CULDROSE GEARS UP FOR DEEP BLUE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
Naval helicopter squadrons will take a big step towards operating from Britain’s new carrier during three weeks of intensive training with HMS Ocean in the Mediterranean this month.
Deep Blue 2 will test the ability of crews from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose to protect an aircraft carrier task group from attack by air and sea – as will become second nature when HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service in four years’ time.
Deep Blue was run out for the first time in 2014 using HMS Illustrious in the Channel as the Fleet Air Arm re-learned the art of sustained submarine from a carrier – something it had not practised on a large scale since the Cold War. Two years down the line and Deep Blue 2 moves into the realm of perfecting the carrier air group – the mix of helicopters and F-35B Lightning II jets which will give Queen Elizabeth and her sister Prince of Wales their fighting punch.
So in addition to submarine hunting from HMS Ocean, with the ‘Flying Tigers’ Merlins of 814 NAS there will be surveillance Sea Kings from 849 NAS embarked and Hawk T1 Jets of 736 NAS operating from Gibraltar.
“The first Deep Blue was about remembering how an anti-submarine squadron can operate at sea,” explained Lieutenant Commander Ian ‘Reg’ Varley, Deputy Commander of the Merlin Force based at Culdrose. “Deep Blue 2 is a stepping stone towards HMS Queen Elizabeth and protecting the carrier task group.”
Primarily an anti-submarine warfare exercise with Merlin Mk 2, Deep Blue also offers an ideal chance for Sea King from Culdrose’s Surveillance Force to work up their maritime force protection role. Lieutenant Jonathon Duke, of 849 NAS is keen to get as much out of the exercise as possible. “We deploy on operations to the Gulf region pretty soon and it’s a great chance for Okinawa Flight to work with Fast Jets and fly to a large and busy deck. Having all these assets available in one place, at the same time as well as operating at a fast tempo is more than invaluable to us.”
HMS Ocean as the United Kingdom’s flagship will command Ex Deep Blue. As the specialist aviation platform for the Royal Navy she is capable of embarking up to 12 aircraft making-up a Tailored Air Group (TAG) as well as a Royal Marines Commando Unit.
"I am delighted that we are embarking ASW Merlins and 849 Sea Kings onto HMS Ocean to prove, once again the versatility of the Fleet’s Flag Ship,” said Captain Steven Moorhouse, Commanding Officer of HMS Ocean. “The Flying Tigers will provide a major ASW capability to this platform and the Task Group. Proving that we can act in a multitude of combat environments, it also reinforces a broad range of military tasks that HMS Ocean can achieve when augmented by a Tailored Air Group."