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  • Writer's pictureMike Lintott-Danks

STANTA military range, Norfolk, UK

Stanford Training Area (STANTA) was originally known as Stanford Battle Area and is a military training area situated in the county of Norfolk, UK. The area is approximately 12000ha and is located 7 miles north of the town of Thetford. The site is run by the Operational Training and Advisory Group (OPTAG) and managed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

The area was originally established in 1942 when a battle training area was required and a 'Nazi village' was established. Military exercises were already known in the area; tanks had deployed to Thetford in the First World War. The complete takeover of the area involved the evacuation of the villages of Buckenham Tofts, Langford, Stanford, Sturston, Tottington and West Tofts.

‘In 2009 a 12.5-acre (51,000 m2) village designed to replicate its Afghan equivalent, was added to the Battle Area for the training of troops deployed in support of the War in Afghanistan. The site, built at a cost of £14 million, is state of the art and manned by Afghan nationals, ex-Gurkha soldiers and amputee actors, who simulate the Afghan National Army, locals and wounded soldiers. The village includes houses, a market and a mosque. It also features a system that pumps out smells like rotten meat and sewage.’ Wikipedia

There are differing areas of military use on STANTA including the use of high explosives rounds. These rounds are limited to single firing and used specifically for High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) or Underslung Grenade Launcher (UGL) rounds. Large core areas of STANTA are assigned as the ‘impact area’ and these are key areas for training, with the use of live rounds from firearms up to artillery fire.

In the wider training area, classified as the ‘Danger Area’, exercises are limited to manoeuvres or training with no live firing, instead only firing blanks and using pyrotechnics. The MoD allows for any weight of wheeled vehicle to be driven anywhere but tracked vehicles are restricted to hard surfaces. Helicopters use multiple areas of the STANTA range, including the ‘Harrier Strip’ in the north west part of the range, but there are areas they can be seen at closer proximity. These include the camps that surround the range (Wretham, Thorpe and West Tofts) and a small area that is not connected to the main range called ‘GRIM’.

‘GRIM’ is located adjacent to the English Heritage pre-historic flint mining site Grimes Graves and has a public footpath running through part of the site. With the infrequency of the use of the site for helicopter movements it is very much an element of luck to capture photos of them visiting ‘GRIM’.

The main users of ‘GRIM’ were the 56th Rescue Squadron based at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk until May 2018 when they moved to Aviano AB in Italy. The 56th RQS flies the HH-60G Pave Hawk, a heavily modified UH-60 Black Hawk. Its core mission is the recovery of personnel under hostile conditions, including combat search and rescue (CSAR) and completes this mission both day and night. The Pave Hawk modifications features upgraded communications and navigation suite including inertial navigation and GPS systems, satellite communications and secure comms, the PAVE acronym stands for Precision Avionics Vectoring Equipment. The automatic flight control system, night vision goggles lighting and forward looking infrared all enhance night flying and low-level operations and the engine and rotor blade anti-ice system and all-weather radar gives the HH-60G an all weather capability. To allow the HH-60G to perform longer range missions it is fitted with a retractable in-flight refuelling probe and internal auxiliary fuel tanks.

Protection for the Pave Hawk during the recovery of personnel include radar warning receivers, infrared jammer, flare and chaff countermeasure dispensers and the option to fit two types of weaponry. The weapons are fitted behind the cockpit and before the cabin on both sides of the Pave Hawk and the 7.62mm mini-gun or .50-calibre machine guns are either crewed by two special mission aviators or pilot controlled.

The rescue equipment includes a hoist which has the ability to lift 270kg load from a hover height of 200ft and a personnel locating system. The 56th RQS work in conjunction with the 57th RQS who provide the Pararescue (PJ’s) operators who are tasked with the recovery and medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat theatres.

Exercises are held on the range throughout the year and involve aerial assets both local and from further afield, including: -

· United States Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles

· Royal Air Force Shadow R.1

· Royal Air Force E-3D and NATO E-3A Sentry

· Royal Air Force Typhoons

· Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s

· Belgian Air Component F-16s

354th Squadron A-10s Thunderbolt IIs from Davis-Monthan Air Base in Arizona were deployed to Europe as part of the Theatre Security Package in 2015. They were based in at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, for a week to work closely with Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTAC) on STANTA.

One of the more unusual users of STANTA saw the deployment of troops from Kazakhstan to train with British and United States forces as part of Exercise Steppe Eagle. This training focused on all aspects of UN peacekeeping operations from weapons training, establishing base security, carrying out foot patrols and managing displaced civilians. The troops arrived on three transport aircraft; two CASA CN295s and a single Antonov AN-72.

The Aviation légère de l’Armée de terre (ALAT) utilised STANTA in 2015 along with the British Army as part of Exercise Eagle Amarante. This exercise involved 1,800 troops from both the British Army and the Armée de terre acting as a joint force being supported by aerial assest from both countries. RAF C-130 Hercules and Armée de l’air C-160 Transells were used to insert paratroopers onto STANTA to assault enemy positions and support helicopters from the Royal Air Force, using Chinooks and Pumas and the ALAT using Gazelles and Pumas from the 4 Regiment d'Helicopteres de Combat et de Manouvre. The main overall task for this was to restore stability to a fictional troubled region.

Other regular visitors who use STANTA outside of exercises include the 7th Special Operations Squadron CV-22 Ospreys from nearby RAF Mildenhall and Army Air Corps WAH-64 Apaches from RAF Wattisham.

STANTA remains a premier training area for both British forces and those from further afield allowing high quality and realistic training to be completed before deployment by aerial and ground-based forces.

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