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Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

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Tracking submarines, saving shipwreck survivors, combat missions – what are the tasks awaiting the crews of the AW101 helicopters?

“Comparing the helicopters we currently use – the W3 Sokół or the Mi-14 – with the AW101 is a Volvo from 20 years ago with the brand’s latest model. Both cars generally do the same things, both have their advantages, but the difference in technology is enormous. And even this comparison doesn’t entirely reflect the scale of changes the new helicopter will introduce to naval aviation,” emphasizes Cdr (Pil) Wojciech Koliczko, the commander of the Air Group in Darłowo. The unit is currently preparing to receive new generation machines.

Vast Spectrum of Tasks

Poland signed the contract for the delivery of the helicopters in April 2019. Its cost is 1.65 billion zlotys. The contract assumes the machines will be built by PZL Świdnik. Apart from the helicopters, the Polish Armed Forces will get a logistics and training package. There will also be an AW101 service center created in Łódź.

Poland ordered unique helicopters which combine the functions of machines intended for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare), rescue, and CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) missions. The Polish AW101s will be built on the basis of modules. Mounting or demounting particular elements will allow for preparing the helicopters to execute various tasks. However, Cdr Koliczko explains that there is a certain degree of simplification in the statement. “It’s not like ASW helicopters can’t carry out rescue operations. This was, for example, the case with our SH-2Gs, which on a daily basis cooperate with Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates. The vessels were originally designed to carry two helicopters – while one was executing ASW tasks, the other one was on rescue duty,” explains the pilot.

Thus, rescue operations can be carried out by various types of aircraft, not necessarily those originally intended for it. “Nevertheless, the possibility to configure the AW101 to adapt it for carrying out rescue missions is undoubtedly its additional asset,” emphasizes Cdr Koliczko. One of the things that the SAR configuration of the new helicopter will not have, is the post of the Senso sensory systems operator, who in the ASW version operates the submarine tracking devices and armament. The buoy holder will also disappear from board. What the AW101 will be equipped with, on the other hand, will be a tactical radio, a modern radio direction finder, an integrated forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera, a synthetic aperture radar, and a flight management system (FMS). “Looking at our SAR helicopters, we must come to a conclusion that each of them is missing something,” thinks the commander of the Darłowo Air Group. “The Mi-14PŁ/Rs are large and durable machines, capable of operating in very difficult conditions for a long time. However, due to their age, they don’t have advanced electronic systems. On the other hand, the crews of the recently modernized W-3WARM Anakonda helicopters have to handle a huge amount of data collected by the systems. On top of that, they visually observe the surface of the sea throughout each operation. During the day, it is still the main method of searching for shipwreck survivors. The camera is mainly used for verification purposes,” he adds.

The AW101 will be a huge quality jump for the SAR service. The size and weight of these helicopters is comparable to the Mi-14s, but they are much better equipped. Advanced devices ensure more comfort to the crew than Anakondas. “The FMS and the autopilot enable the helicopter to fly autonomously, without much engagement of the crew in piloting or navigation. They can focus on the search operation and simply verify the flight parameters. The synthetic aperture radar additionally provides an image of the sea surface in exceptional, previously unheard-of quality,” enumerates Cdr Koliczko. He says that the AW101s are perfect for mass evacuation operations. “Recently, there have been some landslides on the roads in British Columbia, which trapped car drivers and passengers. The crews of Canadian AW101s evacuated about 300 people from the site,” reminds the pilot.

The naval helicopters for Poland will also be rich in ASW equipment, such as a dipping radar and hydro acoustic buoys. They will also be adapted to carry torpedoes and depth charges.

What will it look like in practice? The specialists who will soon make up the crews of the AW101s are cautious in expressing their expectations. “We are waiting for trainings, so we can’t say a lot at the moment,” they explain. However, they sound excited about the new machines. Capt Bartosz Jakubik, a navigator with 16 years of experience, trained to execute all types of tasks on the reconnaissance version of the PZL M28 Bryza, emphasizes that the new helicopters will be a breakthrough for the naval aviation, comparable to the revolution in the Air Force brought about by introducing the F-16s into service ten years ago. The revolutionary character of this change is best explained through examples. “Let’s start with ASW operations. A submarine which is not detected in time can cause enormous damage in surface forces and threaten state economy. It can also carry cruise missiles that are capable of reaching targets not only on the territory of Poland, but located throughout the whole continent,” explains Capt Bartosz Jakubik. It all resembles a chess game governed by bizarre rules. “The adversary sees the arrangement of our figures and their movements, and at the same time has this one superfigure which can freely move across the board and remains invisible up to the very moment it touches upon one of our pawns,” says Jakubik.

New Quality

The difficulty of the task executed by teams that work on detecting a submarine might be compared to a situation where you are trying to hear a whisper of a man standing on a terrace of the Palace of Culture and Science in the center of Warsaw during the rush hour. “Sounds absurd, right? But technically, it’s possible,” says the navigator. Currently, such operations are conducted using sonars, sonobuoys, buoy networks, which are all capable of detecting a submarine. Navigators also use a hydro location station lowered below the sea surface on a line to locate submarines. All of these devices are incomparably more advanced than those previously used, so detecting submarines will become easier. “It will still be hard, tedious work,” adds the aviator. What is certain, though, is that the time of detecting surface objects will be shorter. “The capabilities of the radar installed in the new helicopter are very extensive. On top of that, it is coupled with an optical head-mounted camera. I can see everything it detects in real time on very advanced equipment. The picture quality is so good that I can easily determine what it is,” explains Capt Jakubik. One of the configurations of the new helicopter enables execution of SAR missions. “I had a chance to fly on a SAR version of the AW101 as an observer. It was a Danish machine which carried out a mission on Bornholm during Exercise SAREX. It uses a head with cameras to search for shipwreck survivors. The cameras can register normal and infrared images, which enables you to see a person floating on the water surface at night, for example,” says Capt Jakubik.

One of the assets of the AW101 is a big cabin, which will allow for taking many survivors on board, and enable the crew members (contrary to what the case is today) to stand straight. This significantly increases the work comfort and makes it easier to carry out medical tasks. The work of the pilots will be facilitated with automated search models. “We search for survivors in a determined area. It must be done following a certain route, which depends on who we are looking for and in what conditions. In the AW101, such a search model – an algorithm according to which the task is executed by an automatic pilot – can be programmed,” says one of the pilots. “For us, this means less manual work in the cabin and a possibility to focus on operational matters,” adds the aviator.

While the crews are familiar with the two mentioned types of operations, the third type is completely new. The AW101 helicopter is also to be used in CSAR operations. They are undertaken when a soldier is wounded on a battlefield. The helicopter which flies to help is armed, as there is a possibility that the enemy will use weapons. This is an entirely new task for the naval aviators, and the very fact they are going to execute it raises controversy in the army. “They haven’t done anything like that before, so they will have to put in a lot of work to train it,” say the aviators from other units. “Yes, it will be something new for us. We have to train shooting a machine gun, for example,” says Norbert Bąk, a navigator from Darłowo. “We will have to complete courses, but we also hope to train with units that already execute such tasks, e.g. the 56th Air Base in Inowrocław or foreign units,” adds the navigator.

A Full Picture

The aviators emphasize, however, that the biggest change is extending the work environment. What does it mean? “As a navigator, I can operate the camera head, but the image can also be transferred from my post to the pilots’ cockpit, so they know what is happening during the operation,” says Capt Jakubik. Capt Norbert Bąk explains that currently each device on board a helicopter is an individual being. “Well, we transfer information to the command post via radio. Sometimes we even physically transfer it to maps using a pencil and then give them to analysts...” The AW101 allows us not only to use many sensors simultaneously and consolidate the data we collect into one full image of the tactical situation, but also to exchange information almost in real time with other platforms and command posts. This is a truly network-centric system,” explains Capt Bąk.

The data collected by navigators will come from all areas in which the operation is carried out: from above and under water, from the air and land. Additional information will also be collected from the remaining participants of the operation – other helicopters, ground radars, or the F-16s. “It is the fullest possible, integrated picture of the situation,” says Capt Bąk. “Currently unattainable,” he adds. The AW101 can also become a command platform for an ACO (Aircraft Coordinator). “Yes, it will be possible to manage a rescue operation from the helicopter, as the AW101 will be the element with the best view on everything that’s happening on water,” says Capt Jakubik.

Before it all happens, however, the crews must complete a full cycle of courses and trainings. They are soon going to an English language course to Leicester in Great Britain. Next, the navigators will be trained in France to operate on-board submarine-detecting devices, after which they will return to Great Britain to attend a course at the AW101 production plant to learn the ropes of operating the helicopter type – first in theory, than on a simulator, and finally in practice. The learning process, which will last over a year, should not be a problem for the aviators, as all of them have a lot of experience and years of active service.

“The future crews of the AW101s will be made up of soldiers who serve on W-3s, as well as those flying on Mi-14s or the SH-2Gs,” admits Cdr Koliczko. “We’ve tried to select people with perspectives – experienced, but at the same time relatively young, who still have time to develop. With navigators, we paid attention to ASW missions, and with technicians, the experience gained on rescue helicopters was important. On board of the AW101 they will operate the winch, they also must be ready to steer a hovering helicopter. Another important criterion was the language skills of individual candidates,” enumerates the pilot. A separate cycle of trainings awaits the ground crew. The navigators will also undergo machine gun shooting trainings, as they will be the ones using armament during CSAR missions.

Advanced Infrastructure

The personnel is preparing to operate the new helicopters, but there is also new infrastructure being created on the ground. Six modern hangars have been built at the airport in Darłowo. Each of them can house two helicopters. It is important, as the AW101s will have a lot of electronic devices, which have to be protected from moisture and salt. The parking places are spacious and well-lit, in order to facilitate the work of the technical personnel. There are also take-off points for the new helicopters near the buildings. For the time being, the Naval Aviation Brigade is to receive four new helicopters, so the hangars will also be used for garaging machines of the older types. The modernization of the base is still ongoing. “We are preparing, for instance, to build a training facility,” explains Cdr Koliczko.

There is a lot going on at the unit, but the AW101 crews are not complaining. “Am I happy? I’m very happy! I think aviation is a good choice for fans of advanced technologies and adventure-seekers. And I guess the AW101 combines these two things. I’m really glad I can take advantage of this,” says Capt Jakubik.

Ewa Korsak, Łukasz Zalesiński

autor zdjęć: Maciej Łuczniewski / Reporter / East News

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