Thousands of Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel sailed (Monday 12th August) for an annual deployment to the Mediterranean and Gulf region – Cougar ’13.
The long-planned deployment will see elements of the UK’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) – the naval force formed under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review – hone its world class maritime skills thousands of miles from home through exercises with a number of key allies.
Four Royal Navy warships, the lead commando group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of Royal Naval air squadrons will be supported by six vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (including one already deployed). Most of the personnel embarked and some of the ships are from the South West – including HMS Bulwark and HMS Montrose which were waved off by banner-waving crowds of well wishers as they sailed from Plymouth.
This is the third time the deployment has taken place with its aim to demonstrate the ability to operate a highly effective maritime force anywhere in the world to protect UK interests.
The task group is able to conduct simultaneously a range of operations from deterring adversaries and maritime security to international engagement and supporting regional stability. It’s units can operate independently on discrete tasks or as a single entity. It is an adaptable force that is able to work jointly with Army and Royal Air Force assets, other government agencies and partner nations when required.
After a number of planned port visits in the Mediterranean, the first major exercise for the force will be Albanian Lion, in the Adriatic. Personnel will work with Albania’s armed forces, building on a similar exercise last year, with the goal to put the lead commando group ashore within a high tempo scenario and sustain it as it moves inland.
The ships will then sail through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf where the focus will transfer to the series of exercises with UK allies in the Gulf region; alongside Army and RAF units.
Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander UK Task Group, said: “Cougar ’13 is a bespoke opportunity to enhance the Royal Navy’s enduring core skill – the ability to operate and project power as a task group at range. In so doing, it will also remind interested domestic and international parties of the enduring utility, employability and interoperability of the Royal Navy.
“During Cougar ’13 we will engage with our partner nations through a series of exercises, reinforcing our commitment and demonstrating our contribution to security in the Mediterranean and Gulf region.”
Cdre McAlpine and his staff will command from the nation’s flagship Plymouth-based HMS Bulwark. Alongside Brigadier Stuart Birrell (Commander of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines) he will choreograph the efforts of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary sailors, Royal Marine Commandos and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm personnel.
Joining HMS Bulwark will be Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and its escorts Plymouth-based frigate HMS Montrose and Portsmouth ship HMS Westminster, as well as undertaking ongoing counter-piracy operations outside the exercise programme.
While taking part in Exercise Cougar, HMS Montrose will launch small Royal Marines reconnaissance parties, which are sent ashore to scout the lie of the land and ‘enemy’ forces.
The Royal Marines will also be embarking in HMS Bulwark, Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ships Mounts Bay and Lyme Bay. These Marines will be the UK’s nation’s Lead Commando Group, including Plymouth-based 42 Commando, Plymouth-based elements of 30 Commando IX Group, and the north Devon-based Commando Logistics Regiment from Barnstaple who will meet all the supply and medical needs and 16 Vikings of the Corps’ Armoured Support Group. A number of Army Commandos from Plymouth-based 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and Barnstaple-based 24 Commando Engineer Regiment will also deploy as part of the lead commando group.
Brigadier Stuart Birrell, Commander 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, said: “Cougar ’13 provides a superb opportunity to demonstrate the capability and capacity of the Response Force Task Group and the lead commando group. Operating in a wide variety of countries across the Mediterranean and Gulf region, the task group will engage in capacity building and defence engagement with a range of partner nations, in some truly outstanding exercises. A demanding and ambitious deployment, we will look forward to the challenges and opportunities that Cougar ’13 presents.”
RFA Fort Austin will provide stores, fuel, water, and ammunition and RFA Diligence is on hand to attend to any of the Cougar ’13 ship’s engineering requirements.
The majority of the task group is due home to the UK in December, although RFA Diligence, HMS Westminster and HMS Montrose are due to remain east of Suez in support of the Navy’s long-standing mission in the region to keep the sea lanes safe and secure for lawful trade.
HMS Montrose deploys on operations for 7 months
The Royal Naval warship HMS Montrose sailed from its base-port in Plymouth (Monday 12th August) for a seven-month deployment protecting shipping lanes in the Middle East.
As is traditional, families and friends of the sailors on board turned out in huge numbers waving White Ensigns and Union Flags to bid farewell to the ship off from Devil’s Point and Plymouth Hoe while their sailors waved back in smart formation and best uniform, cap tallies, buttons and medals sparkling.
As the most Scottish ship in the fleet, HMS Montrose embarked a tartan-clad bagpiper for the journey down the River Tamar playing Caledonian tunes as the ship sailed across Plymouth Sound and into the Channel.
HMS Montrose commanding officer Commander James Parkin said: “My ship’s company and I are ready for all of the upcoming challenges. Months of hard work and preparation have been put in by all of my team to get the ship ready in all respects to deploy, and I truly believe we are ready for anything. The training that we have received has put us in the best place possible to be able to conduct operations ranging from maritime security patrols and humanitarian relief operations all the way to high intensity war fighting. Thank you to the families of all of my sailors for their endless support over the previous intense months – We are already looking forward to seeing them when we return.”
The Gulf region holds a particular importance to the UK and the Royal Navy’s presence in the region reassures our allies and deters those who may threaten the security and stability of the region. To ensure that the country can respond to any evolving situation, the Royal Navy has numerous ships and other units in the area throughout the year. The Type23 frigate will join them on an on-going operation to deter illegal use of the shipping lanes used for imports and exports vital to the UK and other country’s economies.
On the way to theatre of operations, HMS Montrose will also be a part of this year’s Response Force Task Group deployment, known as Cougar13, which leaves UK waters this week. The task group is a high-readiness maritime force capable of responding, with a range of capabilities, to world events.
While sailing to the operational are the ships of Cougar13 will train together to ensure they are ready to operate together under any circumstances.
Cougar13 and HMS Montrose own tasking will comprise multiple exercises and operational duties. These will all come under the remit of the UK’s maritime component commander – a commodore, based in the Kingdom of Bahrain, who works directly for the chief of joint operations in the UK.
The commodore and his staff command the year-round presence of high-readiness Royal Navy warships, submarines and helicopters that provide HM Government with a choice of options in the event of a humanitarian crisis or deterioration in regional security.
When HMS Montrose arrives in theatre it will work with these Royal Navy assets but also similar units of allied nations to ensure that the world’s shipping can safely ply their trade in the vital sea lanes of the region.
HMS Montrose is a Type 23 Duke Class frigate built at Yarrows on the Clyde and launched in 1992. The ship has a crew of 185 men and women and is a general purpose frigate fitted with a broad suite of the latest sonar, radar and communications systems. HMS Montrose carries a Lynx helicopter and Sting Ray torpedo. Air defence is provided by a vertical-launch Sea Wolf weapon system. Surface armaments include the Harpoon missile and the 4.5inch gun for naval fire support.