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16 Air Assault Brigade
16th Air Assault.svg
Insignia of 16 Air Assault Brigade
Active 1999 – present
Country  United Kingdom
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Role Air assault
Size 8,000
Garrison/HQ Colchester Garrison
Colours Light-Blue & Maroon
Engagements Iraq War
War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)

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 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] It is the only airborne brigade within the British Army, and in line with current Dress Regulations members of parachute regiment wear the maroon beret.


As the British Army's rapid response formation, 16 Air Assault Brigade has served in the vanguard of all 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 and two air assault infantry battalions, three aviation regiments, logistics, medical and mechanical engineering regiments or battalions and the Pathfinder group.[2]

The brigade HQ is based in Colchester Garrison and is under the operational command of the tri-service Joint Helicopter Command (JHC). It is assigned to the British-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps of NATO as Corps Troops.[citation needed] For administrative purposes, it is under the control of 5th Division, now Support Command.[1]

The brigade is based in Colchester, Essex and 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.[2]

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. The brigade is also supported by the RAF's Hercules transport aircraft fleet.[citation needed] 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

The Pathfinder Group is made up of selected personnel from the armed forces,[3] 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 role includes 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.[4]

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.[5][6]


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.[2][7]

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.[2] 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.[citation needed]


Soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade preparing for an evening raid near Basra, Iraq


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,[8] 16th Air Assault Brigade has currently deployed to Afghanistan more than any other.[2]


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 into 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. A patrol of 1 PARA were ambushed at the same time but were successfully extracted from the area. By the time the brigade left Iraq it had collectively suffered nine killed. It was reported that two soldiers from the brigade had refused to fight just before the war began, and were sent back to Colchester Garrison.


The unit composition is likely to change due to the Army 2020 plan. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland will not be part of the brigade and will be reduced to a company-sized unit for public duties in Scotland.[9]4th Battalion, Parachute Regiment will be paired with the Brigade as a reserve air assault battalion.[10] The Brigade HQ, along most of the main combat and support units, will remain at Colchester.[11] The Household Cavalry squadron may not be part of the ORBAT in 2020.


Commanders of the brigade have included:[12]


The current composition of the brigade after the Army 2020 Refines includes;[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "4th Division". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on 31 July 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "16 Air Assault Brigade". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  3. "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" 
  4. "Fact file: 16 Air Assault Brigade". BBC News. 2003-02-26. Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  5. Paradata
  6. Harding, Thomas (1 April 2005). "RAF 'not good enough' for SAS parachute training". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  7. Ferguson, p.34
  8. "Thousands welcome 16 Air Assault Brigade home from Afghanistan". Ministry of Defence. 8 June 2011. 
  12. British Army Senior Commanders
  13. Army 2020 Refine Order of Battle (Updated August 2019). (2019). [ebook] p.38. Available at: [Accessed 26 Aug. 2019].
  • Ferguson, Gregory (1984). The Paras 1940–84, Volume 1 of Elite series. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-573-1. 

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