Fincastle '06 - Battle of the sub-hunters


Each year maritime patrol crews from Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand compete for the Fincastle Trophy. This year’s competition was held at RAF Kinloss, Moray and would see the RAF lift the trophy for a record 17th time.

Séan Wilson reports.


History of the competition

Since 1961 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) crews from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) have competed against each other for the Fincastle Trophy. The late Mr and Mrs Aird-Whyte first presented the trophy, a silver tray, in 1960 in memory of their son Sergeant Nairn Fincastle Aird-Whyte who was killed in action during 1943 whilst serving as an Air Gunner with RAF Coastal Command.

Up until 1969 Fincastle was a simple bombing competition with all sorties being flown over home waters. Crews were judged on the accuracy with which they dropped visually aimed depth charges, the results of which were then delivered by post to an adjudicating committee in London.

The competition was expanded in 1970 so that a broader range of ASW skills, including locating and attacking a submerged submarine, could be examined. From 1971 onwards Fincastle was held at a single venue, the location of which was rotated each year between the four competing nations, with each crew flying a day and night mission. Sorties were scored by airborne observers, one from each country.

Up until 1982 crews would detect, classify and attack the submarine during the 4 ½ hour day sortie using all available sensors on the aircraft. The shorter night mission on the other hand was a radar homing and night photography exercise. 1982 saw the introduction of a 30 minute Combined Anti-Submarine Exercise (CASEX), flown after the day sortie. In addition to this the duration of the night mission was increased and its format changed to one similar to that of the day sortie. Since 1988 the first mission flown by the crews was the CASEX which was used as a tie-breaker if no clear winner resulted from the longer NUCLEX and DIESELEX flights. During the CASEX the aircraft would join up with a surfaced submarine. The crew then flew outbound for 90 seconds during which time the submarine dived and began evasive manoeuvres. The aircrew had to then locate and ‘attack’ their target within the allotted time. In 1989 the duration of the day and night missions was increased to 5 hours and since this minor amendment the overall format of the exercise has remained relatively unchanged.


The modern competition

This year would see the format of the competition change yet again. While ASW remains the major focus anti-surface warfare (ASuW) missions and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) sorties have been added. Flt Lt Ade Angell, who captained 201 Squadron’s Crew 9 to victory, outlined the details:

“This year’s competition took place over two weeks in support of a multi-national task force operating in the Minch, an area off the west coast of Scotland. This is a particularly difficult area for maritime patrol crews to work in as it is a relatively confined space with land on both sides that housed missile batteries. Fincastle is no longer a stand-alone competition but has instead become integrated within a host-nation exercise, in this case Neptune Warrior ’06 (02). The exercise itself took the form of an escalating scenario based on a UN Task Force. During Neptune Warrior each nation was tasked to fly four sorties as part of the Fincastle competition. In the case of the RAF this involved three day missions and one at night. Unlike previous years the CASEX was no longer flown. The first week of the exercise was the work-up phase for the ships with the actual war phase taking place during the second week.

“Three submarines acted as targets during the ASW sorties. HMS Turbulent, a Royal Navy Trafalgar Class nuclear attack submarine; FS Émeraude, a French Navy nuclear attack submarine and Bruinvis, a Royal Netherlands Navy diesel-electric Walrus Class vessel. The submarines last know position was passed to us by a ship. Onboard the Nimrod we then utilised a series of sensors to locate and track it. These included the Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), housed in the boom at the rear of the aircraft, to detect minute variations in the Earth’s magnetic field; electronic support measures (ESM) to pick up radar transmissions; passive sonar and radar. We also employed active sonar by dropping the AQS 963D Command Activated Multi-Beam Sonabouy (CAMBS), affectionately referred to as ‘sub-killer’. In a real situation, if required, we could then attack the submarine using the Stingray torpedo, the seeker head of which is capable of homing on to its target either passively by listening for noise from the submarine or actively using its own sonar. In order to simulate a torpedo we dropped a Signal Underwater Sound (SUS) device. This device has five codes each of which corresponded to a different sound that we used to indicate an attack on the submarine. Working in such confined waters the protection of the fishing fleet is of the utmost importance and therefore we can also use the SUS device to alert the submarine to the presence of a fishing vessel in its vicinity.

“During the ASuW missions our task was to locate a group of warships. For this we primarily used radar at long range and at height so that we remained outside the missile range of the ship. Again we could employ ESM to listen out for radar transmissions and using the Link-11 tactical data link we were able to transmit information to other aircraft and ships thereby keeping the battlespace constantly updated. If requested we would close to within a quarter mile for a visual identification, although in a real situation we would stand-off from the ship for self-protection. We are capable of firing Harpoon anti-ship missiles but the current Nimrod MR.2 no longer performs this task, although the new MRA.4 version will.”


Nation                         Fincastle Trophy wins

Britain                          17

Australia                      13

Canada                        8

New Zealand               8


The Maintenance Trophy

In 1996 the Lockheed Martin Fincastle Maintenance Trophy was introduced whose purpose was to assess the maintenance, support and flightline operations skills of each team. One Senior NCO from each country, led by an engineering officer from the host nation, act as judges. Points are awarded for such things as refuelling, aircraft towing and tool control. Even flightline dress is evaluated. As well as seeking to actively involve the maintenance crews this competition was designed to encourage the transfer of skills between competitors. In previous years groundcrews were assessed during a single mission. The format was changed this year with assessment taking place over one week of flying events. To date Canadian crews have lifted the trophy the greatest number of times but this year the ‘Unsung Heroes Trophy’ will be returning back to New Zealand. The comments made by a member of the RNZAF groundcrew echoed the overall aim of the Maintenance Trophy, “We’ve learnt a bit, we’ve taught a bit and we’ve shared a lot of each others bits.”


Guernsey’s Own

201 (Guernsey’s Own) Squadron was formed on October 16, 1914 at Fort Grange, Gosport making it the oldest maritime squadron in the world. Originally 1 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service, the squadron was re-designated 201 Squadron in 1918 when the RAF was established as an independent air arm.

During the First World War 201 were equipped with a variety of aircraft including Caudrons, Sopwith Camels, Triplanes, Farman Seaplanes and Moraine monoplanes and Saulniers. On August 26, 1915 201 Squadron had the distinction of making the first ever confirmed airborne ‘kill’ on a submarine. 201 was disbanded after the armistice.

In 1929 the new 201 ‘Flying-Boat’ Squadron was re-formed at Calshot near Southampton, equipped with Supermarine Southamptons and later in 1936 with Saro London Flying Boats.

At the start of World War Two the squadron operated Saro London Mk2 Flying Boats and re-equipped with the Short Sunderland in early 1941.

In 1958 the squadron disbanded again briefly before reforming at St Mawgan in Cornwall, this time operating Avro Shackletons. This continued to be the mainstay until November 1970 when 201, now based at RAF Kinloss, became the first squadron to fly the world’s first all-jet maritime aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod. The squadron has since flown sorties during the Falklands War and the Gulf War as well as helping to enforce UN sanctions during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

201 Squadron has represented the RAF at the Fincastle Trophy eleven times and this year’s victory takes their winning tally to six. Undoubtedly they will be hoping to retain the trophy in approximately two years time when they travel to Canada.





Similar versions of this article first appeared in AIR International September 2006 p63 and Aviation News September 2006 pp680-681.

Thanks Dawn McNiven, Hazel Lawson and Flt Lt Ade Angell at RAF Kinloss for their help in writing this article.

This article is dedicated to the 12 RAF personnel, a Royal Marine and a British Army soldier who sadly lost their lives when their aircraft, Nimrod MR.2 XV230,  crashed in Afghanistan on 2nd September 2006. The 12 RAF crew from 120 Sqn, RAF Kinloss were Flt Lt Steven Johnson, Flt Lt Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore, Flt Lt Gareth Rodney Nicholas, Flt Lt Allan James Squires, Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, Flt Sgt Gary Wayne Andrews, Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie, Flt Sgt Gerard Martin Bell, Flt Sgt Adrian Davies, Sgt Benjamin James Knight, Sgt John Joseph Langton and Sgt Gary Paul Quilliam. Marine Joseph David Windall and L Cpl Oliver Simon Dicketts of the Parachute Regiment served with the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              16 September 2006


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© Séan Wilson 2006