814 Naval Air Squadron from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall has just returned home from two weeks of intense Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) training in Exercise Proud Manta 2011. This was the first time a Royal Navy helicopter squadron had taken in part NATO’s largest annual Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise.
Three Merlin Mk1 maritime patrol helicopters, five crews and forty maintainers from 814 Squadron deployed 1400 miles across Europe to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, 15 miles south of Mount Etna, in order to take part in the exercise and practice hunting submarines alongside other NATO helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
With forces from ten NATO nations participating, it was NATO’s largest annual event of this type. Operating in the Ionian Sea to the Southeast of Sicily, surface ships and aircraft from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States trained and practiced at being both hunter and hunted. There were rich pickings for 814 Squadron as no less than six submarines from Greece (1), Italy (1), Spain (1), Turkey (2) and the United States of America (1) joined the exercise.
The exercise proved to be of immeasurable training value, and introducing crews to a multi-national NATO exercise concentrated purely on ASW, allowed them to demonstrate the Merlin’s prowess in a busy multi-asset ASW environment. By exposing the junior engineering personnel to this prolonged period of tactical tasking their technical knowledge of the many different aircraft systems has been greatly improved.
United States Navy Captain Walt Luthiger, the Exercise Director, said that the exercise was a resounding success. He pointed out that the number of submarines in the world continues to increase and many nations clearly consider them a must-have in their national arsenals. He added: “There is no perceived specific threat to NATO but training in this area is vital to NATO’s state of preparedness. Proud Manta is like taking out good insurance in advance”.
One of Europe’s largest helicopter bases, RNAS Culdrose delivers highly capable Helicopter Squadrons specialising in Anti-Submarine Warfare, Anti-Surface Warfare and Airborne Surveillance and Control. Its frontline Squadrons are deployed to ships all over the world to support the Royal Navy in its global operations.