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!
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.