New helicopters that will serve the Royal Marines have joined Britain’s flagship HMS Ocean off the south coast for basic amphibious training.
The Sea King helicopters that were recently retired are replaced by the battlefield Merlin, which is, according to the Royal Navy, bigger, faster, more powerful, has a greater range and is easier to board/disembark than the helicopter it replaces.
Since transferring from the RAF, the helicopters have received a mini upgrade – the Merlin iMk3 (‘i’ for interim) is better suited to supporting the green berets on amphibious operations than the ‘basic’ model thanks to a folding main rotor head, strengthened undercarriage and communications upgrades, the Royal Navy said.
Pilot Lt Cdr Alex Hampson explained: “The iMk3 has a number of modifications to allow us to operate at sea, day and night, as well as the ability to conduct various other tasks such as the fast roping of troops to the deck of a ship on the move.”
This ‘interim’ helicopter plugs the gap until the truly ‘marinised’ version of the battlefield Merlin, the Mk4, is delivered in late 2017.
846’s Commanding Officer Lt Col Del Stafford said that the few days embarked on the helicopter carrier would serve the Commando Helicopter Force well: first sea time for the iMk3; first green Merlins landing on assault ship HMS Bulwark; ferrying loads between ships on the move at sea; and air and ground living and working in the confines of a warship.
Two squadrons of Merlins are assigned to the green berets – 845 NAS will shortly move from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire to Yeovilton – plus reconnaissance Wildcats of 847 NAS.