VIDEO: Royal Navy task force arrives at Gibraltar

Royal Navy deploys for Operation Cougar ’13

For the much-reduced Royal Navy and “austerity Britain”, this is a *BIG* deployment.

Royal Navy sails for annual ‘Cougar’ deployment

Thousands of Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel will leave the UK on Monday (12 August) for an annual deployment to the Mediterranean and Gulf region – Cougar ’13.

HMS Bulwark. Photograph by LA(Phot) Joel Rouse

The long-planned deployment will see elements of the UK’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) – the naval force formed under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review – hone its world class maritime skills thousands of miles from home through exercises with a number of key allies.

Four Royal Navy warships, the Lead Commando Group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of Naval Air Squadrons will be supported by five vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

RFA Mounts Bay. Photograph by LA(Phot) Joel Rouse

This is the third time the deployment has taken place, after Cougars ’11 and ’12, with its aim to demonstrate the ability to operate a highly effective maritime force anywhere in the world to protect UK interests.

Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said:

“Since its creation under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Response Force Task Group has demonstrated its formidable strength and readiness to respond to emerging threats worldwide through a number of operations and exercises.

“This now routine and long-planned deployment will demonstrate once again its ability to operate as a rapid reaction force on behalf of the UK and, importantly, underlines the global reach and flexibility of the modern Royal Navy.”

The Task Group is able to conduct simultaneously a range of operations from deterring adversaries and maritime security to international engagement and supporting regional stability.

Its units can operate independently on discrete tasks or as a single entity.

Most importantly, it is an adaptable force that is able to work jointly with Army and Royal Air Force assets, other government agencies and partner nations when required.

After a number of planned port visits in the Mediterranean, the first major exercise for the force will be Albanian Lion, in the Adriatic.

Personnel will work with Albania’s armed forces, building on a similar exercise last year, with the goal to put the Lead Commando Group ashore within a high tempo scenario and sustain it as it moves inland.

The ships will then sail through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf where the focus will transfer to the series of exercises with UK allies in the Gulf region; alongside Army and RAF units.

Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander UK Task Group, said:

“Cougar ’13 is a bespoke opportunity to enhance the Royal Navy’s enduring core skill – the ability to operate and project power as a task group at range. In so doing, it will also remind interested domestic and international parties of the enduring utility, employability and interoperability of the Royal Navy.

“During Cougar ’13 we will engage with our partner nations through a series of exercises, reinforcing our commitment and demonstrating our contribution to security in the Mediterranean and Gulf region.”

Commodore McAlpine and his staff will command from the nation’s flagship HMS Bulwark. Alongside Brigadier Stuart Birrell (Commander of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines) he will choreograph the efforts of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary sailors, Royal Marine Commandos and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm personnel.

Joining Bulwark will be Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose (Plymouth) and HMS Westminster (Portsmouth) to provide escort duties, as well as undertake ongoing counter-piracy operations outside the exercise programme.

HMS Illustrious. Photo by LA(Phot) Gary Weatherston

HMS Montrose is also due to reprise her role from Cougar ‘12 as the launch pad for small Royal Marines reconnaissance parties, which are sent ashore to scout the lie of the land and ‘enemy’ forces.

HMS Montrose. Photo by PO(Phot) Wheelie A’barrow

The Royal Marines will be embarking HMS Bulwark, RFA Mounts Bay and RFA Lyme Bay: the nation’s Lead Commando Group, including 42 Commando, elements of 30 Commando IX Group, and the Commando Logistics Regiment who will meet all the supply and medical needs and 16 Vikings of the Corps’ Armoured Support Group.

A number of Army Commandos from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 24 Commando Engineer Regiment will also deploy as part of the Lead Commando Group.

Brigadier Stuart Birrell, Commander 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, said:

“Cougar ’13 provides a superb opportunity to demonstrate the capability and capacity of the Response Force Task Group and the Lead Commando Group. Operating in a wide variety of countries across the Mediterranean and Gulf region, the task group will engage in capacity building and defence engagement with a range of partner nations, in some truly outstanding exercises.

“A demanding and ambitious deployment, we will look forward to the challenges and opportunities that Cougar ’13 presents.”

RFA Fort Austin will provide stores, fuel, water, and ammunition and RFA Diligence is on hand to attend to any of the Cougar ’13 ship’s engineering requirements.

RFA Fort Austin. Photo by LA(PHOT) Claire Jones

The majority of the Task Group is due home to the UK in December, although Diligence, Westminster and Montrose are due to remain east of Suez in support of the Navy’s long-standing mission in the region to keep the sea lanes safe and secure for lawful trade.

Falklands War: The Untold Story (1987)

Royal Navy deploys submarine support vessel “East of Suez”

Note the heavily-laboured message to HM Government’s potential foes “East of Suez.” Vis, there will be Astute class submarines patrolling your neighbourhood for the foreseeable future.

Diligence due east of Suez as support ship begins mammoth mission

Support ship RFA Diligence slipped out of Portsmouth to begin a five to eight-year mission supporting the Royal Navy’s mission east of Suez.

The forward repair vessel acts as a floating garage/supply ship for warships, but especially submarines.

Picture: LA(Phot) Nicky Wilson, FRPU East

IF YOU didn’t catch RFA Diligence sailing out of Portsmouth Harbour on a glorious July morning yesterday, well, you’ve missed her for between five and eight years.

The ‘floating garage’ left the Solent to resume her mission east of Suez, supporting Royal Navy submarine operations in particular.

She’s spent most of her recent career in the Gulf region as a modern-day ‘depot ship’ for the Silent Service, acting as a floating workshop for hull and machinery repairs, as well as facilities for supplying electricity, water, fuel, air, cranes and stores.

Officially a Forward Repair Ship, Diligence can provide support to either the surface fleet or submarines – although it’s the latter she’s been mostly assisting in recent years.

She returned to the UK after a lengthy spell away late last year, since when she’s undergone some maintenance and refurbishment and carried out the first trials with one of the Navy’s new Astute-class submarines.

‘Dili’ practised ‘rafting up’ with HMS Ambush in Gareloch this spring – key to providing any front-line support to submarine operations.

In the longer term, the ship will also be working with other RN vessels east of Suez, notably the four minehunters the UK has permanently stationed in the region. Diligence can act as their mother ship – particularly when their current mother, amphibious support ship RFA Cardigan Bay, goes in for maintenance.

The ship was originally built for the merchant marine, acting as an oil rig support ship. She was taken up from trade during the 1982 Falklands War, subsequently bought by the UK, converted and renamed, being commissioned into the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1984.