While the eyes of the public watched the “Siil” (Hedgehog) large-scale exercise, the so-called Brown Berets – US Air Force Combat Aviation Advisory Team – visited Estonia for the first time, helping to polish cooperation between the air and special forces.
The Brown Berets or officially the 6th Special Operations Squadron is a US Air Force elite unit established in 1994. Their business is to teach allies and partners in developing efficient cooperation between the local special units, air force and conventional ground forces.
The deployed units include specialists in a wide range of fields – pilots, sensor operators, maintenance technicians, military protection, intelligence, survival instructors, fire controllers, etc. The Brown Berets can fly dozens of different planes and helicopters – from the US own equipment to French Puma and Russian Mi-helicopters, but they do not take their own aircraft with them.
“When we come somewhere, we use the partner nation’s aircraft not our own equipment – we have local solutions to local problems,” said the commander of the unit, whose work does not permit revealing his name.
They practiced in Estonia with PZL M28 Skytruck transport aircraft, locally referred to as simply M28. The Estonian Air Force received this type of aircraft in 2019 through a US program of handing over surplus military equipment to allies.
According to the commander of the Brown Berets unit, which visited Estonia, the M28s were especially suitable for them, because they specialize in this type of aircraft. The Poland-built M28 can carry personnel or cargo and can land on any field – of course, provided it is not under fire of hostile forces.
“The M28 is a fantastic platform and the Estonian version is actually better than the ones we use back in the USA,” he said. “The Estonian version is multi-purpose, our aircraft are very simple.”
„We were not here to teach how to operate them – the Estonians know how to do it. We were here to teach how to make use of this capability together with special forces and ground units,” he said. For example, they practiced with the Estonian personnel carrying supplies to troops, low-altitude and night operations, certain reconnaissance and observation activities and medical skills.
According to the Brown Berets representative, the main challenge in most places is communication – between the ground and air forces, conventional and special units. “If you operate in a vacuum in some sense, you will certainly encounter problems with your mission – things would not go as smoothly as they should,” he said.
The commander of the Brown Berets praised the professional attitude of the Estonian colleagues, including the careful maintenance of the equipment. “This was really nice to see. We have been to some countries where they do not take that good care for their equipment,” he remarked.
The American also recognized the Estonians’ solution-oriented approach. “You do not hear “no” in your military culture very frequently; there is always “yes”. They try to find a solution to every problem. If we ask for something, they say: “Well, we shall find a way”,” he said.
“The Estonians are ready for any mission NATO might require. They are ready for action,” the American commended. “It is a refreshing experience because the motto of my unit is “The Most Committed Wins” and we have seen here that Estonia is committed to helping NATO just like we are.”
Bad coordination of the air and ground forces operations is one of the factors considered the reasons of Russia’s initial lack of success in Ukraine. But the US Air Force advisory team’s Estonian visit is not directly related to the events in Ukraine.
“This mission has been planned for more than a year. But considering what is going on in the world there is no better time than to be now on the eastern flank of NATO,” said the representatives of the Brown Berets.
PZL M28 Skytruck
A development of the Antonov An-28 small transport aircraft built in Poland, which can be used as a passenger, cargo and patrol aircraft.
The main operator of these aircraft is the manufacturer state Poland, where the M28 serves in the Air Force, the Navy and the Border Guard.
The Estonian Air Force received its two M28 as a present of the US in 2019.
The M28 aircraft are also operated by the defense forces of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Germany, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, the USA, Venezuela and Vietnam.