Warships from across the globe – including a dozen Royal Navy warships, submarines and auxiliaries – are converging on Scotland for the largest military exercise staged in home waters in many years.
Thirty two naval units, plus soldiers and air forces – some 8,000 personnel in all from eight nations – are taking part in the two-week-long Joint Warrior exercise which is building on lessons learned off Libya last year.
HMS Bulwark's landing craft puts trucks ashore in Loch Eriboll. Picture: LA(Phot) Martin Carney
Report by Samantha Chapman, Navy Command
AT ANY other time of the year the idea of pirates, terrorists, hostile nationals and a host of mines sitting off the west coast of Scotland would be extremely alarming.
Yet as mid-April fast approaches so does Exercise Joint Warrior, the biannual training exercise that prepares not only the UK, but also the US, Denmark, Norway, France, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands for a vast range of threats at sea.
And, this time, Joint Warrior is much, much bigger than before. With a total of 8,000 personnel taking part – 3000 more than usual – the aim in 2012 is to generate a purpose-built task group ready to react to global events at just a moment’s notice.
“The Royal Navy is coming en masse,” said Captain Phil Titterton, Commanding Officer of Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS), the team responsible for organising the exercise.
“This year Joint Warrior is generating the Royal Navy’s high-end war fighting capabilities for use as and when required for maritime defence around the world.
A police launch escorts HMS Bulwark up the Clyde. Picture: CPO(Phot) Tam McDonald
“It is a lot of training to take place within a short period – it is two weeks from start to finish from April 16-26. However the benefit is that this gives a full spectrum of multi-national training in a testing environment and it gives all the players a view on how they would work together under coalition and NATO operations.
“These are the assets that will be used in the event of global operations so they must be able to work alongside each other effectively.”
The task group is of a similar configuration to that which stood up to support the UN Resolution 1973 where NATO forces stepped in a year ago to protect the Libyan people from destruction by forces loyal to dictator Colonel Gaddafi. The units being tested under Joint Warrior would be the ones who would be used again under similar circumstances.
A RIB races past a visiting foreign submarine. Picture: LA(Phot) Al Macleod
With flexibility a key factor in joint operations – for example providing security during the London 2012 Olympics – Joint Warrior puts the units’ ability to react quickly and effectively to the test.
“The quality and diverse training that’s offered by large-scale exercises such as Joint Warrior is invaluable for the ship and her crew,” says Capt Alex Burton, Commanding Officer of assault ship HMS Bulwark.
The nation’s flagship is at very short notice to sail anywhere in the world should the government require her to do so. Having just returned from winter war games in the Arctic, Joint Warrior will keep her at the top of her game.
An impressive panorama of HMS Illustrious alongside at Clyde Naval Base. Picture: PO(Phot) Donny Osmond
“The opportunity for us to participate in collective training with other NATO and Allied units is the cornerstone in maintaining our high-readiness status,” Capt Burton adds.
“The exercise also allows us to demonstrate that Bulwark and her crew are more than capable of fulfilling the role expected of the Royal Navy’s flagship.”
In addition to Bulwark, Fleet Air Arm helicopters and commando carrier HMS Illustrious, brand-new Type-45 destroyer HMS Diamond – gearing up for her maiden deployment later this spring – and a host of frigates, destroyers, minehunters, survey ships, patrol boats, a submarine and Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Mounts Bay, 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines will also be practicing their amphibious skills.
For the marines, Joint Warrior will be a chance to work-up the Corps’ core role: projecting military power from the sea to land.
The impressive sight of visiting warships alongside at Faslane as night falls on the opening day of a previous Joint Warrior. Picture: CPO(Phot) Tam McDonald
45 Commando, part of the Brigade, is set to be the lead Royal Marine high-readiness unit from April with Joint Warrior confirming that they are ready to deploy at short notice on both amphibious and land operations.
Called the Land Command Group (LCG) they come under the umbrella of 3 Commando Brigade and, for Joint Warrior, also under Commander UK Task Group (COMUKTG) which is headed up by Commodore Paddy MacAlpine.
“Everyone on the exercise, including the LCG, are training as if they were on their way to war,” said Capt Titterton.
“45 Commando will be embarking on Bulwark and Illustrious on April 14 and 15 and then doing their amphibious training such as landing craft operations before being tasked to raid Galloway Forest from which they will undertake their field training.
One of Bulwark's Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel leaves her loading dock to put Royal Marines ashore. Picture: LA(Phot) Si Ethell
“COMUKTG is the group of battle staff that will be embarked on Bulwark alongside 3 Commando Brigade under Brigadier Martin Smith. Part of the training objectives is for both these organisations to work alongside each other to command and respond to the various scenarios that will be unfolding.
“We also have the Joint Force Headquarters, who form the UK’s new Joint Force Command’s rapid reaction deployable command team, on board HMS Illustrious. Command team training is a vital element of Joint Warrior so this year three UK Command teams will benefit from this complex multinational exercise.”
As well as the maritime assets, of which there are 32 separate naval units from across Europe and the US, there are also Merlin and Lynx helicopters from 814, 829 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons and Hawks and Typhoons flown by the RAF. Nine maritime patrol aircraft, including Canadian and US P3s and French Atlantique II planes will be based at RAF Lossiemouth for the duration of the exercise.
A number of UK and allied land forces will also be taking part in core military training skills, using the various players involved to create a realistic training ground for their own rapid-deployment work-up. This includes 16 Air Assault Brigade who will be doing the same field training as 45 Cdo, as well as the 11th French Parachute Brigade, the Royal Air Force regiment and 1 Mechanised Infantry Brigade Forward Air Control.
“This is essential training,” said Capt Titterton. “Joint Warrior is where the full breadth of maritime war fighting options can be tested which is vital so that we can find out exactly what we are capable of providing in the event of a short-notice global issue.”