Tactical Communications Wing

Tactical Communications Wing

With the motto of “Ubique Loquimur” which translates to “We Speak Everywhere!”, Tactical Communications Wing (TCW) beginnings can be traced back to 1962, and the forming of 38 Group Support Unit at RAF Odiham, as the signals element of 38 Group Support Unit.  The unit was created as a direct consequence of the lessons learned from the Suez crisis, Op Musketeer, in 1956, from which many lessons were learnt as a direct result of the campaign, one being the need for rapidly deployable communications suitable to the requirement, and the need to provide deployable support to military operations or what is now call ‘Out of Area Operations’ (OOAs). 


The 38 Group Support Unit - The "Mushroom Men"

FFR Landrover Trailer Combination - 'if you know, you know'
FFR Landrover Trailer Combination - 'if you know, you know'
Exercise BRUTUS 'Deep Heat'
TCW 38 group Fitters - SNAFU
38 group Fitters - SNAFU
TCW - AMF IALCE Fightwatch
AMF IALCE Fightwatch, ICOM transceiver
Landrover FFR being off loaded on a C130 Hercules
Landrover FFR being off-loaded from a C130 Hercules
3 Sqn CommEx, Bruggen
Post Op Musketeer, the ill fated Suez Crisis, it soon became apparent that communications were a significant support task and critical to both operational and RAF expeditionary deployments. Therefore in 1965, the 38 Group Support Unit organised to consist of separate Admin and Signals Support Units (SSU), which would be known as No. 50 Tactical Signals Unit, subsuming the communications support provided from within the 38 GSU and as it grew, focus and commitments were renamed to Tactical Signals Wing in 1967, then again to Tactical Communications Wing in 1969. Although historically linked to similar RAF signals Units of the past such as the RAF beach units of D-Day, Servicing Commando Units, radio operators attached to Wingate’s Chindit columns, and the Light Warning Units attached to the 1st Parachute Brigade at Arnhem. There were three sister organisations that can claim direct affinity to today’s TCW, that of 6 Tactical Signals Unit based in the Far East  and in Singapore, and participated in Operational deployments in Malaysia and Borneo. 22 TSU based in Sharjah, who took part in detachments in the Middle East, East Africa and had also spent time at Steamer Point in Aden, and 50 Tactical Signals Unit based in the United Kingdom. However, in December 1964, 38 Group SSU, moved to RAF Tangmere with the addition of 180 personnel from 638 Signals Troop (Air Formation). 638 ST unit was created to satisfy the tactical deployment needs for all landline communications in the various operational scenarios being supported. Whereas the SSU provided integral radio facilities, long haul HF radio linked to the nearest DCN anchor stations, short haul HF/V HF circuits for air tactical use and mobile radar facilities. In 1969, following the RISTACOM study, (the Rationalization of Inter- Service Tactical Communications) TCW was formed and the renaming and rerolling of 638 ST (AF) to 244(Air Support). During 1971 TCW and its sister Unit 244(AS) moved to RAF Benson, then in 1976 the Units moved to RAF Brize Norton, where they stayed until 2006, with TCW having an established strength of 303 personnel. However, in 1992 following several strategic reviews, TCW and 244(AS) parted ways, when 244(AS) amalgamated with 4 Squadron, 21 Signal Regiment and joined the Regiment at Colerne: Until the amalgamation within 90 Signals Unit in 2006, TCW personnel could be distinguished by both their rank slides, embroidered with the letters ‘TCW’ and the Tactical Recognition Flash of a rock dove with lightning bolt running through it. The significance being that the rock dove is the wild ancestor of domestic pigeons throughout the world over, therefore in conjunction with the bolt of lightning, commonly aligned to symbol of sudden illumination and electric discharge, reminiscent of the spark gap transmitters used with early Morse communications, the ‘Rock Dove’ delivers communications around the globe.
Queen Elizabeth II visit to Base Hanger, Brize Norton 1992


RAF Chinook and a Tactical Supply Wing Fuel Pillow
RAF Chinook and a Tactical Supply Wing Fuel Pillow
RAF Jaguar Winter Deployment
RAF Jaguar Winter Deployment
RAF Chinooks with 24 Airmobile Brigade
C-130 Hercules TALO
C-130 Hercules TALO insertion
Harrier Telebrief, Denmark
‘The Wing’ as it is affectionately known, role is to deploy, operate and maintain transportable tactical communications and information systems in the support of RAF commitments, National interests, NATO and the UN.  When not deployed operationally TCW carries various exercise commitments in the support of RAF squadrons and Units. It has also long-standing commitments to the Permanent Joint HQ (PJHQ) commitments, Special Forces, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC), the Nuclear Rapid Reaction Organisation (NARO, Op CONSCRIBE) previously known as Special Service Organisation (SSO) and assistance to military Aircraft Accident Investigations and recovery (TacSmash). In addition, it also undertakes internal exercises and training to maintain operational readiness. Originally, TCW took the same Order of Battle (ORBAT) as its predecessor 38 Group SSU, consisting of a Long-Range Communications Flight; LRCF, Airhead Communications Flight; ACF, Base Airfield Communications Flight; BACF, Forward Mobile Communications Flight; FMCF, Tactical Operations Communications Flight; TOCF, Nav Aids Flight: NAF and (Joint RAF/Army manned) Brigade Air Support Operations BASO. However, with the Cold war in full flow, TCW’s remit changed to support parts of the UK’s Joint Reaction Force consisting of: United Kingdom Mobile Force (UKMF), Allied Command Europe Mobile Force (AMF) and 5 and 24 Airborne Brigades. UKMF, AMF and TACATC.

United Kingdom Mobile Force (UKMF)

United Kingdom Mobile Force (UKMF)
TCW Detachment on a TACCOMEX
TCW Detachment on a TACCOMEX
TCW-244 Support Helicopter HQ & Communications Centre
TCW-244 Support Helicopter Communications Centre
TCW Convoy, Ex Bold Guard, Germany
244 Leaving Parade, RAF Brize Norton

Founded in the early 1980’s, United Kingdom Mobile Force was a high readiness force that was designed to support and rapidly re-enforce NATO units in Germany.


The force was made up of infantry and armoured units, with the RAF providing Harriers to provide Close air support (CAS) missions and helicopters in the form of Chinooks and Pumas to provide Heli-lift capability. 


TCW and 244 provided dedicated tasking and control nets in the form of Support Helicopter Tactical HQ (SHTAC HQ), initially utilising Larkspur Radios and then Clansman Fitted for Radio (FFR) Landrovers that were constantly on the move in order to keep up with the battlefield and prevent being DF’d (Direction Found), as the facility would be classed as a high priority target and would have enemy assets allocated against it immediately, if located.


UKMFs first echelon was always held at very high readiness for ‘early entry operations’, for example to secure a landing point and provide an initial military capability. Its second echelon would then provide follow-up forces normally held at slightly longer readiness. To this end, TCWs UKMF commitment remained in a high readiness state and were constantly required to deploy on fully tactical exercises to maintain their field skills and equipment. UKMF exercise were normally held in Europe, predominantly Germany and Denmark with the emphasis placed on RT, Morse, map reading and camouflage and concealment.


After the initial deployment On Op GRANBY in Aug 90, UKMF’s assets were pooled, along with the remainder of TCW and on their return renamed to Mobile Communication Force, (MCF), when TCW relinquished the Support Helicopter role to the Army.

The ACE Mobile Force (AMF)

Allied Command Europe Mobile Force (AMF)
Early Hardfall FFR and Team
Hardfall FFR and Team
AMF Detachment Hardfall, Norway
Winter Deployment (RM), Ice Breaking Drills
The ACE Mobile Force was created in 1960 as a small multinational force, which could be sent at short notice to any threatened part of Allied Command Europe. Its role was to demonstrate the solidarity of the Alliance and its ability and determination to resist all forms of aggression against any member of the Alliance. Exercises designed to train and test the force were held each year in Northern and Southern Europe. The AMF was deployed for the first time in a crisis role in January 1991, when its air component was sent to south-east Turkey during the Gulf War, as a visible demonstration of NATO’s collective solidarity in the face of a potential threat to Allied territory. The land component of the force, consisting of a brigade-sized formation of about 5,000 men, was composed of units assigned to it by eight NATO nations.   The AMF first echelon was always held at very high readiness for ‘early entry operations’ – for example to secure a landing point and provide an initial military capability. The second echelon would then provide follow-up forces normally held at slightly longer readiness. TCWs commitment to the AMF was a vehicular borne force equipped with FFRs. Its concept was to support CAS missions and heavy lift aircraft in the form of Jaguars, Harriers, Chinooks, and Pumas. AMF personnel were deployed every year on an arduous, three-month long Exercise called Hard Fall where they were expected to provide battle field communications to the RAF Sqns in support of ground forces. Prior to deploying in Norway, AMF personnel were required to undertake Artic warfare training in Scotland, ran by Mountain Leaders from 244(AS).

Tactical Air Traffic Control (TACATC)

Tactical Air Traffic Control (TacATC)
TacATC, Little Rissington, FFR & MT500
TacATC Kingsfield Cyprus, Armstrong 500
TACATC, Ex Roaring Lion

Tactical Air Traffic Control was formed after the Falklands Conflict to provide Visual Flight Rules (VFR) air traffic services to aircraft operating from bare or forward operating bases or from Tactical Landing Zones (TLZ) worldwide. Originally a flight within the Field Communications Sqn TCW, using a mixture of Clansman, and ICOM 720 radios, the flight consisted of 20 personnel, with two Air Traffic Control officers in charge. The original remit was to support 5 Airborne Brigade and SF units with TACATC, airfield coordination and tasking, deployment of the Tactical Flare Path and Portable Airfield Ground lighting (PAGL) systems. The Flt provide RAF Liaison to 5 Airborne Brigade and trained to deploy their equipment via Tactical Air Land Operations (TALO).
After the First Gulf War, the Flt changed names to Airfield Communications Flight, ACF, however this was short lived as the flight was eventually disbanded as an FSC flight, only to be reformed as Tactical Air Traffic Control Unit (TacATCU) at hanger 86, Brize Norton. Since then, the section has steadily grown and is currently made up of 9 Controllers and one TG9 Cpl. In recent times, TacATCU personnel have been at the forefront of tasking, locating, and establishing the initial airhead in support of major operations (e.g., Pristina airfield, Bagram, Kabul and Camp Bastion Afghanistan) to ensure the safe and expeditious flow of aircraft supporting troops on the ground.  Members of the unit could also be inserted into enemy occupied airfields as part of a 16 AABde assault by either TALO or parachute, to assist in the establishment of an operational airhead within a tight time frame. Whilst training in peacetime, TacATCU provided day and night VFR services at disused airfields, or act as TLZ Safety Officers (TLZSO) to aircraft operating from natural strips.


TacATC Saif Sareea 2, Oman

Navigational Aids

Full Navigational suit, radar &, operations cabin, Stanley Air Field, Falklands
Digital Readout Direction Finder (DRDS) and UHF Antenna, Stanley Airfield
Mobile ATC cabin and 26100 site
Mobile ATC cabin and 26100, Pristina Airfield
TACAN, Basrah Airfield 05
Post WW II, the Royal Air force has continually maintained the capabilities and facilities deployed to austere airfields, providing Forward Operational Bases and navigational aids. Initially called Tactical Navigational and Trials flight, TNTF received the first AN/TRN-26 TACAN in 1975. This capability was deployed operationally during 1980, in support of Op AGILLA, Rhodesia and again in 1982 in support of Op CORPERATE, Falkland Islands where it was used as a navigation aid for the Sea Harriers and Helicopters deployed in the Area of Operations (AOO). After the Falklands the TNTF section ‘recovered’ a TPS-43 from Canopus Hill. This radar was later renamed the TP 99, and the section renamed Airfield Aids and Operational Reserve Flight (AAORF). During the Cold war, the section supported exercises and operational airfield across Europe, where permanent equipment had become unserviceable or obsolete. In 1990, during Op GRANBY, AAORF deployed the Watchman radar to Episkopi in Cyprus, becoming an integral part of the Cyprus Air Defence Ground Environment.  After the Gulf Conflict, the Section was renamed to become Mobile Aids and Radar Flight (MARF).  MARF saw further deployments to Northern Island in support of Op FERDY, a deployment that would last over 14 years. Then In 1995, elements of the section, notably the Watchman radar, MDLT and associated engineers were allocated to form 1ACC AT RAF Boulmer. In 1999, the MARF deployed in support of Op AGRICOLA in Kosovo. a major undertaking which utilised all the section’s equipment.  On its return, the radar and navigational equipment left Brize Norton to become part of ERAS Sqn at RAF Sealand. The remaining assets namely the Portable Air Guidance Lights (PAGL) came under the control of GSE who deployed it at Bagram and Kabul airfields. This was no mean feat as the runway had been destroyed and the cables laid covered over 56 km, covering some 2.5km of runway. This task was made difficult through the extreme cold and not least by coming under sporadic small arms fire from the local population.

Tactical Data Links and Command and Control Systems (C2)

Data Links and the Digital Battlefield
Link 11 & Clansman HF radio
Mobile Data Links Terminal (MDLT)
Mobile Data Links Terminal (MDLT)
VSC 501 Satellite Terminal
VSC 501 Satellite Terminal
RAF Transportable Telecommunications System RTTS
RAF Transportable Telecommunications System RTTS
RTTS mast deployment
RTTS mast deployment
CP & Data Feeds
CP & Data Feeds
With the introduction of tactical data links in the late 80’s, TCW created a flight that was responsible for the deployment of high-speed data links and the revolutionary VSC 501 satellite terminal. The data links personnel provided the backbone for the two 501’S deployed in support of the Armoured Brigades during Op Granby in 1991. With the requirement to support further satellite assets during the war, the flight was expanded and supplemented with personnel from all the other flights. This was to shape TCW in the future with the flight being renamed Strategic Communications Fight (SCF) after the conflict. Following the first Gulf war in1990/91 and the increasing demand on data, the Wing’s focus changed to the support of fixed-wing aircraft, most notably the Harrier and F3 Tornado forces, deployed to OOA airfields or to remote field locations using the Royal Air Force Transportable System (RTTS) and Deployed LAN (DLAN) systems. To meet these tasks, TCW personnel reached 459 of all ranks and trades. These systems and increase in personnel enabled TCW to provide the facilities for aircraft and their support organisations to operate from one of 2 extremes – a bare base, such as a strip of grass, which has no communications, navigational aids or runway lighting, to a well-founded base that would require only augmentation for national or military use.  Support was also given to air-to-air refuelling, maritime reconnaissance, and transport operations, which could include staging airfields for major logistic and troop movements.  Another focus area for TCW at that time was the support to No 1 Air Control Centre, which using mobile radar and fighter control assets, providing deployable air-space management. In addition to the change in commitments and roles, TCW was divided into two squadrons: Base Support Squadron (BSS) and the Field Communications Squadron (FCS) BSS providing operational planning, administrative services, and engineering support.  In addition, it provided the personnel and equipment to deploy generator power for all deployments as well as the full range of airfield navigation aids.  The inventory of equipment included 300 vehicles and trailers, 2 Harley Davidson motor bikes, over 250 generators and one of the largest communication security accounts in the Royal Air Force at the time. In comparison, FCS provided the manpower to meet the deployed operational and exercise commitments.  In addition to an HQ flight and the Operator and Engineer flights, it also had a complement of Air Traffic Controllers in the Tactical Air Traffic Control Flight.


AN124 Operation FINGAL MAR 02
C130 being loaded with British Nationals – Operation PHILLIS, 2004
Since its conception, TCW has played its part in many operational commitments and theatres throughout the world, namely, Operation Mayan Sword, Belize Op BANNER Northern Ireland, OP CORPORATE Falklands War, Op VIGOR Kenya,  Op GRANBY and TELIC Gulf wars I & II, Op WARDEN Northern Iraq/Turkey, Op VERITAS, FINGAL and HERRICK Afghanistan, Op PALLISTER Sierra Leon, Op GRAPPLE Sarajevo, Op JURAL and BOLTON Middle East, Op DELIBERATE FORCE, DELIBERATE GUARD, DENY FLIGHT Italy/Bosnia and Herzegovina, Op TRENTON Sudan, Op ELLAMY Libya and Op KIPION Persian Gulf, to name  a few.

Personnel & Trades

TCW and Army signals satellite detachment
TCW and Army Signals Satellite Detachment
Operation Corporate Detachment
Operation Corporate Riggers
Pre Employment Training
STO in the Snow
TCW beer garden!
Joint Air Support Communications Centre, TCW , 244 and 30 Signals Regiment
Joint Contingency Communications Exercise ConComEx
1ACC & TCW Radar Detachment
Saif Sareea 2, Oman
Gulf War Pre Deployment Exercise , Cyprus
EVHF Rebro Detachment - with view, Gibraltar 1988
Prior to 1990, TCW employed volunteer airmen of all ranks and trades from across the ground branches within the Royal Air Force. However, due to the ongoing requirement to provide information services and communications to OOA detachments such as Op JURAL in the Middle East and fulfil its commitment to both the RAF and PJHQ, demand on the Unit and personnel increased significantly. This required a change in the manning policy within the RAF and in the mid 90’s, TCW thus became a standard posting for all personnel within the ground trade groups. Another significant change in manning came in Nov 1995, when women were able to apply and join the Unit for the first time. Although predominantly Communications and Telecommunications specialists from trade group 3 and 11 (now amalgamated within TG4), personnel were sourced from other trades such as Aerial Erector, Ground Support Equipment, Motor Transport, Air Traffic Assistant, Air Traffic Controllers, Administrative, Supply and Regiment trades. In addition, TCW also had its own Standards & Training Flight (STF), manned by attached RAF Regiment personnel and Specialist Trade Staff that had received additional training, such as weapon handling, map reading and NBC training at Winter Bourne Gunner. To provide rapid deployable operational support to OOA operations, TCW were and are equipped with specialist equipment that is unique to the unit.  In addition, additional field training is given to all unit personnel, initially under Exercise BRUTUS, a unit generated exercise which taught personnel the required skills to work, operate and provide communications in the deployed environment. After which all successful participants gained the coveted X607 annotation. This training was preceded by Pre-Employment Training (PET), teaching personnel to deploy and operate Communications Information Systems in the field. Several variations of PET followed over the years. During the Operational, training and recovery cycle (OTRC) format personnel would complete individual training courses, deploy on a COMMEX to build experience, this was followed by an SQN level ‘Mission rehearsal’ experience followed by an SQN level Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX) to assure the Wg Cdr of the Sqn’s deployment capabilities prior to the next revolution of the OTRC. The MRX is now known as Ex ROCK DOVE and is carried out by the remaining 2 FC Sqns. By the very nature of their prime role during the 1990’s and early 20’s, TCW were either training for deployed operations or engaged on them. The exercise programme included everything from three-man detachments to flight level exercises (40 plus personnel) up to full squadron deployments (100 plus).  The aim of these exercises was to evaluate the Unit capability to support air operations and the Unit’s commitment to PJHQ and the Joint Rapid Reaction Force (JRRF). Correspondingly, TCW took part in, on average, five exercises per month during 1999.  These ranged from small scale HF radio exercises Joint Communications Exercise (JoComEx) with the Royal Navy lasting one or two days to Exercises such as BRIGHT STAR which was conducted in Egypt and entailed a TCW deployment of seven weeks, or Deployments with the Royal Marines, Exercises WINTER DEPLOYMENT and STRONG RESOLVE lasting 3 months. Other major exercises that the Unit participated were, Exercise PURPLE WARRIOR, conducted in southwest Scotland in Sep – Nov, 1987 which looked test and evaluate lessons learned during the Falklands War, Exercise PURPLE STAR held in the USA, the largest airborne deployment since D-day and Arnhem, and SAIF SAREEA 1 and 2, a series of military exercises undertaken by the United Kingdom and Oman to evaluate the contingency and deployability of UK forces. Operational deployments naturally followed a similar pattern, with the Unit supporting a significant number of operations throughout the year.  A review of the personnel statistics during this time showed that the average time spent away in one year was 170 days, peaking to 286 in one case, with an average of 150 personnel deployed most months. Despite this commitment, the Wing expanded in the support of operations. It also needed to maintain its own standards and thus practised in-house own procedures.  It was predominately achieved by joint TCW/244 Tactical Communications Exercises (TacComEx) a series of internally generated and controlled exercises. But Le Grand Cirque, was the annual communications exercise with TCW’s army counterparts 30 Sigs Regt titled Contingency Communication Exercise (ConComEx). Where, under Joint Theatre plans, the Wing was tasked to deploy and set up communications in any part of the World.  Locations included the Caribbean, Bermuda, Turks and Cacaos, Zimbabwe and the Far East.

Amalgamation and Relocation 90 Signals Unit

90SU original TRF, 2008

In April 2006 Tactical Communications Wing was amalgamated into 90 Signals Unit. Force elements from RAF Brize Norton, RAF High Wycombe and RAF Sealand relocated to RAF Leeming in Yorkshire between summer 2007 and summer 2009 as part of the creation of the A6 Communications hub.

Initially consisting of 4 Field Communications Squadrons, commanded by a Wing Commander, each of the four squadrons are commanded by an RAF Squadron Leader.

With No1 Sqn proving an Expeditionary Radar and Airfield activation capability and 2, 3 and 4 Squadrons providing Field Communications (FC). The role of the 3 FCS Squadrons within 90SU was to provide the Royal Air Force and the Joint community with the communications and information systems it needs to operate in any deployed location. Each Squadron provided support to all Tactical Communications Wing’s customers including the Joint Force Logistics Command, No 1 Air Control Centre, the Support Helicopter fleet, the Joint Force Air Component HQ and Special Forces. The degree of support ranges from 1-2 personnel filling a rapid response role, through to a full Deployed Operating Base contingent of 47 personnel.

In December 2009, TCW completed another restructuring programme with No.1 Squadron, becoming No.1 Field Communications (FC) Squadron, with personnel from the former Squadron being incorporated into the four FC Squadrons. No.1 (ERA) Squadron’s role was to deploy, support and recover a wide range of airfield sensors, navigational aids, and information infrastructure worldwide. This role is still carried out by specialist teams within the field Communications squadrons.

In 2015, following 14 years of support to Op HERRICK in Afghanistan, the ORBAT of 90SU / TCW required significant change to reflect the limited output as the UK element withdrew. From 4 FC Sqn’s, the unit now comprises of 2 and 3 FC Sqn’s with personnel being re-allocated to various supporting units. TCW still has an input into most operational deployments, supporting Typhoon Force HQ, F-35, International engagement exercises and High Readiness Team (HRT) support globally.

Future & Beyond

Data age of Warfare
Integrated C2 systems
Although TCW’s methodology, commitments and personnel may have changed over the years, and having celebrated 50 years of existence in 2019, the ethos and ‘esprit de corps’ runs throughout the personnel having served or having had connections to the Unit. Although the ‘Wings’ primary role is to provide communications as and where required. TCW have always gone beyond that, with the basic philosophy of providing communications irrespective of the equipment available, conditions encountered, and difficulties or hardships faced. The unofficial moto being “No Comms, No Bombs’’ (or anything else for that matter).  In essence, if it isn’t there, TCW brings its own and to that end all equipment and personnel are transportable, therefore truly world-wide operations are possible. ‘Ubique Loquimur’

TCW Rockdove & TRF

38 Group TCW Long Range Communications FlightpL
38 Group TCW Long Range Communications Flight
Original TCW badge Circa 1980 - 1984
TCW badge, circa 1984 - 1990
TCW Harrier Force Badge, circa 1995
TCW badge, circa 1990 - 1996
TCW badge, circa 1996 - 2006
TCW badge, circa 2006 - present

TCW badges and Zaps

TCW Zap 1980
TCW Zap 1980
TCW Zap 1996
TCW Zap 1996
TCW Zap 2020

Stations and Buildings

RAF Tangmere
RAF Odiham
RAF Benson
RAF Brize Norton
RAF Leeming 2007 - Present

TCW Lockerbie Articles

Video: RAF Tactical Communications Wing 1980's