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820 NAS Merlin off Sardinia
Merlin passing the Millau bridge in France
Merlins from 820 NAS at Hyeres in France

820NAS Submarine Hunting Off Sicily

Published: 14 Mar 2012

A Royal Navy Helicopter Squadron has just returned from NATO’s largest Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise: Exercise Proud Manta 2012. Two Merlin Mk1 Maritime Patrol Helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron flew 1400 miles across Europe from RNAS Culdrose in Helston to Sicily in order to take part in the exercise and hone their submarine hunting skills.

Personnel, including Aircrew and Engineers, travelled across Europe with their Merlin helicopters and were based out of US Naval Air Station Sigonella in Eastern Sicily for the duration of the exercise, just 15 miles south of the volcano Mount Etna. The exercise ran from the 14th to the 27th of February and involved ships, aircraft and submarines from the USA, Canada, Norway, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. The Squadron flew their aircraft alongside helicopters and fixed wing aircraft from NATO partners, working with NATO ships to counter underwater threats played by NATO submarines. The Merlins flew 66 hours during the exercise, more airborne time and more missions than any other nation participating. Including the transit flights across Europe, 115 hours in total were clocked up by the two aircraft. Throughout this time they managed to detect and conduct simulated attacks against a variety of submarines taking part in the exercise.

Lt Cdr Stuart Finn, Senior Observer and the Detachment Commander for the exercise said: “Proud Manta 2012 was an extremely valuable exercise for us, with the crews gaining benefit from operating in a multi-asset, multi-national environment. Plenty of simulated attacks were carried out by the Merlins and the aircrew gained valuable insight into how our NATO partners operate and also demonstrate to them the awesome submarine hunting capability that is the Merlin helicopter. The challenges posed by operating at a foreign base far from home were also met with gusto by the engineering team, engendering a close relationship with our Italian Merlin colleagues in order to provide serviceable aircraft for the exercise missions.”

Photos taken by Lt Cdr David Thomas


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