https://insideDIO.blog.gov.uk/2017/09/25/firing-at-ground-targets-pembrey-sands-air-weapons-range/

Firing at ground targets: Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range

Hi, I’m Marty Alexandre, DIO’s Training Safety Officer at Pembrey Sands in Wales, an Air Weapons Range (AWR) on the coastline of Carmarthen. I’m a former bomb disposal officer which is useful in this job!

This unique part of the training estate is used by both pilots in training and more experienced members of the RAF and NATO.

A map of the Air Weapons Range at Pembrey Sands. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
A map of the Air Weapons Range at Pembrey Sands. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
It is an air-to-ground bombing and strafing practice area and also offers a beach environment for crews to establish Temporary Landing Zones to practise natural surface operations.

DIO’s role

DIO is the Range Administering Unit, aiming to provide a safe and sustainable place for pilots to train. We have air traffic controllers working at the range, assisted by two main tower assistants, both of whom are qualified meteorological observers.

The Air Traffic Control Tower at Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
The Air Traffic Control Tower at Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
We also have a ground radio technician, two quadrant op/ bomb spotters, one foul line observer, two boundary sentries and a munitions disposal team working at the range. The site is geographically spread out so these roles are dispersed across Pembrey Sands.

Pembrey Sands

Pembrey Sands has been owned by the MOD for a long time, initially as an RAF station. In the mid-1930s it was the top bombing and gunnery school in the UK and by May 1940 it was a Fighter Command station. In the Second World War it was involved in the defence of industrial areas in Bristol and South Wales. RAF Pembrey itself was closed in 1957 and handed to Carmarthen County Council, so today we see Pembrey Country Park, a motor circuit and a private airport where the RAF base once was.

A view of the Range from the Air Traffic Control Tower. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
A view of the Range from the Air Traffic Control Tower. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
The AWR at Pembrey Sands remains part of the MOD estate, bordered to the west and north by a large estuary and to the south by the wild forest of Pembrey Park. Activity on the range is managed from a control tower and beach guard boxes to ensure members of the public do not enter the AWR.

One of the portable Beach Control Boxes. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
Pembrey Sands has unique features compared to the other UK AWRs in that its beach can provide a Temporary Landing Zone. It also provides accommodation and kitchen facilities. The beach is accessible at one hour after low tide, and the site is able to hold day and night landings, meaning training can take place in the dark. C130 aircraft regularly use the airstrip and we recently assisted in the first test sand landing of an A400M.

Training facilitated at Pembrey Sands includes fast jet tests, Joint Terminal Air Controller training and helicopter training. There is an array of deployable targets on the range for Joint Helicopter Command, including Jaguar aircraft, and vehicles.

Two old Jaguar aircraft, used as targets. [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
Two old Jaguar aircraft with armoured vehicles behind. They are all used as targets. . [Crown Copyright/MOD2017]
There are also strafe targets for gunners to practise with machine guns.

Across the UK there are four academic AWRs: in Pembrey Sands, Tain (Rossshire), Holbeach (Lincolnshire) and Donna Nook (Lincolnshire). An academic AWR has fixed targets and patterns, and all of these provide facilities for aircrew of both UK and NATO forces to train in the use of inert (non-live) air to ground weaponry.

They are all fully serviced and include air traffic control towers, Surface Danger Areas and Air Danger Areas, marine radar, ground radio and ground to air communications, strafe scoring equipment, bomb scoring equipment and meteorological equipment.

RAF Regiment Forward Air Controllers (FACs) from the Air Land Integration Cell (ALIC), based at RAF Honington (Suffolk), guide a Typhoon from 6 Squadron onto their target at the Cape Wrath practice range in Scotland. [Crown Copyright/MOD2013]
RAF Regiment Forward Air Controllers (FACs) from the Air Land Integration Cell (ALIC), based at RAF Honington (Suffolk), guide a Typhoon from 6 Squadron onto their target at the Cape Wrath practice range in Scotland. [Crown Copyright/MOD2013]
At all sites, we liaise with statutory and voluntary bodies on environmental matters, such as Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and conservation groups. We attend six monthly meetings with conservation groups and also work to look after the specifics of each site – particularly wildlife, like the seals at the Donna Nook coastal range, meaning we maintain an environmentally sustainable estate for the MOD.

Air Weapons Ranges are vital for training our pilots and gunners and I feel very lucky to help facilitate that, especially in such a beautiful place.

23 comments

  1. Comment by Owen posted on

    Is there much flying activity here during the winter months?

    Reply
    • Replies to Owen>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Owen

      It's a difficult question to answer unfortunately, as flying is so weather dependent and can therefore be cancelled with very little notice.

      Sorry to not be more help.

      Reply
  2. Comment by Kyle posted on

    Hi the other night 07/04/2018 at around 12am I heard four loud bangs that sounded like explosions coming form Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range. I am writing to you to ask if the explosions I heard where training? If it was not bomb disposal training what was it you where doing? Am from Kidwelly so I live close to the Air Weapons Range. Now and again I see the jets training. It really cool to see. If what sounded like explosions where not coming form Pembrey Sands Air Weapons Range do you have any idea what I could have heard? Did you guy hear anything?

    P.S
    I thought you stopped all training after 12am at night or do you train different times around the clock?

    Reply
    • Replies to Kyle>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Kyle, thanks for reading and for the question. We've checked with the Pembrey Sands team and there wasn't anybody using the range on 7th April so the noises you heard were not from range activity.

      Regarding timings, we generally do stop air movement by midnight. However there are often ground troops occupying patrol bases in the forest block and they undergo tactical training such as ambush drills, which will entail the usage of pyrotechnics. There is no time limit on this activity.

      Reply
  3. Comment by Stephen Curran posted on

    Any events coming up?

    Reply
  4. Comment by Neil posted on

    Hi,

    Is there someone I could contact with regard to the retired aircraft on the Pembrey range?

    Reply
  5. Comment by Nick posted on

    Hi there, is there a procedure to enter and exit the gwendreath estuaryon a week day as my boat is moored there and i usually only go out on a weekend?

    Reply
    • Replies to Nick>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Nick

      Thanks for getting in touch. We'll find out and get back to you.

      Reply
    • Replies to Nick>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Nick, thanks for reading and your question. Please contact the main office on 01554 890261 for further advice or the Pembrey Control Tower from 08:30 to 17:00 on 01554892205; they will assist in you gaining access to your mooring during range opening hours.

      Reply
  6. Comment by Neil posted on

    Apologies, misread your reply. My interest is in the Jaguars you have onsite and if there is a process or someone I can speak with regarding some minor parts disposals. I am restoring an airframe.

    Reply
    • Replies to Neil>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Neil, sadly we are not officially in a position to dispose of such items to the general public. However if you wish to discuss your project, please feel free to contact the HQ office on 01554 890261.

      Reply
  7. Comment by Steff posted on

    Hi,
    Unfortunately I missed the events in April, is anything else happening over the next couple of weeks?
    I live in kidwelly and remember the jets constantly (at least it felt that way) flying over head in the 1980’s. We used to try and identify them. Fond memories!
    Im on annual leave at the moment and took a wander down to the country park and walked as far as having the control box on the beach in site and to my delight I could hear the jets coming!! I watched entranced until they finished. I don’t know why but watching them really pulls on my heart strings!
    I have my AST next week for the RAF Aux. Today and yesterday’s show has just confirmed that i have absolutely done the right thing.
    On a final note, without you guys our forces wouldn’t be the finest military in the world! Thanks

    Reply
    • Replies to Steff>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Steff

      Thanks for the lovely message! We'll check in with the team to see what might be coming up, but you should be aware that because of the nature of it, training can be cancelled or moved at the last minute for a variety of reasons including unsuitable weather.

      Good luck with selection - one of our team has recently passed RAF Aux Officer Selection and is very excited about what comes next!

      Kind regards

      Helen

      Reply
      • Replies to DIO Communications Team>

        Comment by Steff posted on

        Thanks for the reply Helen, no need to thank me for the message. The absolute least we can do is send kind words, you all deserve far more than that.
        Hope your colleague enjoys what’s coming next, I’m certainly nervously excited myself! Whatever is thrown at us, I’m sure we’ll relish the challenge and flourish.
        Once again, thank you and your team!

        Reply
    • Replies to Steff>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Steff

      The team have confirmed there is the usual day-to-day activity but there are also plans for the Royal Artillery to attend in the final two weeks of July to conduct air controller training, which will generate a lot of air traffic on the range.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
      • Replies to DIO Communications Team>

        Comment by Steff posted on

        Thanks for the update, looks like a jaunt down the beach will be on the cards end of July.
        Am rather excited now!

        Reply
  8. Comment by Greg Malone posted on

    Good Morning,
    I filmed an aerial video for Carmarthen Bay Holiday Park a few weeks ago, (with permission from Pembrey), and I'm looking to head back in the next few days for more aerial filming, but I can't seem to find towers's tel no again! Is this something you could point me in the right direction with please?
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Replies to Greg Malone>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Greg

      Thanks for the message. We don't have the tower number but you could try the Training Safety Officer on 01554 890261.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  9. Comment by Richard posted on

    Hi, I am holidaying in St Clears from this Friday onwards, how and where do you go to see the action in the air weapons range??

    Reply
    • Replies to Richard>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Richard

      There isn't a public viewing area but if there's activity going on you should be able to see it from the local area. Pembrey Country Park would probably be a good spot.

      Enjoy your holiday!

      Reply

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