Merlin Mk2s tested in the Mediterranean
From Navy News
The Fleet Air Arm’s new submarine hunters are testing their mettle for the first time in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
The Merlin Mk2s of 829 NAS are spending a fortnight off Toulon working with the French in the hunt for a British hunter-killer.
AFTER a summer lull, battle is rejoined between the submarine and its arch nemesis, the Merlin helicopter – but this time in the azure waters of the Mediterranean.
The Merlins from 829 Naval Air Squadron are swapping the Lizard for Toulon as they and their Gallic counterparts go a-hunting for a British nuclear submarine lurking somewhere in the western Mediterranean.
Fresh from pinging in the Atlantic on the biggest anti-submarine exercise run by the Royal Navy in a couple of decades – Deep Blue, co-ordinated from HMS Illustrious in June – the new Mk2 helicopters are locking horns again with at least one hunter-killer.
The Kingfishers will be joined in the fortnight-long hunt by a French frigate and a squadron on Caïman (alligators) – NH90 helicopters.
Having sought boats in both the Atlantic and North Sea (the latter as part of Exercise Dynamic Mongoose at the beginning of 2014), it’s the first time the upgraded Merlins have tested their submarine-hunting prowess in warmer waters (the Med along the Côte d’Azur is at least 21°C in September – 5°C up on the Channel off the Lizard, and temperatures play a key role in the hunt for hidden foes).
The Merlin fleet is in the final stages of a £750m overhaul which has seen the innards ripped out and replaced by the latest technology to keep the helicopter at the forefront of naval warfare until the end of the next decade.
For now, the 40 aircrew and engineers decamping to Toulon are just concentrating on the next couple of weeks.
“We always relish the chance to take part in a testing anti-submarine exercise and hope to show our French colleagues just what the Merlin is capable of doing,” said Lt Cdr Philip Beacham.
The exercise is a test too for the submarine – we do not disclose which one for security reasons – which is putting potential boat commanders of tomorrow under the microscope as part of the infamous Perisher course, determining whether they have the mettle to command a stealthy black horseman of the apocalypse.
That makes the two-week workout a win-win, says Lt Cdr Beacham.
“The students onboard the submarine will be trying to escape the mighty Merlin,” he added, “and the helicopter crews can practise their anti-submarine warfare skills whilst working closely with another nation, in a different air space and in a completely different operating environment.”
The 829 fliers aren’t the only Merlins in Toulon waters at the moment; the helicopters of 820 NAS, also based in Culdrose, and currently operating from HMS Ocean’s expansive flight deck, are taking part with the Mighty O in the closing stages of the French Navy’s Exercise Gabian 2014.
A dozen warships and some 2,000 sailors, submariners and French marines are involved in the amphibious workout which ends on Friday.
News item on this website about Merlin Mk2s from 820 NAS in Ex Albanion Lion.