Friday, 29 March 2013

FORT VICTORIA In The Thick Of It – The Fleet Supply Ship. The RFA FORT VICTORIA serving as for the next three months as the headquarters for an 12 ship international task force keeping the sea lanes between the Middle East and Mediterranean open.    The RFA FORT VICTORIA will take the fight to Indian Ocean pirates for the third time in three years as a “pirate buster”, working from Bahrain with the seven nation, Singapore led command battle staff of Combined Task Force 151 embarked.   Part of Combined Task Force 151 is the Type 23 Frigate NORTHUMBERLAND, and the area of operation encompasses the Red Sea to the Strait of Hormuz, including the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin – the latter is known colloquially as ‘pirate alley’.    Over the winters of 2010-11 and 2011-12 the RFA FORT VICTORIA with a party of Royal Marines embarked as Operation Capri.

Whilst the RFA FORT VICTORIA will serve as Headquarters Ship the vessel will also maintain the traditional one stop support ship role providing supplies to sustain the mission of the rest of the task force.   The Combined Task Force 151 shifted seamlessly shifted the command staff from their shore facility in Bahrain.   Until assuming the current role, the RFA FORT VICTORIA – the largest ship in the Naval Service has spent the past three months providing logistics support to British and international security forces in the Gulf region.
EDINBURGH Done – the Type 42 Destroyer EDINBURGH has bowed out of active service and has returned to Portsmouth after a last six month deployment.   The Fortress of the Sea (as ship was known) is the last Type 42 Destroyer in Royal Navy service.     Still to come is a farewell tour of the UK, with visits to her namesake city and Liverpool planned before decommissioning in June 2013.

The Last 4.5” – to the Type 23 Frigate ST.ALBANS fell the honour of marking the bowing out of the Royal Navy’s main gun after 40 years’ service with the distinctive round Mod 0 gun – fitted to all Type 42 Destroyers, Type 23 Frigates and later Type 22 Frigates – has been the Fleet’s principal weapon against targets ashore.   The ST.ALBANS was the last Royal Navy warship fitted with the old gun – and it fell to the ship to fire the final round from the final round gun during training in Norway, making use of the NATO ranges near Bergen.     Originally designed as an anti-air weapon, the Vickers 4.5in Mk.8 gun, as it was originally known, was introduced in the early 1970s to replace the twin-barrelled Mk.6 gun, which traced its history back to the 1930s.    After successful trials the Mod 0 was first fitted on the Type 82 Destroyer BRISTOL.    The primary role of the gun was to provide Naval Gunfire Support against targets ashore, either to wipe out enemy positions, or fire for effect to demoralise the foe, but in its secondary role it can be used against surface ships.   The ST.ALBANS is the youngest Type 23 Frigate and thus the last in the class to undergo a mid-life revamp – when the round 4.5in gun will be switched for a “Kryten”, the newer gun, which is an electrical system with hydraulics only for ramming the round into the breach. The angular shape of the Mod 1 reduces its radar cross-section and the “Kryten” tag comes from the character in the television series “Red Dwarf”.

TRENCHANT Nine Months Out – the Fleet Submarine TRENCHANT has passed the nine month barrier what has proved to be a marathon tour of duty in the Indian Ocean.   So far the TRENCHANT has clocked up 277 days on patrol since departing the UK in June 2012, and continues on patrol.

ECHO In The Irish Sea – we are used to reading that our small survey fleet are working in some far flung part of the globe, so it was interesting to learn that the Survey Ship ECHO had gone to the assistance of a French trawler in a foul Irish Sea.   The ECHO helped to provide shelter from the weather so that a French fisherman could be winched to safety off the Welsh coast having shepherded the boat to calmer waters.   The French fishing vessel ALF was found in a five-metre high swell which meant that it was initially impossible to lower a winchman safely and both the efforts by an RAF Search and Rescue helicopter and an RNLI lifeboat were thwarted.    The ECHO was on patrol nearby, was summoned to help the rescue operation.   What a The French fishing vessel was doing in the Irish Sea remains unexplained.

Search and Rescue Future – the Department of Transport, as budget holder for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who have the responsibility for the UK Search and Rescue forces operated by the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm, had agreed a future and it is in the private sector.     The award of the contract to Bristow Helicopters Ltd will see all search and rescue services brought together under this one contract which will operate from 2016.   Forces affected are currently provided by RAF (22, 202 and 203 Squadrons) operating SEA KING HAR.3/3A from xx bases and the Fleet Air Arm, (771 Squadron and the GANNET Flight) operating SEA KING HAR.5 from two.    There is also four bases already manned by a civilian helicopter service under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.         The new service will operate in a similar manner to the existing Maritime and Coastguard Agency contract and will run for 7-10 years. The contractor will be managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The new service will operate a mixed fleet of 22 helicopters from ten locations around the UK – the SIKORSKY S-92 helicopters will continue to be based at the existing Maritime and Coastguard Agency. bases at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports.   Eleven (11) new AgustaWestland AW189 helicopters, to be built at Yeovil, will operate from Lee on Solent, Prestwick, and new bases at St Athan, Inverness and Manston. airports.     All bases will be operational 24 hours a day.

Bristow Helicopters Ltd and the MoD have agreed to a ‘managed transition’ to enable Service Personnel who wish to continue to work in UK SAR to do so without risking the current military service provision - this process is entirely voluntary.

The RAF units that will shut are at RAF Boulmer; RAF Valley; RAF Lossiemouth; RAF Leconfield, AAC Wattisham, RMB Chivenor and Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose and HMS Gannet (Prestwick).

The first four brand new SIKORSKY S-92 helicopters, configured entirely for search and rescue was handed over in March 2007 to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and they were to be used primarily in the Highlands and Islands.     CHC Scotia won the interim contract to supply aircraft to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency from 2007 to 2012 and provided for commercial search and rescue helicopter services from four civilian operated bases – Sumburgh (2 x SIKORSKY S-92), Stornoway, (2 x SIKORSKY S-92), supported by three AgustaWestland AW139, two at Lee-on-Solent and one at Portland.

RICHMOND Firing – the Type 23 Frigate RICHMOND has completed the successful firing of two SEA WOLF surface-to-air missiles during a training exercise.      As part of the trial, conducted in exercise areas off the south west coast of England, the ship fired a 'telemetry' missile loaded with recording sensors to allow in-depth analysis of the its performance by the Royal Navy.. This was followed up with a conventional 'warshot' missile, where both weapons destroyed their target with ease.

LIGHTNING 11 Will Fly from RAF Marham – the Joint Strike Aircraft, the F-35B LIGHTNING 11 will be based at RAF Marham (Norfolk) which will become the aircraft type Main Operating Base.    The LIGHTNING 11 will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm.    The first two (2) “British” LIGHTNING 11 aircraft are currently participating in the US test programme and will remain in the USA.    The UK can expect to receive front line aircraft from 2015 onwards with an initial operating capability from land in 2018, followed by first of class flights from Aircraft Carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH later that year.  

The original intention (announced in 2005) was to base the aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth but following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and all the subsequent changes.

KENT Deploys – The Type 23 Frigate KENT has deployed, and will relieve sister ship NORTHUMBERLAND East of Suez.   Having completed intense training the ship is ready for the deployment as part of the Royal Navy’s standing commitment in the Middle East.      During the six month deployment the ship expects to visit the African and Asian ports as well as making European port calls.   The deployment is first since KENT underwent extensive refit in 2011, where upgrades included a new sonar and medium range gun.
DEFENDER Commissioned - the fifth Type 45 Destroyer DEFENDER has been commissioned into the Royal Navy and signals the start preparation for a first overseas deployment, at some date in the future.
SULTAN Given Freedom of the Borough of GosportSULTAN the shore establishment at Gosport (near Portsmouth), and the primary engineering training establishment for the Royal Navy has been granted the Freedom of the Borough of Gosport.   SULTAN was initially knonw as RAF Gosport and later became the Royal Naval Air Station, HMS SISKIN.
British South Georgia – said by some to be a “Microcontinent” the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, and is a remote collection of islands, consisting of South Georgia and a chain of smaller islands, known as the South Sandwich Islands. The total land area of the territory is 1,507 square miles and there is no native population on the islands; the present inhabitants are the British Government Officer, Deputy Postmaster, scientists, and support staff from the British Antarctic Survey who maintain scientific bases at Bird Island and at the capital, King Edward Point, as well as museum staff at nearby Grytviken.

For those interested in the history the United Kingdom claimed sovereignty over South Georgia in 1775 and the South Sandwich Islands in 1908.       In 1908 the United Kingdom annexed both South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, with the “territory” formed in 1985; previously it had been governed as part of the Falkland Islands Dependencies. Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927 and claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938.      Argentina maintained a naval station, Corbeta Uruguay on Thule Island in the South Sandwich Islands, from 1976 until 1982 when it was closed by the Royal Navy. The Argentine claim over South Georgia contributed to the 1982 Falklands War.

Now a continuous Global Navigation Satellite System station has been installed on the top of Brown Mountain, above Grytviken, with the data it will provide in the years ahead helping with various research projects, including project to investigate the hypothesis that South Georgia is a tectonic micro-continent.
South Georgia, with its continental shelf area, lies between the Scotia and the South America tectonic plates and currently it is unclear if South Georgia is a crustal block of its own, a micro-continent, or is part of the Scotia plate.    A great start was given to the Global Navigation Satellite System station when 600kg of equipment was lifted to the top of the mountain by the LYNX HMA.8 from the Type 42 Destroyer EDINBURGH on the recent deployment in the South Atlantic.

January is the peak month for visiting cruise ships, but in February 2013 just five visited Grytviken, but there were also visits from five yachts including the replica of Shackleton’s rescue lifeboat JAMES CAIRD.    The four main yachts were all on charter, and there were also visits from two larger motor yachts, both on charter to a photographer.    Unusually both British Antarctic Survey vessels were in King Edward Cove together on the same day - both vessels had also made calls into Cumberland Bay earlier.    The RRS ERNEST SHACKLETON was o charter - see separate report on “Rat Eradication”, whilst the RRS JAMES CLARK ROSS was on routine British Antarctic Survey business.    The Falkland Guardship, the Patrol Vessel CLYDE also was on patrol in South Georgia waters briefly visiting Grytviken     Two fishing trawlers were operating in South Georgia waters (targeting icefish) during February, one of which was inspected and licensed but catches were variable, so only one vessel remained fishing by the end of the February 2013.

The Director of Fisheries for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is based in the Falkland Islands, there being a worldwide involvement in running the fishery – with scientific support and management advice coming from the Marine Resources Assessment Group in London; applied fisheries research conducted by the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge and at King Edward Point; Conservation Measures set by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources which meets annually in Hobart (Tasmania), with foreign policy advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.    The day to day administration is done by the Falkland Islands Fisheries Department and of course inspections, licensing and catch monitoring by the Government Officer at King Edward Point (South Georgia) with surveillance and patrolling by the Fishery Officers on their own Patrol Vessel, the  PHAROS SG, a former Northern (ie Scottish) Lighthouse Tender
South Georgia Brown Rat Eradication Underway Again – do not think that a few traps will be enough!    Phase 2 of the South Georgia Heritage Trust Habitat Restoration Project, to eradicate rodents from the Island, is underway. The main team arrived on the chartered support vessel RRS ERNEST SHACKLTON (of the British Antarctic Survey) in February 2013.     Some of the first things offloaded from the ship onto KEP jetty at South Georgia were the three (3) BOLKOW-105 helicopters.        These had made the journey from the Falklands in a rather cramped ship’s hold. As each helicopter was craned off, the rotors were quickly fitted and the helicopter flown off, to make room for the next aircraft and for containers of bait, fuel and stores to be offloaded.      Many more containers remained on board and over the following days, when weather allowed, caches of bait, fuel and stores were off loaded by boat and helicopter to a number of Forward Operating Bases around the northern end of the Island.      Poor weather delayed the operation, but luckily the support ship was available for charter for a few more days and the last of the equipment and people were set ashore at Husvik before the vessel sailed.    The field team numbers some 25 who arrived on the support ship, but a few remaining workers will arrive later to make full complement and included three New Zealanders and one British helicopter pilots.

Phase 1, the trial phase of the project, was already the largest attempted rat eradication globally and was undertaken two years ago in the Grytviken area.     From monitoring in the area since, it appears to have been completely successful in removing rats from the three baited peninsulas.      Phase 2 of the operation is to treat all the remaining rat infested areas, an area of 80,000 hectares, (say 310 square  miles) several times larger than the Phase 1 area, and will be done over two field seasons.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Afghan Bound847 Naval Air Squadron is already at work in Afghan serving as part of Task Force Helmand, commanded by the British Army’s 1st Mechanised Brigade, and will take on a variety of roles, including advising and training the Afghan National Security Forces.    The LYNX AH.7 helicopters of 847 Naval Air Squadron flying the  small and highly agile LYNX perfectly suited to being ‘eyes in the sky’, protecting the larger RAF CHINOOK helicopters as they shuttle troops and equipment to where they need to be in the area of operations.     The helicopters, which always travel in pairs, have seen a real change in their pace of operations since the last time the squadron was deployed to Afghanistan, with the numbers of troops reduced, air moves are less frequent and reconnaissance flights for future operations are fewer.

The LYNX helicopters look different to the traditional type you may see flying in the UK as they have bigger engines to cope with the harsh climate in the Afghan desert.    They are also the same engines that have been fitted to the new WILDCAT helicopters, which 847 Naval Air Squadron will start training on when they return home.
NORTHUMBERLAND Bust – the Type 23 Frigate NORTHUMBERLAND has intercepted two drug smuggling skiffs carrying an estimated £ 5.4 million of cannabis resin in the Gulf of Oman.    Having identified the suspicious high speed skiffs during a routine patrol, the NORTHUMBERLAND embarked on a 30 mile pursuit and intercepted the skiffs with her MERLIN HM.1 helicopter and combined Royal Navy and Royal Marines boarding teams.     Whilst in pursuit of the smugglers the boarding teams witnessed approximately 60 bales being thrown overboard, seven of which were subsequently recovered.

The NORTHUMBERLAND has been involved in a major maritime exercise involving the Navies of twenty seven (27) Nations in Karachi.     Exercise Aman (Urdu for ‘peace’) was hosted by the Pakistan Navy and aimed to show the commitment of nations involved in tackling terrorism and other crimes in the Indian Ocean.     Navies participating included the Chinese, American, Australian, Emirati, Italian and of course the British.       At sea, exercises included gunnery blasting ‘killer tomato’ inflatable targets, performing counter-piracy demonstrations, carrying out cross-deck landings (which means helicopters from the various participants practise landing on different warships), and staging a combined search and rescue exercise.

NORTHUMBERLAND is operating under the banner of Combined Task Force 150, one of three task forces co-ordinated by the international Combined Maritime Forces with the aim of defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, stopping the illegal trafficking of people and drugs, and promoting the maritime environment as a safe place for mariners with legitimate business.   The NORTHUMBERLAND is due to return to the UK in May 2013, after almost eight months away.
Type 45 Update – the Type 45 Destroyers are nearly all in service – the DARING, DAUNTLESS, DIAMOND and DRAGON are all commissioned with DEFENDER due to commission this week (March 2013) whilst the DUNCAN, the last of the class, will arrive at Portsmouth Naval Base after leaving the shipbuilders of the Clyde, and after further trials will commission later this year.    DARING, DAUNTLESS and DIAMOND all have deployed either “East of Suez” or in the “Atlantics”,  so in 2013-2014 we will see the Type 45’s deploy in some numbers.   The DRAGON has indeed just deployed for a seven month stint “East of Suez” and will relieve the Type 23 Frigate MONMOUTH.
Fighting Clan Rescue – the Type 23 Frigate ARGYLL, on operations approximately 20 miles off the Cape Verde coast, when the call for assistance was received and the ship deployed the Seaboat and onboard medical officers to the Japanese trawler WAKASHIO MARU No.82 to assess the extent of the man’s injuries.   The action saved the life of a Japanese fisherman who had suffered a serious head injury off the coast of Africa having fallen into the ship’s bilge and his condition had worsened.       The embarked LYNX HMA.8 helicopter was mobilised to carry the injured fisherman, who was winched onboard and flown to the closest hospital in Praia, Cape Verde.

The ARGYLL now the deployment which involves working with West African nations, and on completion of the tasking in the Atlantic, the ship will undertake a number of important regional engagement visits before returning to Devonport in September 2013.   It begs the question that if a Japanese trawler can make money off West Africa why cannot the British fishing fleet ?

Another General – the next Chief of Defence Staff, to replace the retiring General Sir David Richards will be the "Whitehall warrior", General Sir Nick Houghton, the present Vice Chief of Defence Staff, who will now have a three year stint at the top.     Sir David Richards it is said to have declined Downing Street's invitation to stay.

General Sir Nick Houghton (58) will therefore play a pivotal role in equipment issues such as whether the soon to be cut again cut defence budget can afford the see the two Aircraft Carriers being built made operational and quite how many Joint Strike Fighters it can afford to put on them.  Other changes include:-
·         Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, (a former fighter pilot) becomes Vice Chief of Defence Staff
·         Admiral Sir George Zambellas, will succeed Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope as First Sea Lord (April 2013)
·         Air Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, (a former helicopter pilot) will succeed Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton as Head of the RAF (July 2013).
·         Lieutenant General Nick Carter, who is currently serving as the Deputy Commander of NATO lead forces in Afghanistan is expected to be the new Head of the Army
So that is all right then – the Aircraft Carriers are safe ?

The QUEEN ELIABETH has an Island – the hull of the Aircraft Carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH now has the forward island now installed and now looks more like an aircraft carrier.    The 700 tonne Portsmouth built structure was lowered by the GOLIATH crane at Rosyth on to the flight deck of the ship at the end of a four hour operation and will contain the ship’s bridge.  [the aft island will oversee flight deck and aerial operations].  This week two pieces of the flight deck will arrive at Rosyth for installation, after which the ski ramp to launch the F-35 LIGHTNING and the aft island will be added before the year’s end.
Gulf Minewarfare Exercise – the Royal Navy and the United States Navy have been conducting a joint eight day minewarfare exercise in the Gulf. The exercise was directed from the Command Ship for the (UK) Gulf Minehunting Squadron, the Landing Ship RFA CARDIGAN BAY by a British Commander and the Mine Warfare Battle Staff.  The US Navy AVENGER Class Minehunters DEVASTATOR and SCOUT joined three (of the four) British Minecountermeasure Vessels, the HUNT Class QUORN, and the SANDOWN Class RAMSEY and SHOREHAM.   Also present were the two Type 23 Frigates MONMOUTH and NORTHUMBERLAND, helicopters but front and centre of the exercise were the British SEAFOX mini-submersibles the World’s leading Minecountermeasure system.  Also in attendance were members of the Fleet Diving Unit 3, who are the experts in bomb disposal and the Clearance Diving Team from the HUNT Class vessel ATHERSTONE – the fourth member of the (UK) Gulf Minehunting Squadron.

This exercise was a precursor to a major exercise in May 2013 when forces from more than twenty nations, spanning four continents will come together for International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 13, the biggest event of its type in the Middle East region.    Last year the first IMCMEX 12 which over ten days in September 2013 saw 3,000 personnel from over thirty nations working together across 1,000 miles of ocean.
Marine Commando Medics Ready - More than 100 medical staff from across the Armed Forces including Marine Commando Medics had participated in two week exercise.     Exercise Green Serpent was held at Royal Marine Base Chivenor and tested the ability of the Commando Forward Surgical Group to deal with multiple battlefield casualties quickly – and safely.  Chivenor is home to the Commando Logistic Regiment RM, which includes a Medical Squadron, and 24 Commando Regiment RE.

Actors from Amputees in Action and trainee Navy medics [from HMS RALEIGH] – all made-up with realistic wounds and fake blood – served as the casualties for the surgical group – around 80 personnel from the Commando Logistic Regiment, bolstered by surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and specialist medical staff drawn from all three Services working at hospitals across the UK.   As part of that return to what are known as ‘contingency operations’ – the ability to deploy around the world at short notice with the UK’s Response Force Task Group [A naval formation] – the Commando Forward Surgical Group is at five days’ notice to move in support of the lead commando unit (currently 45 Commando, RM based in Arbroath.

EDINBURGH American Finale – the last Type 42 Destroyer, the EDINBURGH showed a fair turn of speed on the eve of her final foreign port of call.   The last Type 42 performed a ‘maritime doughnut’ to test manoeuvrability at full speed as the ship prepared to sail into the Big Apple.   The EDINBURGH is near the end of a six month Atlantic deployment and is visiting New York.  [The ‘doughnut’ was used to test both engines at full speed – over 30kts – turning left and right].    Due back in Portsmouth at the end of the month (March 2013), the “Fortress of the Sea” is scheduled to conduct a farewell tour of the UK, including a visit to Edinburgh of course and will participate in 70th anniversary commemorations of victory in the Battle of the Atlantic at Liverpool, before a final ceremonial entry into Portsmouth and a decommissioning ceremony in June 2013.
Yankee Company, 45 Commando Marines RM – on exercise in the Arctic carried out an assault at the end of a six week training package by storming 16 inch guns of Trondesnes Fort near Harstad one of Hitler's fortresses in a three hour in northern Norway.    45 Commando are the experts in cold weather warfare, and this was Exercise Cetus 13 some 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle.     The Arbroath based 45 Commando RM, plus the Commando Logistic Regiment (Chivenor) and support from the Commando Helicopter Force at Yeovilton, have completed two months of training in the high north.    The attack ended with the “Adolf Guns” in Royal Marines hands before three Norwegian HUEY helicopters and Fleet Air Arm SEA KING HC.4 helicopters of 845 Naval Air Squadron swept up the fjord to extract Yankee Company – and Cetus 13 was completed.
Main Rotor Head and Gearbox Change - Engineers from 845 Naval Air Squadron removed the main rotor head and gearbox from a SEA KING HC.4 helicopter during flying training, some 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle at the Royal Norwegian Air Force base in Bardufoss.     A near routine operation in a non routine location!!
On Call Commando Unit Change - 45 Commando RM, based at Royal Marine Base CONDOR (Arbroath) are the experts in cold weather warfare, and for the last year have been the “on callCommando unit.    In May (2013) the will be relieved by 42 Commando RM at Bickleigh (Plymouth).    As preparation for this new duty M Company/42 Commando RM, and French Marines took part in Exercise Gaelic Venture - a joint Anglo-French exercise conducted between 3 Commando Brigade RM and the French 9th Light Armoured Marine Brigade.   M Company deployed to Le Mans with France’s 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment.    Most of the 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment are deployed to Mali, so the exercise involved M Company working with the French 4 Company around Camp d’Auvours.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Astute SPEARFISH - The heavyweight torpedo armament of the VANGUARD Class Strategic Submarines and the TRAFALGAR Class Fleet Submarines are to be deployed on the ASTUTE Class of Fleet Submarines from later this year and then they will be truly operational   The SPEARFISH first entered service in 1994 and is due to equip the new class of SUCCESSOR Class of Submarine which is due to enter service c. 2028.
Helicopter Questions - The National Audit Office the body responsible for certifying the accounts of all Government Departments as usual is a mine of information by way of its reports.   In no particular order these are:-

The MERLIN HM.2 modernisation programme has a revised completion date of June 2014 and will cover 30 airframes – leaving 12 airframes unmodernised.   The cost of this fleet upgrade will be £ 791 million thus a cost of £ 26 million per airframe.

The National Audit Office “feels” is maybe necessary to extend the lives of the SEA KING ASaC7 by four years until a replacement is “identified”, built and accepted into service.  
Comment: Considering the investment being made in the Aircraft Carrier programme procrastination in this area in really not acceptable – why order beef if you cannot afford the plate on which to serve it!!   We have 12 MERLIN airframes now available immediately ?

There has been no mention of the SEA KING HU.5 ?
Comment : The dilemma facing the MoD is the fate of 771 Naval Air Squadron and its cache of eight (8) SEA KING HU5 which is likely to be stripped of its Search and Rescue role shortly but that is only part of the remit of this unit.   This never seems to be mentioned anywhere.

Commando Air Wing – SEA KING HC.4 - There is a 38% shortfall is the availability of the SEA KING HC.4 which are due to be retired in 2016 and a two year gap before the MERLIN HC3/3A will be available operationally until April 2018. 
Comment : Not a surprising state of affairs as the decision of the SEA KING replacement was delayed and delayed and when the decision was finally made in the 2010 SDSR there was an unexplained six year “wait” before the RAF handed over its MERLIN Force to Fleet Air Arm.
DAUNTLESS Substitutes for ARGUS – with the Aviation Training Ship ARGUS under refit following the recent extended deployment of the Atlantic Patrol (North) tasking, the Type 45 Destroyer DAUNTLESS took a brief turn as an Aviation training platform.   702 Naval Air Squadron, the training squadron for the LYNX HMA.8 based at Yeovilton deployed two helicopters onboard to make use of the large flight deck and hanger of the Destroyer.

Rejected Brunei Frigates Sold – the three BAE built NAKHODA RAGAM Class Corvettes built for the Brunei Navy have finally been confirmed as sold.      The original contract was awarded to GEC-Marconi in 1995 and the ships, a variant of the F2000 design, were launched in January 2001, June 2001 and June 2002 at the then BAE Systems Marine yard at Scotstoun (Glasgow).    The ships were refused and the contract dispute became the subject of arbitration, and when the dispute was settled (in favour of BAE Systems), the vessels were handed over to Royal Brunei Technical Services in June 2007.     In 2007, Brunei contracted the German Lürssen shipyard to find a new customer for the three ships; in November 2012, it was announced that Indonesia had signed a memorandum of understanding with Britain to acquire the vessels for one-fifth of the original unit cost.     The ships are expected to enter service with the Indonesian Navy by 2013–2014 and reports are that the SEAWOLF is likely to be removed by the MICA system.   This brings to an end the long and unhappy saga of this Brunei Contract, and maybe just, open a new chapter of co-operation with the Indonesian Navy.
217 Flight Embarked on SURCOUF Update – the LYNX HMA.8 Helicopter Flight of 815 Naval Air Squadron embarked the French Frigate SURCOUF has been hailed as a success after the a completed three month patrol in the Indian Ocean and the return to Toulon.    The LYNX HMA.8 took the place of a usual French Eurocopter AS565 PANTHER Helicopter onboard – so when can we expect to see an exchange posting on a French Helicopter Flight serving on a British Frigate ?

MULBERRY B Survey – the UK Hydrographic Office has teamed up with commercial survey firm Netsurvey to conduct the first detailed survey of Mulberry B - also known as Port Winston - for the first time in nearly twenty years and to produce 3D images of the underwater remains, lying at a depth of about five metres.    The Mulberry B was built off Arromanches (France), as one of two temporary harbours built to support the Normandy landings in June 1944.
Ballistic Missile Defence – the renewed threats in this area emanating from North Korea has refocused the minds to the subject of Ballistic Missile Defence and the part that can be played by current assets.  The potential for Type 45 Destroyers to help protect deployed UK and Allied Forces from threat of ballistic missiles is to be investigated.      Building on the relationship with the US Missile Defense Agency, the joint MoD and industry run UK Missile Defence Centre has agreed to take part in a trial which will include a Type 45 Destroyer taking part in what will be a major research and development programme. This will include testing the SAMPSON radar, part of the SEA VIPER missile system, in detecting and tracking ballistic targets.
Proud Manta 2013 - Three MERLIN HM.1 Helicopters from 814 and 829 Naval Air Squadrons, with their  75 supporting air and ground crew, are to be the UK's input to 'Proud Manta' - the biggest anti-submarine exercise run by NATO – this year.     Ships, submarines and aircraft from fourteen nations will be converging on Sicily for the Two Week War Game, with the Fleet Air Arm detachment taking up residence at the US Naval Air Station Sigonella (close to Mount Etna).

Arctic AdventuresArctic Warfare Training is part of usual round of training for 3 Commando Brigade RM and this year’s package is Cetus 13.    The training is taking place at Asegarden Camp near Harstad, with members of 45 Commando RM, 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 Fighter 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 three 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).   The Secretary of State for Defence (Phillip Hammond) visited the Royal Marines at Asegarden Camp and held talks with his Norwegian counterpart, the Norwegian Minister of Defence (Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen).

Falkland Patrol – an intrinsic part of the defence of the Falkland Islands is the ability to commit a Fleet Submarine to patrol the patrol the area and the MoD policy of not reporting the movements of our nuclear submarines this always becomes a grey area.    The Daily Express reported under the headlines of “No British Submarines to Patrol Falkland Islands” and reporting that the Royal Navy is finding it “increasingly difficult” to deploy a nuclear submarine to patrol British waters around the Falkland Islands.

The recent “the forced return of the Fleet Submarine TIRELESS is reportedly leaving the Royal Navy with only one, the TRENCHANT, (of the five) TRAFALGAR Class as being operational and that is about to undergo a brief period of maintenance after duties in the Middle East.     The TIRELESS, dubbed HMS TIRED, was apparently forced to return to base last month (February 2013) due to a coolant leak in its nuclear reactor and sources suggest it could be out of action for 10 months.   Given that the TIRELESS was due to be withdrawn in 2013 maybe the vessel will leave service early.   The rest of the Fleet Submarine Force is accounted for by the Newspaper as under:-
            Out of Service Date                                                                                      Net Book Value per MoD
                        2013                 TIRELESS – Undergoing Repairs                                           £   10 million
                        2015                 TORBAY - Undergoing Maintenance                                        £ 124 million
                        2017                 TRENCHANT – Operational “East of Suez”                            £ 215 million
                        2019              TALENT - is awaiting decommissioning ?                                £ 315 million
                        2022              TRIUMPH - is being used for Training - Refit pending ?           £ 396 million
                                                ASTUTE - still not fully operational                                      £ 1,170 million
                                                AMBUSH - still not fully operational                                             TBA
      Surely this will be a continuing problem as in the near term only the ARTFUL will join the fleet in 2015.