A giant exercise off the coast of Scotland which involved more than 30 warships and 65 aircraft from 13 European countries has drawn to a close. Exercise Joint Warrior – a twice yearly event – saw the Royal Marines from 42 Commando return to their core amphibious skills as oppose to the land fighting capabilities they used in Afghanistan.
Launching assaults by parachute onto the north west coast of Scotland for the first time in a decade, they also attacked guerrilla style targets by fighting from craft launched by HMS Bulwark and helicopters from HMS Illustrious.
As the UK’s Lead Commando Group, 42 Cdo have been reinvigorating those skills should they be called to rapidly unfolding world events at just five days’ notice.
Captain Matt Hills Royal Marines, a Troop Commander of the Special Reconnaissance Squadron which conducted the parachute drop – a first on a Joint Warrior exercise – said:
“As the lead element of the landing force we need to insert, covertly, by a number of different methods including boat, vehicle and parachute.
“It is vital we maintain our parachute capability in order to be as flexible as possible across a broad range of potential reconnaissance tasks.”
Brigadier Martin Smith MBE, Commander 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines added:
“Amphibious operations are all about bridging the gap between the sea and the land. The Royal Navy achieves this by the use of warships and Royal Marines.
“We are re-learning our core amphibious business as well as driving our capability into the future with new Viking vehicles, new weapons and new communications equipment.”
The largest Joint Warrior ever, the Royal Navy’s warships were also put to the test with intense air, surface and underwater threat training for two weeks.
Ships including HMS Illustrious, Bulwark, Diamond and Westminster all had to deal with incoming attacks from exercise staff on submarines and fast craft, and deal with them as if a real-life war situation.
Sailors on board were frequently launched into action stations where they donned antiflash (fireproof face mask and gloves) and prepared the ship for defensive actions.
The scenario covered a broad range of circumstances including evolving crisis and conflict situations such as disputed territory, conventional and non-conventional maritime and amphibious threats such as counter-piracy and terrorist activity.
Called the Response Force Task Group, the ships and submarines are those that would support 42 Commando anywhere in the world should a developing situation, such as Libya, should happen.
Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander of the UK Task Group, said:
“It’s my job to make sure that the ships under my command are able to safely deliver the Royal Marines to their destination.
“In reality this would be conducting theatre entry defensive manoeuvres such as air defence as well as protecting the Task Group from any submarine and surface threat.
“This amphibious task group has the flexibility to react to anything from humanitarian assistance to conventional war fighting against a uniformed enemy; this is what we have been able to exercise and prove during Joint Warrior; that we can fight at and from the sea.”
As well as the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, elements of the Army, RAF and forces from countries including the Netherlands, Canada, France, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Germany, also took part. There were a total of around 12,000 personnel involved.
The UK exercised a dozen ships and submarines including Plymouth-based Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark, HMS Sutherland, HMS Montrose, survey ship HMS Echo and submarine HMS Talent.
Portsmouth based vessels include helicopter and Commando carrier HMS Illustrious – which has spent much of the early part of 2013 carrying out aviation training off the west coast of Scotland – Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond, HMS Westminster and HMS Richmond.
A small group of mine-hunters (HM Ships Brocklesby, Hurworth, Pembroke and Grimsby) also provided the mine-counter-measures capability.
Naval Today Staff, April 29, 2013; Image: Royal Navy