British warships have taken part in their first major exercise in the Persian Gulf since passing through the Suez Canal last week.
Three Royal Navy ships – fleet flagship HMS Bulwark, helicopter and commando carrier HMS Illustrious and Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster – joined with 3 warships from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Fort Austin for Exercise Red Alligator.
Over 3 days the UK’s maritime rapid reaction force took part in a number of serials to practise navigation skills and communication drills with their international partners.
Personnel from both navies were also given the chance to cross decks and stay on the different ships to experience life on board.
Royal Marine Captain Andy Atkins, based on HMS Bulwark as part of her assault squadron, said:
As the Saudi Arabian frigate is a French design it was very similar internally to what we are used to in the Royal Navy. I was made to feel very welcome and am very pleased that I was offered the chance to see how another navy operates at sea.
Lieutenant Commander Sharokh Esfahani was on hand to help explain the traditions and conventions of Saudi Arabia. As the cultural advisor to Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander United Kingdom Task Group, Lieutenant Commander Esfahani visited all the Royal Navy ships prior to the personnel exchanges. He briefed the sailors on the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and gave some background to the differences, but also the similarities, of the 2 cultures.
And the Commander of the Western Fleet of the Royal Saudi Navy, Commodore Al Haarbi, also visited HMS Bulwark at the start of the exercise so that he and Commodore McAlpine could discuss plans and tactics.
The 3 Royal Navy ships are part of the Response Force Task Group – the UK’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines at short notice to act in response to any contingency tasking.
As part of their annual Cougar 13 deployment, they have spent just over a month in the Mediterranean before moving on to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa. The deployment involves exercising with partner nations such as Saudi Arabia.
Press Release, September 19, 2013; Image: UK MoD