Sailing together in a powerful display of might, British warships have taken part in their first major exercise in the Gulf since passing through the Suez Canal last week.
Three Royal Navy ships – Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark, helicopter and commando carrier HMS Illustrious and Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster joined with three warships from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Austin for Exercise Red Alligator.
Over three days the UK’s maritime rapid reaction force took part in a number of serials to practise navigation skills and communication drills with their international partners.
Personnel from both navies were also given the chance to cross decks and stay on the different ships to experience life on board.
Royal Marine Captain Andy Atkins, based on HMS Bulwark as part of their Assault Squadron said: “As their frigate is a French design it was very similar internally to what we are used to in the Royal Navy. I was made to feel very welcome and am very pleased that I was offered the chance to see how another navy operates at sea.”
Lieutenant Commander Sharokh Esfahani was on hand to help to explain the traditions and conventions of Saudi Arabia. As the Cultural Advisor to Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander United Kingdom Task Group, he visited all the Royal Navy ships prior to the personnel exchanges. He briefed the sailors on the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and gave some background to the differences, but also the similarities of the two cultures.
And the Commander of the Western Fleet of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Navy, Commodore Al Haarbi also visited HMS Bulwark at the start of the exercise so that he and Commodore McAlpine could discuss plans and tactics.
The three ships are part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group – the UK’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines, who are at short notice to act in response to any contingency tasking if required by government.
As part of their annual Cougar 13 deployment, they have spent just over a month in the Mediterranean before moving on to the Red Sea, Arabian Gulf and Horn of Africa. The deployment involves exercising with partner nations, such as the Saudi Arabians.