Military Wiki
16 Air Assault Brigade
16AAB new.svg
Insignia of 16 Air Assault Brigade
Active 1999 – present
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Role Air assault
Size 8,000 troops
Part of Field Army
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 brigade in the British Army focused on delivering air assault operations.

All personnel in the brigade wear the maroon beret, and those qualified as military parachutists wear the appropriate Parachutist Badge.


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.[2]


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,[3] 16th Air Assault Brigade has deployed to Afghanistan more than any other formation to date.[4]


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 Hussein'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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]


The current composition of the brigade after the Army 2020 Refine:

From November 2016, 16 Brigade reports directly to Commander Field Army whilst the Army Air Corps units previously assigned to the brigade will remain under Joint Helicopter Command.[13]

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.[4]

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, Chinook and Puma support helicopters from the RAF, and Merlin support helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm (all of which are controlled by Joint Helicopter Command). 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.[14]

Pathfinder Platoon

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, 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.[15][16]

Today, the Pathfinder Group is made up of selected personnel from the armed forces,[17] 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 to assist operational decision-making within the brigade headquarters.[17][18] The pathfinders can utilise various airborne insertion techniques, which range from the current in-service Low Level Parachute (LLP), to High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) systems.[19][20]


Top: Drop Zone patch. Bottom left to right: Desert Subdued, Full Colour, DPM Subdued versions of the Brigade's original Striking Eagle insignia (1999–2015)

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.[4][21]

The brigade's original emblem was a light-blue and maroon shield with a light blue Striking Eagle outlined in maroon emblazoned upon it, and was adopted from the Special Training Centre in Lochailort, Scotland, where Special Forces and Airborne troops were trained between 1943 and 1945.[4] The sign was worn on the left arm. The colours chosen were traditional and showed the make-up of the brigade, maroon for Airborne and light-blue for Army Air Corps.[22]

The symbol of 5 Airborne Brigade had been Bellerophon on top of Pegasus (a winged horse of Greek mythology) and became synonymous with British airborne forces during World War II. When 16 Air Assault Brigade was formed there was some controversy when the Parachute units of 5 Airborne had to give up the Pegasus symbol and replace it with the Striking Eagle symbol.[23]

However, following Army 2020 restructuring, command of 16 Air Assault Brigade was transferred from Joint Helicopter Command to Commander Field Army, and the Pegasus emblem returned as the symbol of British airborne forces on 25 November 2015.[23]


Commanders have included:

  • 1999–2000 Brigadier Peter Wall (late Royal Engineers)
  • 2000–2002 Brigadier Barney White-Spunner (late Blues and Royals)
  • 2002–2004 Brigadier Jacko Page (late Parachute Regiment)
  • 2004–2007 Brigadier Ed Butler (late Royal Green Jackets)[24]
  • 2007–2008 Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith (late Irish Guards)[25]
  • 2008–2011 Brigadier James Chiswell (late Parachute Regiment)
  • 2011–2013 Brigadier Giles Hill (late Parachute Regiment)
  • 2013–2015 Brigadier Nick Borton (late Royal Regiment of Scotland)
  • 2015–2017 Brigadier Colin Weir (late Royal Irish)
  • 2017–2019 Brigadier Nick Perry (late King's Royal Hussars)
  • 2019–present Brigadier John Clark (late Royal Engineers)

See also


  1. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"4th Division". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on 31 July 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  2. "First British troops leave for Macedonia despite safety fears". 18 August 2001. Retrieved 18 November 2018. 
  3. "Thousands welcome 16 Air Assault Brigade home from Afghanistan". Ministry of Defence. 8 June 2011. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"16 Air Assault Brigade". Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
  5. "British troops of 16 Air Assault Brigade fight through the smoke to secure oil fields". 23 March 2003. Retrieved 18 November 2018. 
  6. "A British Thrust in Basra, Door to Door in Baghdad, and a Deadly Mistake". 6 April 2003. Retrieved 18 November 2018. 
  7. "Men who made the ultimate sacrifice". 26 June 2003. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  8. Royal Signals Interactive Map. Royal Corps of Signals. 
  9. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"5th Regiment Royal Artillery - The Yorkshire Gunners". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  10. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Honourable Artillery Company". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  11. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"12 Regiment - British Army Website". 2018-01-03. Archived from the original on 2018-01-03. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  12. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"21 Air Assault Battery". 21 Air Defence Battery. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  13. Janes Defence Weekly, 23 September 2015, Tim Ripley
  14. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs), 16 Air Assault Brigade". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  15. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"The Formation of Pathfinder Platoon for 5 Airborne Brigade". Archived from the original on 25 October 2014. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  16. Blakely, David (2013). Pathfinder: A Special Forces Mission Behind Enemy Lines. Orion Publishing. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"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
  18. "Fact file: 16 Air Assault Brigade". BBC News. 26 February 2003. Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  19. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Paradata". Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  20. Harding, Thomas (1 April 2005). "RAF 'not good enough' for SAS parachute training". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  21. Ferguson, p.34
  22. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Formation of 16 Air Assault Brigade". Paradata. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Paras win 15-year battle to reinstate Pegasus emblem". 22 October 2015. Retrieved 18 November 2018. 
  24. SAS hero quits with a parting shot over army cuts Daily Mail, 8 June 2008
  25. War in Afghanistan cannot be won, British commander Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith warns The Telegraph, 5 October 2008


  • Ferguson, Gregory (1984). The Paras 1940–84, Volume 1 of Elite series. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-573-1. 

External links

Coordinates: 51°52.814′N 0°53.295′E / 51.880233°N 0.88825°E / 51.880233; 0.88825 (16th Air Assault Brigade HQ in Colchester)

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).