Submarine-hunting in Scotland
RNAS Culdrose based 820 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) is back flying in Cornwall again having tested its war fighting skills in Scotland, and once again, proved the Merlin Mk2 as the best submarine hunting helicopter in the world. The Merlin crews worked with a variety of different nations, and also alongside helicopters from the Royal Australian Navy for the first time.
As the official helicopter Squadron of our Nation’s new Aircraft Carrier, 820 NAS has been working with HMS Queen Elizabeth almost continuously since she first sailed in June 2017. Whilst QE is alongside in Portsmouth, the Squadron has been using the time to brush up on its high-end war fighting skills.
Aircrew and Engineers spent the last few weeks in Scotland conducting a significant number of tactical training sorties as part of Exercise Joint Warrior 2018 and the Submarine Command Course. With the Merlin Mk2 helicopter, the crews have at their fingertips one of the most advanced anti-submarine warfare platforms in the world. Alternating between playing the “good guys” and “bad guys” throughout the war-game scenarios, 820 NAS pitched themselves against a NATO fleet of surface ships from countries various, their accompanying aircraft and some Norwegian and Dutch submarines.
Of the training benefit of these exercises to the Squadron, 820’s Commanding Officer, Cdr Jon Holroyd, said: “It’s really important for us to take part in these large scale war fighting exercises to keep our skill sets in that area honed. Our day to day activity supporting HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea keeps us very busy, but it’s the results of exercises such as Joint Warrior that really prove to me that the Merlin Mk2 helicopter, and the men and women who fly it, really do provide the world class performance that the Royal Navy is renowned for.”
Operating hand in hand with 820 NAS from Stornoway Airport on the Isle of Lewis, were two MH-60R Seahawks of 816 Squadron, Royal Australian Navy. After a journey quite literally halfway around the world to get there, the Seahawk crews hit the ground running in Scotland and went to work immediately hunting submarines with the Royal Navy Merlins. This year marks the first time the MH-60R and the Merlin Mk2 have worked together, but hopefully not the last.
Commanding Officer of 816 Squadron, Commander Anthony Savage of the Royal Australian Navy, said: “The Royal Navy’s 820 Squadron and 816 have operated side by side. This has given us the chance to develop our joint tactics. The exercise was testing for our crews, our tactics, our aircraft and our engineering team. The results have been very positive.”
POAET Nick Astill is an 820 NAS engineer who detached for the entirety of the exercise to Stornoway. “It was great up there,” said Nick. “We had excellent weather and the Isle of Lewis to explore on our down time. It’s really gratifying to be a part of a large team all striving for the same goal; to hunt and destroy the submarine - which we did successfully!”
Having finished Joint Warrior, 820 NAS have returned to their home base in Cornwall to prepare to re-embark HMS Queen Elizabeth.