Junglie Sea Kings operational to the end
Two Sea King Mk 4 helicopters and 52 personnel of 845 Naval Air Squadron deployed on Exercise Albanian Lion, along with two full companies from 40 Commando Royal Marines, for what will be one of the last overseas deployment of this type for the venerable ‘King’ of the Junglies.
Exercise Albanian Lion is the first phase of the Cougar deployment. Cougar is the UK Armed Forces major overseas amphibious exercise, taking place annually and involving a significant UK task group and several partner nations; Greece and Albania. It has also contributed to the UK’s strategic response to global contingencies. In 2011 it provided maritime attack in Libya and in 2013 humanitarian aid in the Philippines.
Initially, A Flight, 845 NAS conducted helicopter work-up serials (“Fly-Ex”) with RFA Lyme Bay, HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean and RFA Waveknight in order to deliver training for all involved personnel and develop safe and efficient working practices.
Lt Steve Pearce, 845 NAS said “The flying has been fantastic. With deployments like this, we Junglies are renewing our expertise as the amphibious aviation specialists. Operating a battlefield helicopter at Sea is uniquely challenging: there is no greater feeling than finding your ship in the dark after a successful mission and landing on a rolling and pitching deck.”
Exercise Albanian Lion culminated in a simulated large-scale amphibious assault in Albania. The detachment was able to provide round-the-clock availability of both aircraft for tasking. Working closely with RAF Chinooks crews, operating from the capital Tirana, two companies of elite Royal Marine Commandos were swiftly delivered from the Task Group to their objectives in two major assaults over a four day period.
All of this was achieved with a detailed tactical overlay that effectively reflected a modern complex battlefield; all planned, controlled and conducted from the impressive Command and Control hub onboard HMS Bulwark.
The detachment saw the first Junglie use of a synthetic Temporary Aircraft Shelter (TAS), which had been erected on the flight deck of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Lyme Bay. The innovative installation of this simple temporary structure greatly improved the flexibility and maintenance of organic helo operations onboard. Another reason for the exceptional level of serviceability was in no small part thanks to the ingenuity and hard work of the 845 NAS engineers.
Lt Marc Stone, Detachment Air Engineering Officer, said “Our ability to operate and maintain two Sea King Mk 4s from an unfamiliar platform whilst achieving the high flying and serviceability rates seen throughout Exercise Albanian Lion bears testament to the adaptability and ingenuity of the embarked Flight. “
With Albanian Lion complete, and the aircraft having flown an impressive 80 hours, the Task Group heads South through Suez. The period sees the flight working with a German, US and French ships.
Capt Jonathan Huxley, Commanding Officer of RFA Lymebay said “This is the first time that a detachment of two Seaking Mk 4s have been embarked in an Landing Ship Dock Auxiliary (LSDA) with a TAS. The 845 NAS det have worked hard with Lyme Bay ship’s company to develop the procedures necessary for the squadron to deliver their full range of operational capabilities to the Task Force. Exercise Albanian Lion during the first stage of the deployment provided an ideal opportunity for the squadron to demonstrate that they were a significant force multiplier for the Amphibious Task Force. As the ships of COUGAR 14 head east through Suez 845 det are more than ready to deliver any operational capability that may be asked of them.”
The Sea King has seen extensive use in every major British theatre over the last 35 years. The next Cougar deployment for the Junglies will be with the Merlin Mk 3, recently transferred to the Royal Navy from the Royal Air Force.