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IN PICTURES: Royal Navy's Amphibious Task Group heads for USA

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Royal Navy's amphibious flagship HMS Albion, leading the UK's amphibious Task Group, left Devonport last week to meet up with the Auriga multinational Naval Task Group off the east coast of the USA.

The Auriga deployment is a joint maritime operational exercise lasting four months involving the UK, US and French navies.

HMS Albion and the UK’s amphibious Task Group, including the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean will be joining the Task Group for exercises with the United States Marine Corps and Navy.

The focus of attention for Plymouth-based Commander Amphibious Task Group and Stonehouse Barracks staff from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines will be a series of exercises in the challenging terrain of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The amphibious task group began the year with Exercise Cold Response in Norway. The hot and humid climate of the swamplands of the eastern USA will provide training in a very different environment.

Commodore Paul Bennett, Commander Amphibious Task Group, said:

I am delighted to be leading some of the UK’s most capable warships in this important exercise where we will refresh our working practices with US amphibious forces.

Families wave goodbye to their loved ones aboard HMS Ocean bound for exercises with the United States Marine Corps and Navy
Families wave goodbye to their loved ones aboard HMS Ocean bound for exercises with the United States Marine Corps and Navy [Picture: LA(Phot) Claire Jones, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

The amphibious task group, which also includes Royal Fleet Auxiliary logistics landing ship Largs Bay, will arrive in late June and will be joined by an impressive force of US warships including the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit - over 8,000 US Navy personnel and marines.

The US and UK force will conduct familiarisation training before tackling a scenario loosely based on tackling an aggressor nation threatening regional stability in a fictional part of the globe but centred on the excellent training facilities offered in Camp Lejeune.

Bickleigh Barracks-based 42 Commando Royal Marines and elements of 29 Commando Royal Artillery, from Plymouth’s Citadel, and Stonehouse-based 30 Commando Royal Marines and personnel and helicopters from Commando Helicopter Force from Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton will also take part.

Exercise Auriga is part of a series of training exercises that will build on the UK’s ability to conduct small-scale focused Intervention operations anywhere in the world, delivering amphibious forces supported by air power from the Joint Harrier Force.

The Auriga Task Group is commanded by the Royal Navy’s Commodore Simon Ancona on board the Fleet Flagship, HMS Ark Royal acting as the Command Platform.

Earlier this week, Ark Royal hosted 16 senior personnel from the United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Corps (USMC) plus senior civilians from the US Department of Defense.

The aim of the visit was to provide an opportunity for senior US personnel to observe the Auriga deployment first hand in order to gain a better understanding of the importance of the strategic UK-US relationship for the Royal Navy, United States Navy and United States Marine Corps.

This visit included briefs about Carrier Strike capability from Commodore Simon Ancona, and a flying display by Harrier GR9 jets from 1(F) Squadron - Joint Force Harrier, Merlin helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron and Lynx helicopters from HMS Ark Royal’s of 212 Flight, Commodore Simon Ancona said:

This is a superb opportunity to discuss some really important issues. The visitors were all hugely impressed with what they saw and heard. I am pleased we were able to show ourselves off.

Interoperability between the United States Navy and the Royal Navy has been the ‘buzz word’ of the deployment.

HMS Ark Royal embarked 12 MAG -14 AV8B harriers from the USMC and, the Royal Navy will be sending twelve fixed wing pilots to the United States to be trained to fly the USN F-18 jets in preparation for the Joint Strike Fighter F35Bs, which will be embarked in the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

Captain John Clink, HMS Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer, said:

We are very proud of our work with our NATO allies and our long history of co-operation with the United States Navy. Today was a great opportunity for us to demonstrate some of the capabilities that the UK Carrier Strike Group has, particularly the GR9 Harrier and Merlin ASW helicopters operating from HMS Ark Royal. Exercising off the US Coast provides the perfect Carrier gymnasium to enhance our skills and work with US forces.