Sub-hunting helicopters from Culdrose in Cornwall returned to their roots off Norway as they joined forces from half a dozen nations on a major exercise.
Fresh from maritime security operations in the Indian Ocean, Merlins of 814 Naval Air Squadron decamped to Stavanger to hunt three diesel boats determined to ‘sink’ a German tanker.
NORMALLY they don’t make it quite as easy as this for the Navy’s top submarine hunters to find them…
The tell-tale masts of an underwater killer emerge from the cool waters of the Norwegian Sea as NATO submarines – and sub-hunters – gathered in Scandinavia for a major exercise.
The Merlin helicopters of 814 Naval Air Squadron from Culdrose in Cornwall led British input to the oddly-named Dynamic Mongoose – a newly-established NATO anti-submarine warfare exercise.
Two Merlins with 55 air and ground crew to support them decamped from the Lizard Peninsula to Sola Airbase in Stavanger on the south-west coast of Norway.
There, apart from their hosts, they were joined by colleagues from France, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Poland.
Having spent much of its time recently scouring the seas for surface ships on anti-piracy, people-trafficking, smuggling, drug-running and terrorism duties east of Suez, Dynamic Mongoose proved to be a welcome return to the bread-and-butter day job: sub hunting.
Mast observation… An 814 pilot looks out of the cockpit at the protruding fin and masts of a diesel boat off Norway
The exercise saw 814 – known as the Flying Tigers – operating as part of the ‘friendly forces’, working alongside various NATO maritime patrol aircraft, four surface ships (including Norway’s HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen) and numerous helicopters including Polish Mi-14 Hazes to counter the threat posed by three traditional diesel-powered submarines.
The mission was to assist in the protection of the ‘high value vessel’, the German tanker FGS Spessart, from the unseen enemy who posed a very real threat lurking below the surface and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
“These quiet and elusive boats are difficult opponents and can prove a real challenge to detect at the best of times – even with the Merlin’s highly advanced active sonar, passive sonics and radar,” explained the Flying Tigers’ Commanding Officer Cdr Christopher Stock.
“The submarine commanders continually tested the flying crews’ war-fighting skills, but the Flying Tigers leapt to the challenge, successfully hunting and preying on the threat.
“The exercise demonstrated what a highly capable aircraft – and daunting opponent – the Merlin Mk1 can be when operated by well-trained Fleet Air Arm aviators.”
Which they’ll be doing again fairly shortly; Dynamic Mongoose was a warm-up (although admittedly not that warm…) for this autumn’s Cougar 12 exercise in the Mediterranean, the Royal Navy’s key task group deployment of the year.
Cdr Stock added: “Dynamic Mongoose provided really valuable training – and the feedback from the submariners themselves illustrated how effective a well-operated Merlin can be.”