After preparations onboard HMS Illustrious, new Merlin Mk 2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron are at the heart of Exercise Joint Warrior, now ending its first week in Scottish waters.
The Merlins are taking part in the largest naval war game of the year in European waters, involving ships, submarines, aircraft and marines from more than ten different nations are taking part.
820 Naval Air Squadron have embarked three of their Merlins and are seeing how versatile their home on the Navy’s Commando Helicopter Carrier has become, since the Squadron last operated with the Response Force Task Group (RFTG), the Royal Navy’s high readiness force.
“It’s a different set up on board than we’ve traditionally been used to”, said Lieutenant Commander Neil Parrock, 820 Naval Air Squadron’s Senior Pilot.
“With Merlin Mk2’s, ‘Junglie’ Sea Kings and Chinooks helicopters on ‘Lusty’ the dynamics are quite exciting – we’re meeting old friends and making new ones as we go along.
“The Chinooks take up a large part of the deck and it’s like a Chinese puzzle when shifting aircraft, but everyone’s benefiting from the challenge.”
Working together has become the norm now Joint Warrior has begun, each helicopter force having a vital role to play.
The Merlins are countering the submarine threat which the exercise planners have included in the form of several boats set to attack the multi-national naval force.
Since leaving Portsmouth where the Squadron joined ‘Lusty’, 820 has spent the time working up its aircrews and engineers; managing 24/7 routines and including full mission system operations whilst tracking other vessels during their flying sorties.
Training continues throughout the exercise as the helicopters begin deploying active and passive sonobuoys in fields or barriers which detect any real-time threat.
Lt Cdr Parrock continued: “We’re managing to get a lot of very valuable training for our aircrew and engineers, some of whom have never experienced these types of operations before.
“As we receive more and more tasking from the Commander UK Task Group. screening operations from hostile sub-surface and surface threats to the task group, the Merlin 2 is proving itself more than capable.”
820 Naval Air Squadron will not have time to rest on their laurels after Joint Warrior is complete.
The Merlin Force from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose is preparing for a longer stay on HMS Illustrious for Exercise Deep Blue in June, which will see the Merlin helicopters once again embarking.
That exercise is set to practise larger screening operations and dedicated Anti-Submarine Warfare tactics.
Press Release, April 4, 2014; Image: Royal Navy