The Royal Navy’s Response Task Force Group was established following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The RFTG serves as Britain’s high-readiness amphibious task force and provides a scalable force able to deploy worldwide to meet crises.
HMS Westminster in hunt for USS Dallas
Royal Navy warship HMS Westminster currently on deployment has been putting her submarine hunting skills to the test with a combined UK and US Naval Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise in the Gulf of Oman.
HMS Westminster is part of the UK’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) currently on the Royal Navy’s annual Cougar deployment.
HMS Illustrious, RFA Fort Victoria, RFA Fort Austin, USS Bulkeley and the American Los Angeles Class Submarine USS Dallas also took part in the exercise.
The aims of the exercise is to develop maritime interoperability by exercising Anti-Submarine Warfare tactics with US allies in the challenging sonar environment of the warm and shallow waters of the Gulf region.
The exercise was broken down into three phases. The ships and submarines initially tested acoustic and non-acoustics sensor performance against known positions, gaining useful real life data for the region.
The second phase relied on the ships escorting HMS Illustrious as the Mission Essential Unit (MEU) along a passage whilst evading detection and simulated torpedo attacks by USS Dallas.
In the final phase USS Dallas tried to locate and destroy RFA Fort Austin as the MEU, in a holding box which simulated an anchorage, as the UK and US naval ships provided protection.
Additional helicopter support to the ships was ably provided by the Anti-Submarine sonar dipping Merlins embarked in HMS Illustrious and USS Bulkeley’s Seahawk, with Westminster’s Mark 8 Lynx helicopter providing an additional surface search and weapon carrying capability.
As well as taking turns to practise submarine hunting, the sailors from all ships and the submarine were put through their paces.
One of Westminster’s Anti-Submarine Warfare specialists, Petty Officer Underwater Warfare ‘George’ Linehan said:
“This was an excellent opportunity to work with our close allies in Anti-Submarine Warfare.
“The Royal Navy has again demonstrated how effective a T23 Frigate can be in a multi-national task group”.
Aside from this Anti-Submarine exercise, HMS Westminster has had a busy period since leaving the Red Sea, including Replenishments at Sea (RAS) with the USS Artic and also a rare dual RAS with HMS Illustrious and RFA Fort Victoria.
HMS Westminster’s Commanding Officer Hugh Beard said:
“It has been a busy period for Westminster since leaving the Suez Canal, with invaluable training and cooperation with our key allies in the region.
“We are now looking forward to contributing to the wider maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf as part of our ongoing mission.”
HMS Westminster is currently conducting counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics patrols in the Gulf region and returns to the UK in 2014.
The Cougar 13 deployment will operate in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Gulf, and Horn of Africa. It involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, commanded by Commodore Paddy McAlpine OBE ADC Royal Navy.
The RFTG is the United Kingdom’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 if required.
The Response Force Task Group (RFTG) is Britain’s high-readiness amphibious task force, established following the 2012 SDSR. The Lead Commando Group (LCG) is drawn from 3 Commando Brigade and provides a scalable force able to deploy worldwide to meet crises.
Royal Marines launch amphibious raid on abandoned submarine base
As dawn broke over an abandoned former Cold War submarine base a series of explosions announced the arrival of the Royal Marines as they began a full scale amphibious attack. As part of Exercise Albanian Lion, the Marines landed on the shores of Sazan island and, amid a scenario based around smugglers, social unrest and the rise of terrorist groups, the Commandos attacked the hostile nation from the sea by climbing cliff faces in darkness to surprise the enemy.
The personnel of 42 Commando, based in Plymouth, and part of the Lead Commando Group (LCG), are honing their skills for contingent operations – where they must be ready to react at a moment’s notice – as part of the Royal Navy deployment named Cougar 13.
Unbeknown to the ‘smugglers’ hiding out on the Albanian island, they had been observed for the last few days by the Royal Marines Surveillance Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS).
Once a picture had been built of the enemy locations the initial dawn attack was initiated by explosions which simulated bombs dropped from RAF Hawk Jets.
Troops from J, K & M companies, 42 Commando then started the ground assault of enemy stronghold locations, storming and surprising their enemy.
The attack, which lasted eleven hours, saw the commandos clear their way through a maze of tunnels and buildings gathering information for further operations over the next few days.
Sazan Island, as well as being an old Soviet submarine base, used to be home to a chemical and biological weapons plant and there are more than 100 buildings and 5.7 square kilometres of trenches and bunkers.
The island now is uninhabited but there is a small manned naval base, used mainly to counter contraband routes between southern Italy and Albania.
During the exercise the Troops were visited by Major General Xhemal Gjunkshi, Chief of Defence of the Armed forces of the Republic of Albania and Ambassador of the UK Mr Nicholas Cannon.
They were escorted around the vast training area by Deputy Commander of 3 Commando Brigade, Colonel Kevin Oliver.
Colonel Oliver said:
“We are delighted to be here with our NATO allies for the third year running. The facilities are some of the best training areas the task group has ever used.
“We are extremely grateful for the use of their facilities and for the chance to work alongside the Albanian forces sharing experiences and operations.”
Over the subsequent 96 hours the Marines held further assaults onto positions 150km away as well as an evacuation with British embassy staff which saw British nationals safely extracted from a hostile environment.
As part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, the LCG is projected from sea by Royal Navy warships into troublespots across the globe as dictated by government.
Lieutenant David Kirk, Troop Commander of 5 Troop, K Company, led the initial assault and said:
“Moving up through the valley was pretty challenging, you’ve got a lot of kit on and the heat even at night time is considerable.”
“Our part of the attack lasted about six hours and although challenging, all our aims were achieved.
“We knew it was going to be difficult before we started so we mentally prepared ourselves beforehand and just pushed on through.”
STRIKFORNATO is the Alliance’s primary battle staff for integrating US maritime forces into NATO operations and replaced the old STRIKFORSOUTH (est. 1952) in 2004. The current command platform is the US Navy Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20). Utilizing HMS Bulwark (L15) as an alternative command platform would ensure operational flexibility for NATO’s maritime operations.
NATO staff take tour of HMS Bulwark
The Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces at NATO (STRIKFORNATO), Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe USN, has paid a visit to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark. VAdm Pandolfe took the opportunity to visit the ship while she was alongside in Lisbon as part of a multi-national exercised called Cougar 13.
The aim of the visit was to evaluate the use of HMS Bulwark as a future Alternative Command Platform (ACP) to the current platform of choice – the USS Mount Whitney.
STRIKFORNATO is NATO’s premier Maritime Battlestaff and the Alliance’s primary link for integrating US Maritime Forces into NATO operations.
Managed by a Memorandum of Understanding comprising 11 nations, STRIKFORNATO is a rapidly deployable, maritime headquarters that provides command and control across the full spectrum of security tasking.
As part of on going contingency planning, the staff of STRIKFORNATO are visiting as many potential ACPs as they can when the opportunity arises.
HMS Bulwark is deployed for four months on Cougar 13 as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) along with three other warships – HMS Illustrious, HMS Westminster and HMS Montrose.
Captain Andrew Burns Royal Navy, Commanding Officer HMS Bulwark said:
“One of the main roles of the Fleet Flagship is command and control due to HMS Bulwark’s advanced communications suite and capacity to accommodate large numbers of personnel.
“It is therefore a privilege and delight to show the STRIKFORNATO team our facilities because it helps both of us prepare for potential contingent operations where we could be working together.”
STRIKFORNATO and the RFTG were involved in NATO Operation Unified Protector in 2011, protecting Libyan civilians from attack, and threat of attack from pro-Colonel Gadaffi supporters.
The Cougar 13 deployment will operate in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, the Gulf, and Horn of Africa.
It involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world.
Just to confirm, “Cougar” has nothing to do with picking up man-hungry Albanian vamps. That’s an entirely different kind of cougar.
Then again… with a run ashore… who knows?
Royal Marines gear up for Albanian Lion
The first men to arrive, predominantly from 42 Commando in Plymouth, stepped off their plane and immediately set about acclimatising to the rugged conditions and heat.
Already they have undertaken a series of river crossings, abseils and carried out mock assaults on enemy positions – all at heights ranging between 4,500 and 6,000ft.
While they train they await the arrival of the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark, as well as HMS Illustrious, and their embarked Royal Marines and elements of the Fleet Air Arm.
Once assembled in the Adriatic, off the coast of Vlore, Albania, they will work with Albania’s armed forces to put the Lead Commando Group (LCG) ashore within a high tempo scenario and sustain it as it moves inland.
Albanian Lion is just the first in a series of exercises making up Cougar 13 and begins next week. The exercise offers a full RFTG/LCG run out in ideal conditions with the aim of deploying, supporting and sustaining the LCG whilst ashore.
Sergeant Chris Davies, 30, from 30 Commando Royal Marines, Plymouth said:
“This is the second time I have trained in Albania and the mixture of heat, altitude and mountainous terrain make it the ideal training environment for the Royal Marines.
“We are all rearing to go and looking forward to a high intensity, action packed few days as we undertake Albanian Lion with our colleagues from the Albanian Armed Forces.”
Cougar 13 is a long-planned deployment for the UK RFTG – the naval force formed under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review – which sees the Royal Navy hone its world class maritime skills thousands of miles from home through exercises with a number of key allies.