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.
RFA Fort Victoria is a Fort-class oiler replenishment ship (AOR) commissioned into the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1994. HMAS Newcastle is an Adelaide-class frigate commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1993.
A view from the other side
While operating together in the Gulf of Aden, HMAS Newcastle and the UK’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) replenishment ship Fort Victoria, conducted a cross-deck for the day for six lucky sailors.
While the ships conducted a replenishment at sea (RAS) the sailors got to see their ships from a different angle.
Taking a break from the fuelling, Assistant Marine Engineering Officer Lieutenant Gareth Giles was fortunate to be cross-decked to Fort Victoria for the day and said it was good to see the RAS from a different point of view.
“What’s interesting are the differences between how the RAN and RFA operate. The amount of space they have is amazing. I was taken on a detailed tour and it was difficult to come back to Newcastle after seeing the single cabins with ensuites and the living conditions experienced on a RFA vessel!”
Visiting Fort Victoria with LEUT Gareth Giles was Leading Seaman Marine Technician Mathew Bland, Able Seaman Electronics Technician Jerrad Comber, Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Adam O’Brien, Able Seaman Maritime Logistics – Personnel sailor Laura Johnson and Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Troy Bennett.
LSMT Bland said it was a great to be able to see the RAS from the other side. He was taken on a tour of the Junior Sailors’ dining and living areas as well as the engineering spaces.
“It was such an amazing day and something I will never forget. It was so interesting to see how other sailors live and how their ship operates. The helicopter ride over there was also a first for me.”
Newcastle, in turn, also hosted several officers and sailors from the large replenishment ship, including Fort Victoria’s Medical Officer, Lieutenant Louise McMenemy.
Newcastle’s Medical Officer Lieutenant Natalie Boulton hosted LEUT McMenemy for a tour of the ship, and they watched a boarding operation from the Bridge before taking part in the sickbay afternoon tea session.
“The visit gave both Doctors the opportunity to share professional experiences and foster an understanding of how both could assist each other if the unforeseeable need should arise,” LEUT Boulton said.
Boarding Officer and Officer of the Watch (OOW) Lieutenant Alec Fieldsend hosted two RFA Maritime Warfare Officer Cadets.
“They were interested in talking about the cricket, funnily enough. I took them up showed them what a Warship’s Bridge looked like. They both enjoyed the experience, the opportunity to see how we do business on an Australian warship and observe a RAS from the customer’s point of view,” LEUT Fieldsend said.
Newcastle is deployed to the MEAO as part of Operation SLIPPER, the Australian Defence Force contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, smuggling and piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and for enhancing regional maritime security and engagement.
Her current deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.
Last week, whilst operating off the coast of Somalia, EU Naval Force flagship Portuguese Frigate NRP Álvares Cabral and French frigate FS Guépratte both conducted a Replenishment At Sea (RAS) with RFA Fort Victoria.