CULDROSE MERLIN WORKING WITH FRENCH CARRIER GROUP
It has been Liberté, Fraternité, Intéroperabilité - as HMS St Albans takes her place in Task Force 50 – collectively more than 80,000 tonnes of Anglo-Franco-German steel and thunder – in the ongoing fight against the forces of Daesh.
Having spent her first month east of Suez dealing with piracy, smuggling and drug running in the Indian Ocean, the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate has switched focus to join France’s flagship and her battle group.
The 43,000-tonne French Aircraft Carrier, FS Charles De Gaulle and her air wing of 18 Rafale and 8 Super Étendard strike fighters are conducting regular raids against Daesh targets in the Middle East as part of Operation Chammal – the French codename for the mission.
While the Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender is attached to the USS Harry S Truman carrier strike group as part of the same mission – and helping both to shield the Truman from aerial threats and direct air strikes by providing an unparalleled radar picture of Gulf skies – the emphasis for HMS St Albans is on anti-submarine and surface protection for the French flagship. And it is in these roles that her Merlin 2 from 829 Naval Air Squadron comes into its own. St Albans is the first Royal Naval vessel to deploy to the region with the ultimate version of the Merlin helicopter.
As well as the ‘Saint’ and the carrier, the task group comprises the air defence frigate FS Chevalier Paul (similar in outline and role to our Type 45 destroyers), escort frigates Provence and Aquitaine, the German frigate Augsburg and the support ship/tanker Marne.
The British ship spent three weeks training with the French in Toulon to hone her interopérabilité... then honed it again in the Gulf with a combined French/UK/US anti-submarine exercise.
“HMS St Alban’s rapid integration into the French strike operations against Daesh is symbolic of the UK’s solidarity and proof of the close relationship between the two nations’ military forces,” said Commander Richard Hutchings, Commanding Officer HMS St Albans.