Merlin Mk2 joins Illustrious for Exercise Joint Warrior
After preparations onboard HMS Illustrious, Merlin Mk 2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron are gearing up for Exercise Joint Warrior in Northern Waters.
The Merlins are taking part in the largest Maritime Exercise this year off the West Coast of Scotland, in which Ship’s, Submarine’s, Aircraft and Marines from over ten different nations are taking part. 820 Naval Air Squadron have embarked three of their Merlin’s and are seeing how versatile their home on the Navy’s Commando Helicopter Carrier has become, since the Squadron last operated with the Response Force Task Group (RFTG), the Royal Navy’s high readiness force.
“It’s a different set up on board than we’ve traditionally been used to”, said Lieutenant Commander Neil Parrock, 820 Naval Air Squadron’s Senior Pilot. “With Merlin MK2’s, ‘Junglie’ Sea Kings and Chinooks helicopters on ‘Lusty’ the dynamics are quite exciting and we’re meeting old friends and making new as we go along. The Chinooks take up a large part of the deck and it’s like a Chinese puzzle when shifting aircraft, but everyone’s benefiting from the challenge”.
Working together has become the norm now that Joint Warrior has begun, each helicopter force having a vital role to play. The Merlin’s are countering the submarine threat that the exercise planners have included in the shape of several submarine targets set to attack the Multi-national Naval Force.
Since leaving Portsmouth where the Squadron joined ‘Lusty’, 820 has spent the time working up its aircrews and engineers; managing 24/7 routines and including full mission system operations whilst tracking other vessels during their flying sorties. Training continues throughout the exercise as the helicopters are begin deploying active and passive sonobuoys in fields or barriers that detect any real time threat.
Lt Cdr Parrock continues; “We’re managing to get a lot of very valuable training for our aircrew and engineers, some of whom have never experienced these types of operations before. As we receive more and more tasking from the Commander UK Task Group (COMUKTG), screening operations from hostile Sub-surface and Surface threats against the Task Group are seeing Merlin 2 proving it’s self more than capable”.
820 Naval Air Squadron will not have time to rest on their laurels after Joint Warrior is complete. The Merlin Force from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose is preparing for a longer stay on HMS Illustrious for Exercise Deep Blue in June, which will see the Merlin helicopters once again embarking. This Maritime Exercise is set to practice larger screening operations and dedicated Anti-Submarine Warfare tactics.