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Sea King helicopter from 849 Naval Air Squadron
Sea King helicopter from 849 Naval Air Squadron
Sea King helicopter from 849 Naval Air Squadron
HMS Kent
USS Carl Vinson


Published: 22 Dec 2014

Three days to go until Christmas and Royal Navy sailors in the Gulf are maintaining the eternal watch against those who might do us harm.


More than 300 sailors, aircrew and Royal Marines have been supporting ongoing air strikes against ISIL forces in theMiddle Eastas part of a US Navy carrier battle group.


Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Kent, two ‘eye-in-the-sky’ Sea King helicopters from 849 Naval Air Squadron and support ship RFA Fort Austin joined Carrier Strike Group One, led by the USS Carl Vinson whose F/A 18 Hornets have been striking at ISIL targets as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.


The Sea Kings – normally based at RNAS Culdrose, but deployed east ofSuezaboardFortAustin– have been using their radars to provide the task group early warning of any threats by sea or air.


It is what the helicopters were designed to do – but in recent years they have been inAfghanistantracking the movement of insurgents, completing their mission in the spring.


The veteran Sea Kings with their trademark radar sacks – which give them their Bagger nicknames – joined EA-18G Growlers of Electronic Attack Squadron 139 and E-2C Hawkeyes AWACs aircraft in Gulf skies as part of efforts to support air strikes and shield the task group.


As well as the 100,000-tonne carrier at the heart of the force – home to 49 fast jets and more than 20 helicopters – the task group comprised cruiser USS Bunker Hill, three Arleigh-Burke class destroyers as well as HMS Kent.


The frigate acted as plane guard – sailing a few thousand yards behind the Vinson to act as a reference point for aircraft returning from strike missions against ISIL, adopting a special lighting system by night.


“Working in such close proximity to a ship as impressive as the USS Carl Vinson, while conducting difficult manoeuvres at high speeds with F18 jets flying over the top of us has been a professional experience I will not forget in a hurry,” said Lieutenant Nicola Stephen, one of Kent’s officers of the watch on the frigate’s bridge.


Her Commanding Officer Cdr Andrew Block added: “Carl Vinson has been at the forefront of operations against ISIL and it is testament to our strong maritime links that HMS Kent has been able to fit seamlessly into their structure.”


“As the Royal Navy rebuilds its carrier capability it is extremely beneficial for us to work alongside our allies supporting strike sorties.”


HMS Kent is one of more than half a dozen Royal Navy warships and RFA support vessels deployed east ofSuezover the Christmas period. And more than 3000 Royal Navy, RFA and Royal Marine personnel are deployed across the world over the festive period.


HMS Kent’s operations come as theUSand Royal Navies set out their vision for future co-operation with the Combined Seapower narrative.


Commodore Keith Blount, the Royal Navy’s Maritime Component Commander based in Bahrain, said: “HMS Kent’s integration into the US Carrier Battle Group is a clear example of the Combined Seapower narrative in action. As the Royal Navy moves closer to operating the Queen Elizabeth class carriers this level of cooperation and shared understanding with the US will be vital in enhancing our own capability.”


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