The Crash of HAVOC 1-3 - Ruby Echo After Action Report (Part 1)
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
1908c RUBY ECHO was a Blackline Event simulating a downed aircraft with an aircrew on the run, and a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) team tasked with locating and extracting them. Participants were required to attend workup sessions to qualify for the Task Force and to align experience and knowledge of the participants. The event took place 09AUG19 to 11AUG19, and used a separate airsoft event to create a hostile environment for the operation.
Part 1 Link - This Post
Part 2 Link - Click Here
The Flight Crew
Three volunteers seeking to do SERE/E&E based activities were selected to fill the roles of the flight crew for HAVOC 1-3; a surveillance aircraft conducting ISR operations over the city of Kitchener. Their mission was to conduct a 25km E&E from the crash site to a partisan cache established at the event venue without being located and captured by militia forces.
The Militia Hunting Party
No crash goes unnoticed. A handful of individuals were hand picked to operate as a hunting party. They would travel a zone between the crash site and the event venue in order to locate and capture the flight crew.
The Militia Main Forces
Partnering with an existing event (“MONARCH SUNSET” hosted by OP4S), Blackline wrote an alternate story line that defined the two event teams as warring local militias controlling vast areas of Southern Ontario. While the MONARCH SUNSET event took place, the battle space would act as a dangerous site from which the crew of HAVOC 1-3 would have to be extracted.
The main body of the RUBY ECHO event comprised of a number of individuals who attended workup training in order to join Task Force 191 - a unit with Combat Search and Rescue personnel (CSAR - Team 15), Security Detachments (SECDET - Team 16), Listening Posts (LP - Team 03), Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Drone Teams (ISR - Team 02), Liaison Teams (Team 14), and the Command and Ops Center elements (Team 09 and TOC Team 01). They developed a course of action intended to retrieve the flight crew without having to engage enemy forces.
THE TF 191 COURSE OF ACTION
Team Leads developed a course of action that included three major components. First, a set of listening posts designed to pick up any radio transmissions from the flight crew. Second, a set of teams designed to join and build trust with the local militias in the hope of gaining their support and assistance in the recovery, and finally a set of teams to conduct a rescue or area search for HAVOC 1-3.
Blackline had contacted the OP4S event host to ensure participation was acceptable and in line with their intended experience. Some Blackline MEDSIM rules were adjusted to ensure the OP4S event participants didn’t view TF injury procedures as cheating. The militia leads were made aware of the intent of the TF, but were provided with no limitations on how to interact with them, nor the course of action chosen by TF191. These allowed a seamless integration of the two events, and encouraged an unpredictable environment based on how participants interacted. Minimal restrictions were placed on the HAVOC 1-3 team to ensure the event had a minimum duration. Local law enforcement was informed of the event.
PART 1 - THE CRASH OF HAVOC 1-3
Somewhere over Kitchener, Ontario, at approximately 2200h, a small Beechcraft ISR flight suffered mechanical difficulties. Pilots were unable to save the aircraft and crash landed north of Guelph near a large lake in an area controlled by hostile militia forces. The three aircrew, HAVOC 1-3a, HAVOC 1-3b, and HAVOC 1-3c survived the impact, but 1-3c had suffered a minor leg injury that would eventually come to impact their E&E. Much of their survival and communications equipment was damaged in the crash, including, critically, their personal beacons and radios. They were alone in the dark and far from help.
HAVOC 1-3 had created a SERE plan for this eventuality. Inside were the actions to take in the event of a crash. Priority tasks were accomplished quickly with the destruction of the sensitive ISR equipment and the gathering of undamaged supplies from the wreckage. With that complete, focus shifted to movement. Without radios, there would be no way to contact help. The known extraction points were hundreds of kilometers away and their supplies were limited. However, a small dot on the map just 25km from their location indicated a cache had been established by partisans for ops teams in the area. The decision was made to head to the cache in the hope supplies and a radio were available.
The movement to the cache was a significant concern. With a downed aircraft in hostile territory, it was only a matter of time before militia forces arrived to investigate and search for survivors. HAVOC had to consider who would be looking for them and where they might go. 1-3b begins by saying,
“From my perspective, search parties would have two viable options for interdiction of our party as we travelled. Travelling by car (possibly with NODs or thermals scanning roadways), or determining unavoidable chokepoints we would have to cross on our route and setting up observation on those locations.”
They weren’t wrong. A hunting party had been dispatched consisting of four individuals in two separate vehicles. They’d been provided a rough area of the crash, and a search area of approximately 640km square. Knowing they only had until first light to locate the crew, teams had used a combination of the strategies HAVOC had suspected.
“We posted up at an area near the crash site. We didn’t know if they’d be bold enough to just walk right up the road or not, but it was an obvious choke point. Later we transitioned to driving the backroads with the lights off while my partner searched the road with night vision looking for people on the roads and in the ditches.”
Only a short time after setting off to the cache, HAVOC had adapted to the situation and had begun to use the environment to their advantage.
"We selected a route using dark, unlit country roads. The local terrain consisted of many low, rolling hills. These would be easy to walk but would reduce line of sight for search parties.”
It was a smart strategy that would deny the search parties any additional assistance in the way of street lights. The use of quiet back roads also meant that approaching traffic would be heard well in advance. To defeat choke points, HAVOC 1-3 developed an SOP separating the team in time and space and specifically chose a more circuitous route early on in their trip to avoid obvious trouble spots.
Travelling towards the cache was rather straightforward with frequent stops for map studies and leveraging previous reconnaissance of the area.
“A rough SOP quickly developed reminiscent of street hockey games.” says HAVOC 1-3b, “A call of ‘car’ was followed by a quick scramble into a nearby ditch, taking care to get below the easy sight lines of anyone in the vehicle with NODs or Thermals. Any car travelling slow was viewed with greater suspicion. Once the car passed, one member would move back to the roadway, ensure no brake lights or additional vehicles, then movement would resume. Habits soon formed to be always looking for the next nice ditch or piece of cover to hop into.”
Meanwhile, TF191 had been alerted to the crash and was rushing to a local safe house. With only limited forces available this soon after the incident, the priority became security. Initial units on the ground went hot immediately and began establishing a secure perimeter for follow on forces. During their first survey of the safe house, a number of snail trails (grass knocked down by crawling or walking) were identified. The security posture was immediately increased until more teams could arrive to begin construction of the Operations Center.
For HAVOC 1-3, the long ingress to the cache had been mostly uneventful without any contacts, but approaching the cache itself required an increased level of security. Their posture had shifted from one of steady walking to low crawling. The slower speeds were necessary, but began to impact their ability to complete their task before daylight . 1-3a explains:
“Our infiltration into the cache area had us crawling across the farm to the west of the cache. We moved at a decent pace and the last parts had us crawling over rocks. We knew that if we had not made it to the immediate vicinity of the cache by first light, we may have had to go to ground to avoid compromise until the next evening when we would try again.” “On the cache side of the train tracks, we looked into the forest that was visibly at a much lower elevation. We struggled to find an entry into the forest that did not include a large drop into the darkness. This practically turned into a long process of shimmying across shale at a very steep gradient.”
The information on the partisan cache was specific, but did not make the task of locating the site any easier. The former bunker had been abandoned for years. The thick summer foliage and darkness made the site almost invisible.
“Locating a cache before first light was very difficult. We must have passed the area two or three times before finding it and only after the sun had started to come up. We distributed the items we had in the cache to each man making careful note of who had what critical equipment and where it was kept in case we were separated. In particular, high visibility signal panels and smoke grenades were accounted for to supplement our signal mirrors, and makeshift panels.”
Despite the influx of much needed supplies, the situation for HAVOC was continuing to deteriorate. 1-3C’s leg injury had worsened and was beginning to slow progress significantly. Additionally, the radio battery from the cache was dead. It would take hours before the solar panel could recharge the battery enough to get a signal out to rescuers.
“We did a quick assessment of our situation and it was quickly becoming dire. Rescue would not happen until we made contact with CSAR and the escape and evasion across country coupled with the hard landing took its toll on the crew. What was earlier just discomfort in the legs were now becoming a mobility injury, walking unsupported was no longer an option. It was not long before the sun was fully out and we could hear man made sounds coming from the opposite side of the tracks. We quickly finished up our personal admin and headed north-east. ”
HAVOC 1-3 would have to find a location to remain hidden until a transmission could be sent.
The Arrival of Task Force 191
Five hours after the crash, the Task Force had begun to take shape. By 0300h, enough personnel had arrived on site that some could be diverted from security tasks. The operations center had come to life. The familiar hum of computers and a projector occasionally drowned out by perimeter posts checking in over UHF. Also nearby was the SERE plan from HAVOC 1-3. TF191 couldn’t speak with HAVOC, but they knew some important information. They knew HAVOC would attempt to make contact every three hours on the 3’s, 6’s, 9’s, and 12’s. They also knew that if contact wasn’t made by 1200h 11AUG19, HAVOC would assume no help was coming and move on. While TF191 didn’t know where the flight crew would get to, they suspected they’d be in the area of a partisan cache, and put their eggs into that basket.
The TF191 course of action called for the deployment of two advanced teams into the site. Listening Posts (LPs) and Liaison teams.
The LP Teams
The LPs had the mission critical tasking of establishing static positions and monitoring radio signals. 03A and 03B would run multiple radios on multiple frequencies to intercept enemy traffic, and to catch those small bursts of communication from the flight crew. If a location could be determined through intercepts, the Task Force mission would be easier to accomplish. 03A and 03B were the first to deploy
At approximately 0500h, 03A and 03B boarded transportation. With a small QRF escort team, these Listening Posts set out from the safe house to the insert points.
With the QRF observing for incoming traffic, 03B deployed first near 17T NJ 6800 2902 without major incident. 03B recalls their insert.
“Car insert for 03B/03D went good, minor hiccup in retrieval of rucks from the trunk as the trunk door wouldn’t open until the vehicle was put into park. Distance from the road into the forest line was minimal, only a few meters. After retrieval of rucks and weapons, 03B/03D sat, rested for a bit, checked their maps and GPS and began determining the best route to LP2. Interesting feeling going from the tense and fast paced atmosphere of the vehicle insert to the quiet, peacefulness of the forest at night. On insert, there was what appeared to the fast, sudden movement and accompanying sound of a large object that spooked us, resulting in a sit and listen. Upon inspecting closer to the source, nothing of note was found.”
Moments later, 03A deployed to the northwest near 17T NJ 6779 2921. 03A did run into some complications during their infil to the site. Their position consisted of a fully underground hide that had been developed several years ago. With multiple seasons of growth obscuring the entrance, locating the site proved complicated. 03C explains:
“We took forever to find the hide. Due to the local bush and rock piles wet from morning due, we ended up getting soaked and slipping/falling on rock piles. It took us two attempts to get inside.”
The interior of the hide didn't improve the situation much for 03A.
“Hide entrance is the size of a trucks glove compartment. You’ll be amazed that a chubby human torso can fit. Dug out in a manner to store rucks, the hide is still uncomfortable due to jagged rocks protruding through the soil. But this is not the Best Western. No one said it was comfortable. Two fully sized grown men do have to play around with different body positions to find the optimal comfortable position to sit/lay in. Ground mats are ok but a thick sweater to sit on or to lean back on is recommended. All in all; LP1 is tight, uncomfortable, dirty, dusty, occupied by a few spiders, but you need to push to new limits to accomplish a mission.”
For the 03B team, the hide was less elaborate but still effective.
"The location of the hide was on the top of a steep hill on 3 sides and surrounded with small dead trees, ensuring that any movement onto the location would be heard, while movement from the path of least elevation would be visible. Hide was small and did the job. Just enough space for the two of us to lie down next to one another and carefully roll over onto our backs without disturbing the camouflage on top. It was roughly 6-8 inches deep, sandbags facing the front opening of the hide. Overall, in my opinion it was quite comfortable as far as hides go, and as far as we could tell, well hidden for the hour of construction time we had.”
With the LP’s on the ground conducting their radio checks and beginning the long task of monitoring for HAVOC 1-3, deployment vehicles returned to the staging point to prep and collect the next wave of forces - The Liaison Teams.
The Liaison Teams - One Four Alpha and One Four Bravo (The Three Sellecks)
14A and 14B were two teams made up of three personnel each. Their role was to move into the battle space and create links with the militia groups. With these relationships, task force commanders hoped the militias could be persuaded to allow TF191 to move freely when the flight crew was located. In order to do this, the 14 elements would contact militia leaders and offer them technical and logistical support. Intelligence gathering efforts had managed to identify the lead of the militia group assigned to 14A, and as such the Alpha team had spent days in advance speaking with leads to establish a presence. 14B wasn’t as lucky.
14E recalls pre-deployment concerns for 14B:
“Before pushing off it was stressful not knowing who to contact, or if we would be shot right away.”
With no time left to prepare, 14B would have the risky job of making first contact with leadership in the battle space. At 0615, the first of these elements was on the ground. 14A had planned to deploy in civilian clothes with packed equipment, move through publicly accessible space, and then establish a hide from which to base their liaison operations. 14A recalls the insert went well, as it was..
“designed to be super simple in an area that we wouldn't have to worry about walking around in much. No need for covert insertion where we chose. Google mapped and street viewed the insert point to ensure that it would be suitable for a burly hiker group inserting.”
Despite the issue free ingress, it was still taking place two hours later than 14A had hoped for. Even though advanced planning had managed to help reduce some of the typical delays associated with actions of this type, this delay began to raise some concerns.
“Insert was delayed, which pushed our timings back for hide construction. Hide location was planned prior based on topo map to provide a position that was outside of the general area, at the top of a hill, which would allow for greater radio reception, security and observation fields. Communications gear was sorted beforehand to ensure that we could operate radios inside the hide, and a packing list was developed for each participant so that we could pool resources and reduce the amount of equipment carted in. Still brought too much stuff.”
While the Alpha group began hide construction, 14B loaded up for their deployment. They too chose clothing and equipment that would help them blend in. Wearing Hawaiian shirts and with equipment packed away, 14B channeled their inner 70’s CIA and signaled they were off the vehicles at 1036h.
Despite not having immediate knowledge of their militia lead, a fortuitous piece of intelligence arrived making the 14B task easier. A known individual was seen briefing a large group of similarly dressed militia members in an open space. Their reduced defensive posture made it an ideal opportunity for 14E to roll in and attempt first contact. 14F remembers that…
“the insertion into the Militia CP was the break point of our tasking. Could of gone really bad or good, getting shot on sight or be welcomed. Thankfully 14E (Mac) made contact with the Green Commander..”
“The contact went well, and the message was passed to the militia forces allowing us to walk right in with no drama. We instructed them to let their team know we’d be approaching according to our plan”
“After that we dropped our packs and walked up to a bunker with a Green Militia member. The pre-meet before actually going into the Green Militia Zone greased the wheels of not being shot by surprise. Some of the Militia members were familiar with us and I think the Staches and Hawaiian shirts provided shock and ’WTF?’ upon meeting with the rest of the Militia and their Commander.”
Meanwhile, the 14A team was having similar success. At 1042 hours, after a rapid hide construction, their previous militia contact had confirmed their meeting was still on. Set for 1046 hours at 17TNJ 6826 2956, the contact strategy was always a risky proposition. 14A explains some of the considerations and challenges for their meet.
“Initial meet was planned prior to actions on in advance with TAN. Plan was to arrive at the meet point early, but the meet point wasn't well-established in advance, resulting in some adapting on the fly. Meeting time also got moved up, due to pressure on the militia by non-Task Force sources. Security procedure was developed briefly in case of attempted kidnapping”
Surprisingly, the first opportunity for 14A to build the trust of militia occurred less than 60 minutes after contact. The militia leader had a critical equipment shortage preventing his unit from being combat effective once night fell. 14A assessed the situation determined the TF could resolve this with minimal effort. After discussing with Task Force command, elements of 15 and 16 were tasked with this operation and set out on their FRAGO. 14A was able to provide additional intelligence about enemy movements leveraging the 03A and 03B LPs in the area. As a third party and an extra set of eyes, the LPs were able to provide early warning of troop movements to both sides without compromising the integrity of their relationships. These efforts would pay off tremendously later on.
Back with 14B, relationship building was also going well thanks to some heavy initial resistance on behalf of hostile militia forces. 14E says...
“We built trust with the team by defending the militia CP with some of their forces, and on our own. We offered to gather medical supplies after enemy forces stole some during a raid.”
14F adds another perspective on how the trust was built.
“When the militia moved out, we shadowed them to show them that were not gonna sit around on our asses. They pushed far enough to the point where it would be dangerous for us. We fell back to the CP for hydration and radio check in.”
This close association was a known risk and at 1230h, 14B got a taste of how dangerous their liaison job could be.
“As we were holding in a Bunker in the CP, we eliminated an enemy team raiding the CP. They had to be engaged since they were moving hard onto our position.”
This report resulted in the first test of the TF191 QRF. They spun up and immediately boarded the vehicles, setting out toward the position of 14B. Fortunately, after about 5 minutes on the road, 14B reported the enemy had pulled back and their position was secure, aborting the QRF team. 14F points out that their actions cemented the relationship.
“Once we told the Green Commander about what we did, it gave us ‘street cred’ as 14B (Dennis) put it. Then helping them with further engagements in their CP also helped”
With the 03 LPs in place monitoring for HAVOC 1-3 and intercepting signals from the militias, and the 14 Liaison teams creating trust between themselves and their respective militia leads, all of the pieces were in place to locate HAVOC 1-3.
Now the waiting game began.