield to adopt a policy that exposes the aircraft to the least possible danger. An aircraft destroyed on the ground could well produce appalling casualties and block the landing area thus stalling the assault. It is the early phase of such an assault that is the most critical. Once the assault is underway the aim is to get sufficient force on the ground to suppress the opposition. After this has been achieved there must follow a build up of forces to maintain dominance over what could be a regrouping of the enemy. Finally the holding force needs to be built up to a level whereby they can continue to use the seized area for their own purposes. The use of enemy airfields in this way is obviously advantageous to a military advance, and has been practiced by what was the Soviet Union using helicopters. In the early stages the risk to the aircraft conducting the assault is of critical importance. To minimize this risk the aircraft has to be offloaded and airborne again in the shortest possible time. In such circumstances success is measured in seconds rather than minutes. It is in this vital area that UKMAMS plays its role. To achieve the necessary levels of efficiency UKMAMS constantly practice the procedures of TALO.
Whilst the load in question will determine the composition of the team on the aircraft, generally speaking a five-man team should be suited to the majority of tasks. This also allows sufficient numbers to overpower the aircrew in the event of an argument concerning allowances or accommodation bookings. Before departing for the target LZ, both the load and the aircraft are specifically prepared for TALO. Any vehicles in the load will be chained to the floor to prevent any unwanted movement during the flight, and the toilet locked away to prevent any flight during movement (it is apparently very disconcerting for passengers to receive an armoured personnel carrier or indeed a racasan dipped turd in the lap owing to turbulence during take-off). The vehicles themselves are prepared so that the restraining equipment can be clipped directly to the vehicle and released in an instant. The first vehicle on the aircraft (and the last out) should be fitted with a rubber buffer to its front to push the rest out should they not start or stall during the assault. The aircraft has two extra "toe ramps" (these are manually stowed attachments to the ramp that bridge the last 12 vertical inches from the aircraft to the ground) to give a wider target to the driver on his way to the ground. The hydrauliucs of the ramp are upgraded to provide a quicker opening and closing time, and the floor is fitted with a wooden protection kit to prevent damage by tracked vehicles.
During a TALO the following sequence of events can be expected to occur: Twenty minutes before landing the captain calls over the tannoy the message to prepare. At this stage all troops adopt their landing positions and prepare themselves to rapidly disembark. The MAMS team at this stage will be helping the loadmaster to stow all seats not required. At ten minutes to landing the MAMS team disconnect the ADS arms allowing the ramp on lowering unrestricted travel to the ground. With two minutes to go the cargo door is opened and the drivers are given their orders to start their vehicles, and engage forward gear. The drivers are then expected to signal that their vehicles are running. In the event of any vehicle failing to start the captain can be informed so that he may if necessary clear the runway on landing so as not to delay those following behind. With just 90 seconds to go the navigator is woken up. 60 seconds to go and the navigator, reading from a prepared script calls "brace brace" over the aircraft's tannoy. On landing the captain puts the red signal light on signaling to the MAMS team to commence unrestraining the vehicles
At this stage the ramp is lowered to the horizontal. Once the aircraft has come to a complete standstill the captain will illuminate the green light. At this point the ramp will be lowered to the ground and the vehicles now unshackled will be driven off closely followed by the soldiers. As soon as the load is clear two of the MAMS team will lift and restow the tow ramps and reboard the aircraft. This is a critical time for the MAMS team who are not visible to the aircraft captain and will be left behind if not quick enough to rejoin the aircraft. Meanwhile the loadmaster raises the ramp and the captain accelerates the aircraft engines. Once the ramp is closed the captain releases the brakes and the aircraft commences its take-off run. The whole process should take less than two minutes.
Not only is this another tactical option open to the Generals of the defence staff, but it also makes a rather interesting spectacle at air displays. To those not conversant with unloading aircraft it all looks rather exciting, to those who are aware of the problems it is more like watching a high-wire act, for when an armoured vehicle at eight tons and minimum clearance from the sides of the aircraft slews under its own power on the ramp... there is no safety net.
Successive and progressive defence cuts "creating a better and smaller army" put a greater emphasis on mobility, the time will come when the army is reduced to just one man, albeit with a bloody big gun. In the incredible shrinking army scenario our smaller forces will have to be used with greater precision, as we will be without the players for the massed battle so popular with the General staff and film producers.
Military air transport will undoubtedly be a growth industry while other support functions will be shrinking. To make the concept work and protect the integrity of those currently engaged in it UKMAMS must constantly update and develop its methods. We must be able to anticipate the changes in military thinking and develop the tactics to give effect to it. Only through a flexible and innovative attitude will we stay one step ahead of those who would seek to take our current role for themselves.