Unprecedented ‘war game’ planned for NI

C-130 Mk3 Hercules Transport Aircraft
C-130 Mk3 Hercules Transport Aircraft

A literally explosive extravaganza is expected to unfold during the summer with a first-of-its-kind military display for Northern Ireland.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is now working on plans to stage a simulated hostage crisis on Newtownards airstrip during Armed Forces Day this coming June.

The idea is for huge numbers of soldiers to sweep onto the airfield in a choreographed rescue mission, backed by artillery fire and possibly air support too.

Suggestions for the aerial side of the assault include a paradrop, or even landing a Hercules C-130 on the runway, which would then open up and allow Royal Irish Regiment soldiers and equipment to surge out and onto 
the battlefield.

It will be the fourth year the Province has held an Armed Forces Day event, and it will be the first time it has been staged in Ards.

The previous three have been in Carrickfergus, with the last drawing an estimated 100,000 spectators.

The town put in a bid to host it again this year, but Ards was picked at least partly because the airfield offers space for the giant “war game” to be hosted there.

Ken Johnston, spokesman for the MoD in Northern Ireland, said that over 1,000 participants could be taking part.

But although he stressed it will be big, and filled with “smoke and bangs”, the details are still to be finalised.

“We’re still at the early stages of planning,” he said.

“But what we have in mind is a situation where a group of people, let’s say, are being held captive in a small area by a terrorist group. The objective is to have them released without injury if that’s at all possible.”

He would expect the Second Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment to take part, as well as 206 Battery of the Royal Artillery, North Irish Horse, and possibly engineering and medical contingents too.

The aim is to try and get the crowd “as close as physically possible, so they’re in the middle of the entire action”, said Mr Johnston, adding: “We’ve rehearsed some exercises in Ballykinler and Magilligan, but nothing like this has ever happened in public.”

Given the shallowness of Strangford’s waters, a naval display may take place off the north Down coast the day before, instead of in the lough on the main day itself.

Armed Forces Day in Northern Ireland will fall on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

This is a week earlier than some other parts of the UK, and allows Northern Ireland to avail of vehicles and displays which might otherwise be in use on the mainland.

Armed Forces Day is a relatively recent phenomenon.

It began in 2006 as Veterans Day, before the name was changed in 2009 to its present form.