MERLINS ON LARGEST NATO EXERCISE IN OVER A DECADE
After a period in the dust and heat of the Gulf “The Flying Tigers” are back at sea participating in a major NATO exercise in theMediterranean.
Two Merlin Mk 2 helicopters from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose’s 814 Naval Air Squadron are deployed on Exercise Trident Juncture (TJ15), operating from HMS Ocean and Bulwark. The exercise is proving a perfect training ground for the squadron’s regeneration as an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) outfit, providing the Fleet with protection from surface and underwater threats.
TJ15 is also providing an excellent opportunity to work with partner nations in a fast paced environment involving more than 36,000 personnel from 30 countries. Taking the squadron back to sea is Commander Brendan Spoors, the commanding officer of 814 NAS and himself a Merlin pilot.
“The majority of our time on Trident Juncture has been about embedding ourselves back to Sea, having spent a great deal of time out ashore in the Gulf. It’s a challenging environment as the weather’s not always been good and you’ve got a lot of aircraft operating in a limited space at short notice, but this is all an important part of 814’s regeneration.”
Embarked in HMS Ocean is Lieutenant Max Sloper, a Merlin pilot who received his “Wings” last year while deployed toSierra Leoneas part of theUK’s response to the Ebola crisis inWest Africa.
The 25-year-old, from Falmouth, said: “Trident Juncture has been an excellent training opportunity especially for a young pilot like me; I’ve done helicopter in-flight refuelling while hovering alongside the ship, as well as practising day and night deck landings on other NATO ships.”
The Merlin Mk 2 is theUK’s primary airborne asset for Anti Submarine Warfare with highly advanced technology enabling it to carry out this role. But the Merlin’s adaptability also means it is used for Force Protection and Search and Rescue operations. An exercise as large and complex as Trident Juncture has meant that Leading Aircrewman Hannah Leask (26) has been working non stop.
Hannah also qualified as an Aircrewman last year as well added: “My primary role is hunting submarines – looking for them, determining their heading and speed and then helping decide on the course of action to take. We’ve been silently tracking the submarines, as well as winching and load lifting throughout the exercise. It’s been busy but really good and I wouldn’t mind doing more like it.”
Trident Juncture is the final ‘tick’ that clears the Royal Navy’s Maritime Battle Staff to command the naval element of the NATO Response Force in 2016 with 814 NAS one element of that response force.