Merlins add weight to the Force
Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron have been operating in the utility role during Exercise Albanian Lion, alongside their Green Junglie Sea King cousins of Commando Helicopter Force.
Merlin Mk 2s onboard HMS Ocean and Sea King Mk 4s from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Lyme Bay deployed for this first training exercise on the Royal Navy’s Cougar 14 deployment which will see them working alongside many nations in the Eastern Mediterranean and The Gulf.
For the 820 NAS crews it’s all part of a continued development of their Merlin Mk 2’s, not only in its Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role, but working as part of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG), in particular the with Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade.
The Merlins have been used to fly under slung equipment loads ashore from HMS Ocean and HMS Bulwark, which eases the time taken to move important ammunition, food and water from the UK Immediate readiness Task Force to, in some cases inaccessible mountainous areas ashore where 40 Commando Royal Marines and the Albanian forces are operating.
“Overall for Merlin Mk 2, Albanian Lion has been a great success and as a task group we’ve delivered the desired effect to the British and Albanian troops on the ground”, said Lieutenant Alex Best an Observer with 820 NAS. “It’s been a good experience operating with the RFTG, HMS Ocean and the Marines. The flexibility of all our aircrew and engineers in reacting to the ever-changing exercise environment is a credit to everyone on the squadron”.
In addition Hawk jets from 736 Naval Air Squadron decamped to the Albanian Air Force’s main base at Tirana, practising strike missions against the RFTG ships. Then switched sides to defend them and exercise their close ground attack role with the Royal Marines Tactical Air Control parties (TACPs), who are capable of directing the Hawks onto ground targets.
820 NAS Merlins and the Hawks from 736 NAS are set to return to RNAS Culdrose in the next couple of weeks, before redeploying once again to exercises in Scotland, the Mediterranean and Middle East later in the year.
HMS Ocean passed another milestone on her way to Exercise Albanian Lion, operating all the aircraft types within the task group from her deck.
It is the first time RAF Chinooks have operated from the ship since before the ship’s refit in 2012; proving the ship’s capacity for Ship to Objective Manoeuvre (STOM), be it delivering Royal Marines to the heart of the action, or humanitarian aid to the heart of a crisis.