In my head-on-the-block post regarding the unlikelihood of an attack on Iran, I mentioned that most of the Royal Navy is engaging in a large exercise off Sierra Leone, with the involvement of the Fleet Lead Commando Group, HMSs Ocean and Bulwark, and a large supporting cast. Now, many miles away indeed, the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade are taking over from the 16th Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan. In the good news, they are bringing two of their three Commandos - i.e battalions - the other one being with the fleet, which means precisely twice as many actual infantry.
Now, the Commando Brigade is the only one in British service that has its own organic support helicopter capability. All the others, 16AAB included, have a call on the RAF's Merlins and Chinooks and the Army Air Corps' Lynxes, but not their own dedicated lift. 3X, though, has two Navy support helicopter squadrons (845 and 846) permanently assigned, with a further Navy squadron (847) with reconnaissance and attack helicopters. So why is the military hiring mercenaries to provide additional lift ships?
The answer is that 845 and 846NAS are both off for a spot of biffing in sunny SL - and why? It appears that the 3,300 headcount limit imposed by military genius John Reid is still in force, so if the Marines want (sensibly enough) to bring more troops, they must leave their organic airlift behind. It would be nice if the government took the wars it insists on getting involved in at all seriously.
Meanwhile, the mercenaries will bring a gaggle of very big Russian helicopters to the table, including the monster Mi26 (HALO), the size of a C130. But who are they? They have a website, sss3.co.uk. It is discreet to say the least, but gives an address on the Albert Embankment in London - i.e. next door to MI6, the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority. WHOIS returns that something called NSC Holdings Ltd of 3 Limpsfield Road, South Croydon registered the web address. NSC Holdings elsewhere has the same address as SSS3, but - oddly enough - describes itself as supplying burglar alarms. But most interestingly, it was wound up by a court on the 20th of September.
This worries me rather less than it might, as I conclude the firm was probably set up specifically for the job by the spooks.