This now routine and long-planned deployment will demonstrate once again its ability to operate as a rapid reaction force on behalf of the UK and, importantly, underlines the global reach and flexibility of the modern Royal Navy.

Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP

Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said: “Since its creation under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Response Force Task Group has demonstrated its formidable strength and readiness to respond to emerging threats worldwide through a number of operations and exercises. 

“This now routine and long-planned deployment will demonstrate once again its ability to operate as a rapid reaction force on behalf of the UK and, importantly, underlines the global reach and flexibility of the modern Royal Navy.”

The Task Group is able to conduct simultaneously a range of operations from deterring adversaries and maritime security to international engagement and supporting regional stability. 

Its units can operate independently on discrete tasks or as a single entity. 

Most importantly, it is an adaptable force that is able to work jointly with Army and Royal Air Force assets, other government agencies and partner nations when required.

After a number of planned port visits in the Mediterranean, the first major exercise for the force will be Albanian Lion, in the Adriatic. 

Personnel will work with Albania’s armed forces, building on a similar exercise last year, with the goal to put the Lead Commando Group ashore within a high tempo scenario and sustain it as it moves inland.

The ships will then sail through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf where the focus will transfer to the series of exercises with UK allies in the Gulf region; alongside Army and RAF units. 

Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander UK Task Group, said: “Cougar ’13 is a bespoke opportunity to enhance the Royal Navy’s enduring core skill – the ability to operate and project power as a task group at range.

"In so doing, it will also remind interested domestic and international parties of the enduring utility, employability and interoperability of the Royal Navy.

“During Cougar ’13 we will engage with our partner nations through a series of exercises, reinforcing our commitment and demonstrating our contribution to security in the Mediterranean and Gulf region.”

Commodore McAlpine and his staff will command from the nation’s flagship HMS Bulwark. Alongside Brigadier Stuart Birrell (Commander of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines) he will choreograph the efforts of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary sailors, Royal Marine Commandos and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm personnel. 

Joining Bulwark will be Portsmouth-based helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose (Plymouth) and HMS Westminster (Portsmouth) to provide escort duties, as well as undertake ongoing counter-piracy operations outside the exercise programme.

HMS Montrose is also due to reprise her role from Cougar ‘12 as the launch pad for small Royal Marines reconnaissance parties, which are sent ashore to scout the lie of the land and ‘enemy’ forces.

The Royal Marines will be embarking HMS Bulwark, RFA Mounts Bay and RFA Lyme Bay: the nation’s Lead Commando Group, including 42 Commando, elements of 30 Commando IX Group, and the Commando Logistics Regiment who will meet all the supply and medical needs and 16 Vikings of the Corps’ Armoured Support Group. 

A number of Army Commandos from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, 24 Commando Engineer Regiment and 17 Port and Maritime Regiment will also deploy as part of the Lead Commando Group.

Brigadier Stuart Birrell, Commander 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, said: “Cougar ’13 provides a superb opportunity to demonstrate the capability and capacity of the Response Force Task Group and the Lead Commando Group.

"Operating in a wide variety of countries across the Mediterranean and Gulf region, the task group will engage in capacity building and defence engagement with a range of partner nations, in some truly outstanding exercises. 

"A demanding and ambitious deployment, we will look forward to the challenges and opportunities that Cougar ’13 presents.” 

RFA Fort Austin will provide stores, fuel, water, and ammunition and RFA Diligence is on hand to attend to any of the Cougar ’13 ship’s engineering requirements.

The majority of the Task Group is due home to the UK in December, although Diligence, Westminster and Montrose are due to remain east of Suez in support of the Navy’s long-standing mission in the region to keep the sea lanes safe and secure for lawful trade.