Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has seen for himself Royal Marines commandos training alongside Dutch and Norwegian troops.
In a one-day visit Mr Hammond travelled to northern Norway to witness the commandos testing their abilities to fight, move and survive 150 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
The training is part of the survival phase of the cold weather warfare course and is part of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines’ winter training package known as Cetus 13.
The training is taking place at Asegarden Camp near Harstad, where, during his visit, Mr Hammond also held talks with his Norwegian counterpart, Minister of Defence Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.
In addition, Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade, including members of 45 Commando Royal Marines, the Commando Logistic Regiment and the Commando Helicopter Force, displayed their ability to fight off an enemy while moving through the snow on skis and specialised vehicles.
Norwegian forces also led a simulated attack on the marines, assisted by air support from Norwegian pilots in F-16 aircraft.
Exercising in the harsh environment within the Arctic Circle, where temperatures can dip to -40°C, helps prepare the marines for survival and fighting anywhere in the world.
Being part of the so-called ‘High North’ region, which includes the 3 northernmost counties of Norway, the area itself is strategically important for the UK as Norway is the largest external supplier of energy to the UK (providing 37% of UK energy imports).
Mr Hammond said:
The High North is an area of strategic importance to the UK so it’s very much in our national interest that we work with the Norwegians and that we have the skills that would be necessary if we ever needed to work with the military in the region.
The sort of training I have seen in Norway is a reminder of the breadth of capability that we have, not just in the Royal Marines, but across our Armed Forces. I have been extremely impressed by these commandos who are absolutely committed to learning the skills which will equip them for contingency operations and requirements that may arise whenever and wherever in the world.
The extreme cold of the High North is in stark contrast to the heat of summer in Afghanistan where the Royal Marines have deployed on operations over the past 10 years.
The current deployment of 40 Commando, which has seen them training and advising the Afghan National Security Forces and ends this month, is the final unit-level deployment of Royal Marines to Helmand province.
Speaking about the cold weather training, the Commander of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, Brigadier Martin Smith, said:
If you can soldier in this environment, you can soldier in any environment. If you get it wrong here, you will get hurt.
During Mr Hammond’s visit the marines also demonstrated their survival skills, including building shelters in the harsh environment, and their escape techniques after deliberately plunging themselves into freezing water through a hole in the ice.
Marine Gerald Sargent said:
The cold water hits you and takes your breath away. You really have to focus and quickly recall the skills taught to you by the Royal Marines mountain leaders in order to survive out here.