A £1m new facility will provide sailors and Royal Marines the most realistic board and search training they’ve ever had.
The ‘ship in a box’ complex at HMS Raleigh recreates the inside of a merchant ship, but also features secret compartments and hiding places as used by smugglers, drug runners and terrorists in the real world.
Sailors and commandos will use the most realistic mock-up ship they’ve ever had to prepare them for front-line boarding operations from this spring.
The £1m ‘ship in a box’ facility at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint will be used by all Royal Navy and Royal Marines board and search teams to hone their skills – from fast roping out of helicopters to searching hidden compartments and using artificial ammunition to neutralise foes.
Board and search operations are the mainstay of what the Royal Navy does east of Suez especially: inspecting dhows and merchant vessels for contraband such as drugs, arms and people, as well as curbing pirate activity off the Horn of Africa.
They’ve resulted in some important successes – regular pirate take-downs by the Royal Marines (notably over the winters of 2010-11 and 2011-12) and millions of pounds of drugs seized by HMS Westminster and Northumberland on the ‘Hashish Highway’.
At present sailors and marines conducting compliant boarding training use the Cossack building – part of whose upper floor represents part of a merchantman – or former minehunter HMS Brecon off Jupiter Point, before moving on to practising with merchant vessels off Plymouth.
The ship in a box – 21 ISO containers identical to those used on cargo ships, stacked to create a three-storey superstructure, crowned by a bridge – allows much more authentic training on land.
Inside is a warren of passageways and compartments – cabins, mock engine rooms, a galley, cargo holds and mess areas – with numerous imaginative hiding places, just as smugglers, drug runners and terrorists use in the real world.
The complex has been built by the same team, FES, who erected a similar facility used by the 43 Commando Royal Marines at Faslane.
The facility north of the border is mostly empty inside, however, and has no space for personnel to rapid rope from a helicopter on to the deck.
“Although Cossack mirrors part of a ship, it’s really a building. With the ‘ship in a box’ you actually have a proper merchant ship with every type of compartment you’d expect to find for real,” said Lt Chris Carter, Officer Commanding Board and Search School, part of 1 Assault Group Royal Marines.
“We’ll still use Cossack to train people. But this new facility will really test them as a team in an environment that‘s as real as we can make it.”
For added realism, for the first time sailors will, in the future be able to use ‘simunition’– simulated ammunition, which possesses most of the characteristics of the real thing, minus the blood – alongside their Royal Marines comrades.
Construction has been under way at the site near Trevol Jetty at the south-eastern tip of Raleigh since September and is due to be completed in March, before the Royal Navy and Royal Marines trainers from the Board and Search School make use of the facility and come up with scenarios to test students during the three-week boarding course.
Press Release, February 17, 2014; Image: Royal Navy