New Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Tamar is ready to police the Seven Seas after intensive training with commandos off the South Coast.
The Portsmouth-based warship received the thumbs up from Navy assessors as she served as the springboard for Royal Marines to board, subdue and search suspect vessels in the Channel.
Mike Company from 42 Commando in Bickleigh, near Plymouth, and specialist boat drivers from 47 Commando in Devonport Naval Base, plus a Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron joined Tamar, while survey ship HMS Echo served as her foil.
Tamar and her four sisters in the second generation of River class offshore patrol vessels have been designed with global constabulary duties in mind, equipped with a sizeable flight deck and accommodation for up to 50 marines or soldiers.
HMS Medway has already struck against drug-runners in the Caribbean and HMS Trent has supported NATO security operations in the Mediterranean.
Tamar was declared operational in the summer after the fastest generation of any major Royal Navy vessel in recent times – six months from lifeless hull to working warship.
Her long-term patrol zone has yet to be determined, so in the meantime she’s safeguarding and training in home waters.
With just 40 men and women aboard, Tamar is stretched to the max by full-scale board and search operations.
As many as eight crew are required on the flight deck, another four sailors oversee launching the ship’s sea boat, half a dozen crew, led by Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Michael Hutchinson can be found on the bridge.
Add to that the engineers doing their rounds, the chefs in the galley, a small team in the operations room and men and women who are resting off duty, and there’s little, if any, spare capacity.
Which is where a Royal Marines detachment comes in to both alleviate the burden and bring unique board-and-search skills, honed over the past 20 years in the fight against piracy, drug-trafficking and terrorism.
The commandos approach a suspicious craft by air (Wildcat) and sea (Pacific 24 speedboat), with tactical coxswains conducting special approaches to weigh up a target vessel before the commandos scramble up the side.
And the Wildcat drops marines from above, rapid roping on to the deck before the helicopter circles or hovers over the vessel, with commando snipers/gunners following every move on board.
“The bangs for your buck that you get out of these ships is remarkable,” said Lieutenant Commander Hutchinson. “Each week we learn a little bit more about what these ships can do.
“The whole point of the River-class is that you can ‘bolt on’ capability: add a helicopter, some humanitarian aid, a Royal Marines detachment. The commandos can rock up, eat and sleep in their own mess, prepare their kit and do the business.”
Under the reshaping of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines – the latter are being transformed into the Future Commando Force, focusing on smaller, stealthy raiding groups deployable around the globe – the goal is to ‘pepper’ teams of green berets around the globe, including on the River class.
“The Royal Marines have really got stuck in during their time on board. Not only have their actions been exemplary when they’ve been conducting boarding operations, but they’ve also got stuck in to help out my ship’s company, down to cleaning the dishes generally assisting on board,” Lt Cdr Hutchinson added.
Assessors from the RN’s Fleet Operational Sea Training organisation were impressed by the Tamar/commando combination and cleared the ship for front-line operations.
She’s now gearing up for further training, this time with the Royal Navy’s new small Puma surveillance drones from 700X Squadron.