HMS Illustrious, the Royal Navy’s helicopter and commando carrier has sailed from Portsmouth to take part in Europe’s largest naval exercise off the coast of Galloway.
She will join 11 other Royal Navy ships as well as vessels, submarines, aircraft and ground troops from the UK, US, Turkish, German, Belgian, French, Dutch and Danish militaries.
They will be battling each other at sea, in the air and on land in an area which stretches from the Irish Sea, north to Cape Wrath and east to the Moray Firth.
Called Exercise Joint Warrior, this is a UK-led multinational exercise that will involve over 35 warships, 25 different types of aircraft, and Royal Marines Commandos and soldiers with a combined personnel count of nearly 13,000.
The 12 Royal Navy ships taking part range from amphibious ships, destroyers, frigates and Mine Counter Measures Vessels; all of which will use Joint Warrior to prepare for their imminent deployments to the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Middle East.
3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, including force elements from 24 Commando Engineer Regiment and 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, will embark nearly 1,300 Commandos across the ships in order that they can undertake a large scale amphibious assault on a beach in Cumbria.
Commodore Jerry Kyd, Commander UK Task Group, who will lead the Royal Navy Task Group from sea onboard HMS Bulwark, said: “Joint Warrior is a large, multi-national joint exercise that is an essential vehicle for preparing our Armed Forces for operations around the world.
“In my role as the Commander of the United Kingdom’s on-call Maritime Task Group, Joint Warrior provides excellent training within a complex political-military scenario. Alongside forces from the Army and RAF, it prepares maritime forces, including ships, submarines, aircraft and personnel very well for the challenges of real-world activity, from maritime security, counter-piracy to combat operations.
“We are also fortunate that this highly regarded exercise attracts a good attendance from many partner Navies from around the world and I am delighted to have the opportunity this year to be leading ships from the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and the United States as we collectively hone our professional skills and fighting capabilities.”
Exercise Joint Warrior provides an excellent training opportunity to test the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) the Navy’s high readiness force, formed under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. This is a group of Royal Naval ships that are on call to deploy anywhere in the world to deter adversaries, take part in maritime security operations, reassure allies and provide humanitarian disaster relief.
Following on from Exercise Joint Warrior, some of the naval ships will be conducting their annual Cougar operational deployment which further hones its maritime skills and contingent capability thousands of miles from home.
The Royal Air Force will provide fast jet aircraft in the form of Hawks, Tornado and Typhoon in order to simulate enemy aircraft and missiles as well as providing conventional air warfare capability within the scenario. In addition RAF maritime patrol aircraft will supply the Royal Navy Task Group with a detailed picture of enemy movements and positions. These aircraft will be complemented by the Royal Navy’s helicopter force of Merlin, Lynx, Sea King and Wildcat.
Air Officer Commanding 1 Group, Air Vice Marshal Stuart Atha said: “Whilst the RAF remains focused on supporting transition in Afghanistan, exercise Joint Warrior provides us with an invaluable opportunity to prepare our people to respond quickly and appropriately to the unknown threats of the future.
“It is the most significant exercise held in the UK and brings together forces from all 3 Services and from overseas and is set within a challenging but realistic scenario that tests and develops our people both in the air and on the ground. The experience gained from Joint Warrior provides us with confidence that the RAF is ready to deploy where ever and whenever required to defend our sovereign territory and national interests.”
The Army, in addition to those force elements embedded in 3 Commando Bde, will be represented on the exercise with elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade and the Joint Helicopter Command. The exercise represents a valuable opportunity to demonstrate some of the range of capabilities available for contingency operations including both ground and air assets to provide an air assault capability.
16 AA Bde will be joined by RAF, Army and Commando Helicopter Forces including Apache, Chinook, Sea King, Lynx, Merlin and Puma helicopters providing critical Attack Support, and Reconnaissance capabilities. Logistic support to air assets will be provided by the Tactical Supply Wing of the RAF.
Brigadier Neil Sexton, Deputy Commander Joint Helicopter Command added: “Exercise Joint Warrior is the Joint Helicopter Command’s(JHC) most important training event this year and will see 16 Air Assault Brigade’s Air Assault Task Force challenged in a realistic and demanding scenario across Scotland and northern England.
“The Brigade will deploy some 1,600 personnel from the 3 Para Battlegroup and another 600 forming a Joint Helicopter Force under the command of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps. RAF, Army and Commando helicopters will be active for the entire exercise, supporting initially 3 Commando Brigade and then 16 Air Assault Brigade in the amphibious and air assault roles.
“The helicopters assigned include Apache, Chinook, Sea King Mk 4, Lynx Mk 7 and 9a, Merlin Mk 3/3a and Puma Mk 2, providing the full range of support, attack and reconnaissance capabilities. Ground support to the JHC’s aircraft will be provided by the Tactical Supply Wing of the RAF as well as integrated AAC and Commando Helicopter logisticians.”