Search Site

300 RNAS Culdrose sailors join massive NATO exercise

Published: 27 Feb 2024

Around 300 men and women from RNAS Culdrose’s Merlin Helicopter Force have deployed on the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War.

Ten helicopters have left the Helston air station over the last two weeks, assembling on the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales and her support ships, including frigate HMs Portland and support ship RFA Tidesurge.

The force is taking part in the UK exercise Joint Warrior off the coast of Scotland before then joining the much larger NATO exercise Steadfast Defender off the arctic coast of Norway.

It is a major embarkation by the RNAS Culdrose helicopter force with aircraft taking part from all three naval air squadrons 824, 814 and 820.

Merlin Helicopter Force Commander Aidan Riley said: “We are playing a central role in both Joint Warrior and Steadfast Defender. We are heavily committed to these exercises with aircraft and personnel from all three Merlin Force squadrons taking part this year.

“We are deploying ten aircraft across five ships. As the dedicated carrier protection force, most of 820 Naval Air Squadron is deployed on HMS Prince of Wales with both anti-submarine warfare and airborne surveillance and control helicopters, while 814 Naval Air squadron has embarked its ASW helicopters in the carrier strike group’s support ships. 

“The training unit 824 Naval Air Squadron will also join Steadfast Defender as this is an ideal opportunity for trainee aircrew to take their qualifications in embarked day and night deck landings.

“The engineering and support elements of these deployments are equally significant in terms of equipment and personnel and the preparation for these exercises has been a major undertaking.  

“I have no doubt that our personnel will be tested by both weather and the demanding maritime environment as they work alongside our NATO allies over the coming weeks.”

The RNAS Culdrose Merlins will operate alongside Wildcat helicopters from RNAS Yeovilton’s 847 Naval Air Squadron as well as the F35 stealth fighter jets from the joint Royal Navy and RAF 617 Squadron ‘the Dambusters’.

The emphasis of Exercise Steadfast Defender is to protect defend the Nordic nations from ‘attack’. It is a huge demonstration of NATO’s resolve, unity and capability involving more than 20,000 UK military personnel alone deployed across Scandinavia and northern Europe.

HMS Prince of Wales will lead a carrier strike group of eight ships – four of them British – supported by US, Spanish and Danish vessels. The entire exercise will involve an allied fleet of 40 vessels drawn from more than two dozen nations and take place in March.


FAAOA no longer offer support for your browser.

For a faster, safer browsing experience
and to make use of the FAAOA site features

Upgrade Now for FREE