OPERATIONS

Beyond this, the surface fleet has conducted 50 named operations from chasing Russian submarines in the wilds of the North Atlantic to our decade of duty providing mine countermeasures in the Gulf, and spent 7,106 days at sea, of which 2,630 days almost 40% has been on operations.

30% of the Fleet have deployed away from the UK which does not include those mine countermeasures and hydrographic and patrol vessels more permanently deployed.  

A final fact may put into perspective everything I have mentioned about the tempo and intensity of Royal Navy operations; of the personnel who spend more than 1,900 days away from their families over the course of their career the Royal Navy has 5,260, the Army 310 and the RAF 25.

Effective and calibrated unit action relies on effective command and here the Royal Navy has been the benchmark upon which many other Navies have judged themselves for years.  

2016 was a pretty routine year for us but what might surprise you is how intense that routine is:

THE GULF

Let's start in our second home: For the past 13 years the Royal Navy has held the Deputy Commander’s position in the Gulf for all coalition forces. Cdre Will Warrender is the Commander of all Royal Naval forces in the region but he is also the right hand man to the US Navy Admiral, Cdr Fifth Fleet.  He has a small team of 86 people and perhaps I can bring to life his responsibilities.  

With an area of operations covering over 4 million square miles spanning the Eastern Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Gulf, Northern Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean south to Diego Garcia, He commands over 1000 RN/RM/RFA personnel. They support a range of aircraft to achieve over 3000 flying hours including embarked Wildcat and Merlin helicopters, the Merlin detachment operating in support of the Royal Omani Coastguard conducting Maritime Security Operations and the venerable Sea Kings embarked in RFA Fort Victoria who provide a surface search and airborne early warning capability.  

We have come a long way since HMS Jufair closed its doors in 1971 and it will not be long before JUFAIR reopens back in Bahrain.

Staying in the Middle East Region: One of these coalition task forces was commanded by my deputy for 5 months last year and has a standing responsibility for counter terrorism and drugs in the sea areas.  Leading this fight he commanded vessels from the Navies of Australia, France, Pakistan, the United States and the United Kingdom. He has provided 431 ship Days of support, 2 Focused operations resulting in 80% of the coalition seizures of heroin and 100% of the seizures of hashish, removing over 2000 kgs from making their way to the streets.  Equally important has been the Key Leader Engagement with regional partners including Tanzania, Seychelles and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  

And this year we will be bringing to life a key tenet of the Lancaster House agreement. We will form a combined battlestaff with our French colleagues to deliver this task as CTF 150 again, and current plans have us repeating this in 2019. So, not exercises but frontline combined operational command with the French.

Finally, sticking to the Middle East, Command of the Minewarfare task group in the Gulf has been vested in the Royal Navy since 2006.  This means routinely taking command of a multi-national MCM Task Force of up to 700 people including air, surface and underwater MCM assets alongside the command and support ship from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the four mine counter-measures ships permanently based in Bahrain.

It is worthy of note that many of our mine warfare Senior Rates may conduct 8 tours in a 10 year period in the Middle East.  Indeed, some personnel have never deployed in the traditional sense as they simply fly from the UK to Bahrain and back.  

NATO

For myself, I have just completed a year at five days notice for operations as NATO’s high readiness maritime commander.  This is a role that rotates between 5 nations.  Preparation in 2015 culminated in command of the largest maritime Task Force formed in recent history.  There were 6 Task Groups, 42 ships from Minehunters through Frigates and Destroyers to the larger amphibious platforms including HMS Ocean and HMS Bulwark, plus 7 submarines and fast jets from several aircraft carriers.  The breadth of capabilities was immense with Swedish and UK boarding teams, Netherlands and US diving teams, Netherlands afloat role 2 medical facilities, a US engineering department and French, Spanish and UK Marines.

And in the summer a Royal Navy Commodore will be taking Command of the Standing NATO Maritime Task Group for the year - a permanently formed flotilla of ships that operate from the Black Sea to the Baltic remaining at immediate readiness and offering both presence and reassurance. And by the Autumn we will also be commanding one of the NATO mine-countermeasures task groups.

So, Royal Naval NATO Command reaches from the permanent maritime component commander Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone in Northwood, through last year’s routine rotational responsibilities of the high readiness commander vested in me and my own staff to the front line task group commands of frigates destroyers and mine countermeasures warships of 2017.

But it doesn’t stop here:

AMPHIBIOUS TASK GROUP

Cdre Andrew Burns is currently my Commander Amphibious Task Group, he deployed in September with the Royal Marines Brigade Commander and a Joint Expeditionary Force Task Group comprising of HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean with a Tailored Air Group embarked, RFA Mounts Bay, MV Eddystone, and the Lead Commando Group (42 Cdo RM).  The Task Group operated in close proximity to zones of conflict where coalition forces have been actively targeted and where the Russian maritime presence has been reminiscent of operations during the Cold War.  

They reached Full Operating Capability in the early Autumn following Exercises in Albania which included Non-combat Evacuation Operations by land, sea and air and commando raids onto a heavily defended island, delivered by the lead commando group which is equivalent to a battle group.

Let me provide some facts and figures to put their operations in context; they have exercised Command and Control over UK, US and French assets with distances between units of up to 6,500nm, they have achieved 7 amphibious exercises within the Mediterranean and Middle East and have engaged with 15 nations, including the first visit to Egypt for seven years and significant capacity building in Somaliland.  They have operated with 10 different aircraft types including USMC MV-22 Osprey aircraft and Chinook helicopters of the US Army 77th Combat Air Brigade.  These facts are interesting in their own right but I mention them to draw out the more important points of operational flexibility and international integration.

Whilst some forces returned home just before Christmas to remain at readiness, you will know from visits by both the Prime Minister and Chancellor that some remained and Andy is now commanding the principal US task force in the region.  The near term future incorporates the preparation and execution of an exercise which will see Cdre Andy commanding 20 surface vessels, maritime patrol aircraft, organic and non-organic helicopters as well as French and Australian assets - I would estimate over 5000 sailors and marines.

His staff and HMS Ocean return in the spring after over six months away.

CONCLUSION

Let me close.

The Commanders and our Surface Ships are emblematic of the Royal Navy – its energy and its purpose

I would suggest that in today’s world, wars can only be truly prevented in partnership with other nations and herein is a true strength of the Royal Navy

We are not just international by design we are instinctively internationalist - we act in concert with our NATO allies and partners, punching well above our weight in both unit output and leadership,

Welcomed by our partners, emulated by many, and feared by our enemies.

And the Royal Navy, through being out there projecting power and through its breadth of command is the epitome of demonstrating our country’s resolve and capability in the service of war prevention.

Thank you.

Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineering)

Join us