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16 Air Assault Brigade

16 Air Assault Brigade
Insignia of 16 Air Assault Brigade
Active 1999 – present
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Role Air assault
Size 8,000 troops
Garrison/HQ Colchester Garrison
Colours Light-Blue & Maroon
Engagements Iraq War
War in Afghanistan

16 Air Assault Brigade (16 Air Asslt Bde) is a formation of the British Army based in Colchester in the county of Essex. It is the Army's rapid response airborne formation and is the only Operational Brigade in the British Army capable of delivering Air Manoeuvre, Air Assault and Airborne operations.

It is the only airborne brigade within the British Army (outside of the special forces); and, in line with current Dress Regulations, all personnel in the brigade wear the maroon beret, personnel who are qualified as military parachutists wear the appropriate Parachutist Badge.

The 16 Air Assault Brigade provides Close Air Support (CAS) and Deep Air Support (DAS) to friendly ground units that require extra aerial firepower and are Britain's Rapid response Aerial unit.


  • History 1
    • Formation 1.1
    • Macedonia 1.2
    • Afghanistan 1.3
    • Iraq 1.4
  • Structure 2
  • Pathfinder Group 3
  • Traditions 4
  • Future 5
  • Commanders 6
  • Constituent units 7
    • 2003 Iraq War 7.1
    • Current formation 7.2
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Paratroopers from 16 Air Assault Brigade jump from a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules over Salisbury Plain during Exercise Wessex Storm on 19 November 2014.
Soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade preparing for an evening raid near Basra, Iraq


The brigade was formed as part of the defence reforms implemented by the Strategic Defence Review on 1 September 1999 by the merging of 24 Airmobile Brigade and elements of 5th Airborne Brigade. This grouping created a highly mobile brigade of parachute units and airmobile units, which employ helicopters.[1]


After a ceasefire was declared in the Republic of Macedonia between government forces and rebels known as the National Liberation Army, NATO launched a British-led effort, Operation Essential Harvest, to collect weapons voluntarily given up by the rebels. The brigade HQ and some of its elements deployed in August 2001, acting as the spearhead for the NATO operation. It returned home after the NATO mission was successfully completed in September.


After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, NATO established a peacekeeping force in December known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), based in the capital Kabul. The brigade HQ and some of its units deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, 2006, 2008 and again in 2010-11,[2] 16th Air Assault Brigade has deployed to Afghanistan more than any other formation to date.[3]


During the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the brigade, commanded by Brigadier 'Jacko' Page, was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003. The brigade was part of 1 (UK) Armoured Division and after extensive training in Kuwait it took part in the beginning of the invasion on 20 March. Initial speculation in the British media suggested that the brigade would support the American 82nd and 101st divisions in an airborne assault on the Saddam International Airport in Baghdad. This plan did not, however, come to fruition. The brigade's eventual objective was to secure the southern oil fields before they were destroyed by Saddam Hussain's forces. The brigade's 7th Parachute Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery entered Iraq on 20 March to support U.S. Marine Corps forces in their efforts to capture the Rumaila oil fields, nearly all of the oil wells being taken intact. The rest of the brigade, supported by its AAC helicopters, entered Iraq soon afterwards, still tasked with securing Rumaila. The brigade often met sporadic resistance and had to deal with disarming the many explosives attached to the infrastructure.

The brigade was subsequently used to guard the oil fields and protect Allied supply lines with elements moving further north of Basra – Iraq's second largest city – to provide a screen protecting it from Iraqi attack. On 31 March, the brigade, assisted by artillery and air support, attacked an Iraqi armoured column advancing on Basra, destroying 17 T-55 tanks, 5 artillery pieces and 7 armoured personnel carriers. After British forces entered Basra on 6 April, 3 PARA was employed to clear the 'old quarter' of the city on 7 April due to the narrow streets making it inaccessible to vehicles.

After Basra's capture, the brigade was based in Maysan Province, centred around the province's capital Al-Amarah. The brigade carried out patrols into towns, helped bring normality back to the south, tried to maintain order and destroyed any conventional weapons caches that were found. The war was officially declared over on 1 May and the brigade began to return home that same month. During one patrol into Majar al-Kabir on 24 June, the brigade suffered its largest casualties in Iraq when six Royal Military Policemen of 156 Provost Company were killed by a large Iraqi mob.[4]


As the British Army's rapid response formation, 16 Air Assault Brigade has served in the vanguard of all of the Army's recent operational deployments to Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the largest brigade in the British Army, with 8,000 personnel. Its structure makes it a highly flexible unit. It comprises a Formation Reconnaissance Squadron, an artillery regiment with an attached air defence battery, an engineer regiment, two parachute infantry battalions, two air assault infantry battalions, three aviation regiments, logistics, medical and mechanical engineering regiments or battalions and the Pathfinder group.[3]

The brigade HQ is based in Colchester Garrison and was under the operational command of the tri-service Joint Helicopter Command (JHC). For administrative purposes, it is under the control of 5th Division, now Support Command.[1] As of September 2015, Commander Land Forces will assume operational control of the brigade.[5]

The Brigade Headquarters has personnel from both the British Army and the Royal Air Force assigned, enabling it to carry out Air and Land operations.[3]

Due to the brigade's mobile role, it is lightly armed and equipped. The brigade's land equipment includes Scimitars, WMIK Land Rovers, Supacats, towed L118 105 mm light guns, Javelin anti-tank and lightweight Starstreak air-defence missile launchers. The aviation element of the brigade consists of three attack regiments equipped with WAH-64 Apache and Lynx helicopters from the Army Air Corps, and Chinook, Merlin and Puma support helicopters from the RAF. Furthermore, two four-man Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) manned by the RAF Regiment, provide airspace deconfliction, integration of air platforms within the battlespace, and terminal control of air assets.

Pathfinder Group

In 1984, 5th Airborne Brigade was in the process of developing its Limited Parachute Assault Capability (LPAC). This required a formation of 15 Hercules aircraft to drop a parachute battalion group over two drop zones (DZs) in under five minutes, by day or night. To do this, there was a requirement for the DZs to be clearly marked, in order to ensure that the crews had an easily identified reference point to allow them to drop accurately and consistently. With the demise of the 16th Parachute Brigade in 1977, the disbandment of No 1 (Guards) Independent Company meant that the expertise had been lost. Regimental Headquarters was asked to look at the options for providing this capability. Major Phil Neame produced a paper in October 1984 recommending the formation of an independent platoon, with manpower drawn from all three battalions and coming directly under the command of the Brigade Headquarters. It would number a total of 28 in 7 patrols of 4 men and include 2 Royal Signals operators.[6][7]

Today, the Pathfinder Group is made up of selected personnel from the armed forces,[8] who have undergone a rigorous selection and training programme. The Group is formed around a platoon to company strength cadre of reconnaissance and communications specialists. Its roles include locating and marking parachute drop zones and tactical and helicopter landing zones for air landing operations. Once the main force has landed, the group provides tactical intelligence vital to the operational decision-making within the brigade headquarters.[8][9] The pathfinders can utilise various airborne insertion techniques, which range from the current in-service Low Level Parachute (LLP), going up to High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) systems.[10][11]


Top: Drop Zone patch. Bottom left to right: Desert Subdued, Full Colour, DPM Subdued

The numeral 16 is derived from the 1st Airborne Division and 6th Airborne Division of the Second World War, first used by the 16th Parachute Brigade formed in 1948.[3][12]

The brigade's sign is that of a light-blue and maroon shield with a light blue Striking Eagle outlined in maroon emblazoned on it and was adopted from the Special Training Centre in Lochailort, Scotland, where Special Forces and Airborne troops were trained between 1943 and 1945.[3] The sign is worn on the left arm. The colours chosen are traditional and show the make-up of the brigade, maroon for Airborne and light-blue for Army Air Corps.

The symbol of 5 Airborne Brigade had been Bellerophon on top of Pegasus (a winged horse of Greek mythology) which became synonymous with the airborne forces during World War II. There was some controversy when the Parachute units of 5 Airborne had to give up the symbol and replace it with 16 Air Assault's symbol. However following Army 2020 restructuring, command of 16 Air Assault Brigade was transferred from Joint Helicopter Command to the British Army and the Pegasus emblem is set to return as the symbol of British airborne forces from 25 November 2015.[13]


From November 2016 16 Brigade will report direct to Commander Land Forces whilst the Army Air Corps units previously assigned to the brigade will remain under Joint Helicopter Command.[14]


  • Brigadier Peter Wall (late Royal Engineers) (1 September 1999)
  • Brigadier Barney White-Spunner (late Blues and Royals) (21 December 2000)
  • Brigadier 'Jacko' Page (late Parachute Regiment) (December 2002)
  • Brigadier 'Ed' Butler (late Royal Green Jackets) (c.2006)[15]
  • Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith (late Irish Guards) (c.2008)[16]
  • Brigadier James Chiswell (late Parachute Regiment)
  • Brigadier Giles Hill (late Parachute Regiment)
  • Brigadier Nick Borton DSO MBE (late SCOTS) (June 2013)

Constituent units

Structure 16 Air Assault Bde

2003 Iraq War

  • 16 Air Assault Brigade Headquarters and Signals Squadron (216)
  • D Squadron, Household Cavalry
  • 7 (Parachute) Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, Royal Artillery
  • 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), Royal Engineers
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment
  • The Royal Irish Rangers, now known as 2nd Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment
  • 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment
  • 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment
  • Pathfinder Group
  • 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps
  • 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps
  • 16 Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps
  • 7 Air Assault Battalion, Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers
  • 156 Provost Company, Royal Military Police

Current formation

Note: 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment now operates within the Special Forces Support Group.


  1. ^ a b "4th Division".  
  2. ^ "Thousands welcome 16 Air Assault Brigade home from Afghanistan".  
  3. ^ a b c d e f "16 Air Assault Brigade".  
  4. ^ "Men who made the ultimate sacrifice". The Telegraph. 26 June 2003. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  5. ^ "DSEI 2015: UK Airborne Brigade moves to Central Army Command". Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Formation of Pathfinder Platoon for 5 Airborne Brigade". Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Blakely, David (2013). Pathfinder: A Special Forces Mission Behind Enemy Lines. Orion Publishing. 
  8. ^ a b "Warrant Officer Class 1 (RSM) Darren Chant, Sergeant Matthew Telford and Guardsman James Major killed in Afghanistan". Archived from the original on 14 August 2010. Retrieved 2 August 2010. WO1 (RSM) Chant was born in Walthamstow on 5 September 1969. He completed his basic training at the Guards Depot, Pirbright, in 1986 and was deployed to South Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 1993. After an attachment to the Pathfinder Platoon from 1997 to 1999, he returned to the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards 
  9. ^ "Fact file: 16 Air Assault Brigade".  
  10. ^ "Paradata". Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Harding, Thomas (1 April 2005). "RAF 'not good enough' for SAS parachute training". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  12. ^ Ferguson, p.34
  13. ^ "Paras win 15-year battle to reinstate Pegasus emblem". The Telegraph. 
  14. ^ Janes Defence Weekly, 23 Sep 2015, Tim Ripley
  15. ^ SAS hero quits with a parting shot over army cuts Daily Mail, 8 June 2008
  16. ^ War in Afghanistan cannot be won, British commander Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith warns The Telegraph, 5 October 2008
  17. ^ "Gurkhas from 2 Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles based at Sir John Moore Barracks in Folkestone join army's 16 Air Assault Brigade based in Colchester". Kent Online. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 


  • Ferguson, Gregory (1984). The Paras 1940–84, Volume 1 of Elite series. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing.  

External links

  • 16 Air Assault Brigade on British Army official website

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