Two of the Royal Navy’s largest warships have left port and are sailing to the starting point of the biggest NATO exercise in 20 years.
HMS Ocean sailed from Livorno while HMS Bulwark sailed from Toulon straight into the warm up phase of Exercise Trident Juncture.
Both vessels have spent months preparing for the ambitious exercise which will see around 36,000 personnel from more than 30 nations taking part in locations around Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Ocean visited Livorno to stock up on supplies and embark US Marines in preparation for their role in the “live” phase of NATO’s biggest exercise for 20 years – which will take place in Spain and Portugal at the start on November.
Since leaving the UK last month, Ocean has hosted the UK Maritime Battle Staff as it conducted a major ‘table top’ wargame and tested the communications that will enable it to command NATO’s warships in the forthcoming training scenarios.
For the ship, the tempo of operation has increased with the flight deck team and air traffic controllers working with the ship’s full complement of helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm and RAF.
Wildcat helicopters from 847 Naval Air Squadron, Merlin Mk2 from 814 Naval Air Squadron and Chinooks from 27 Squadron RAF, have been rehearsing the drills they will use to deliver 45 Commando Royal Marines and the US Marine Corps to the heart of the action in the coming weeks.
Commander Graeme Spence, the Commanding Officer of 847 NAS, said: “The squadron has spent a good year converting to the Lynx helicopter’s successor – during which time we have tried to persuade the world that Wildcat is not a Lynx. This exercise will give the fliers a chance to prove this.”
Out have gone the paper charts as the helicopter has gone digital, however the mission remains the same – battlefield reconnaissance helicopter.
“We now have far more capacity to deal with information – to understand what is going on it means we’re more able to help the commandos with what’s happening on the ground, so they can make better informed decisions,” added Cdr Spence.
“For us the goal is to really get to grips with Wildcat. We’ve done the theory. Now we find out how it works with the Royal Marines for real.”
Trident Juncture is also the final ‘tick’ that clears the Royal Navy’s Maritime Battle Staff to command the Naval element on the NATO Response Force in 2016.