Fincastle is an annual competiton that offers valuable training in a friendly competitive setting amongst the forces of the Commonwealth - United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and this years host country Canada. The competition involves Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) crews flying a series of complex missions that are critiqued and graded by a pair of international air observers. The team that has the highest marks wins the prestigious Fincastle Trophy, as well as bragging rights until the next competition. As the role of sub hunting is now declining, the ASW aircraft have undergone upgrades to perform a new overland role that is vital to current operations on the war on terrorism. Known as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), they orbit at high altitude, while the crew monitor the troop’s movements and provide ground commanders with real-time surveillance information. Since 2006, Exercise Fincastle has recognized this new role and has now incorporated ISR missions into the event. This year’s exercise offered one week of exceptional ISR training with the last week dedicated to the traditional ASW mission.
Fincastle 2008 was held at 19 Wing Comox, located on Vancouver Island on Canada's west coast from April 28 to May 18, 2008. The participants brought their best crews and aircraft to Fincastle; the Royal Air Force were represented by No. 201 Squadron flying the only ASW jet platform, the BAE MR2 Nimrod, the Royal Australian Air Force from 10 Squadron flying their Lockheed AP-3C Orion, the Royal New Zealand Air Force from 5 Squadron with their P-3K Orion and the home team from 407 "Demons" Squadron flying their version of the P-3, the CP-140 Aurora. The ASW missions were conducted at the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Testing Range (CFMETR) located at Nanoose Bay. Each team would fly one familiarization flight followed by a competition flight later in the week. . The ISR missions were completed during the first week of the competition by participating in Exercise Maple Guardian. Each crew flew three flights over the Canadian Maneuver Training Center in Wainwright, Alberta, supporting the next Battle Group of Canadian troops that are deploying to Afghanistan in September.
These aircraft were built purely as sub hunters but are now true multi-role platforms. Each air force has upgraded their aircraft to different levels of capabilities, although three of the four countries fly P-3's, they are very different internally. The most advanced P-3 is without a doubt is from the Royal Australian Air Force. Recently completing major upgrades, the AP-3C performs ISR incorporating the latest in technology and tactics to its mission. They have been involved in the Middle East conflicts since the beginning of hostilities in 2003, known to the Aussie's as Operation Catalyst. Today they still operate two AP-3C's, flying in support of the allied forces on the ground. The RAF Nimrod MR2 is another aircraft participating in Fincastle that may have had an upper hand on the other teams due to their operations in Afghanistan (Operation Herrick) and Iraq (Operation Telic). The experience the RAF and RAAF crews bring to the Fincastle and this ASW community is tremendous, it offers a valuable training environment for all nations. To get a better understanding of this mission, I was invited to fly an eight hour ISR mission with the RAAF in their AP-3C Orion, the most advanced Orion in the world.