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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.