Multinational Partners on Exercise Saxon Warrior

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet

Exercise Saxon Warrior 17 is now in full swing. A giant US aircraft carrier the USS George HW Bush is somewhere off the coast of Scotland and a number of European partners are also taking part.

The exercise in broad terms involves a notional conflict between neighbouring countries, one of which is Pastonia, supported by a multinational naval force, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 315.01.

The CSG includes Type 23 frigates HMS Westminster and Iron Duke, Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad, United States ships USS Philippine Sea and Donald Cook, and the supercarrier George Bush (GHWB).  

Opposing this Strike Group is Task Force 606 of the Dragonian Navy. They are a mere three ships including US destroyer USS Truxton and cruiser Leyte Gulf. They are led by the Norwegian frigate Otto Sverdrup.  

There are also a large number of other elements to the exercise including supporting aircraft providing air raids, plus 29 Commando and Swedish tactical air controllers providing forward observation to ships and aircraft dropping ordnance onto Cape Wrath.

The air participants include Navy and RAF Hawk aircraft, RAF Typhoons, a large number of United States carrier borne aircraft which are mostly F18 Super Hornets, as well as British, American and German surveillance and refuelling aircraft.

Also participating are a Royal Marines troop who have been training to conduct Joint Personnel Recovery operations from 42 Commando.

All these elements are co-ordinated by the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS) working from Faslane, north of Glasgow.  On-board GHWB are staff from the UK Carrier Strike Group brushing up their skills for the arrival of aircraft on-board our own supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

“Exercise Saxon Warrior is an incredibly important and exciting step in the regeneration of the UK's Carrier Strike capability,” says JTEPS commander Captain Andrew Stacey RN.

“The generosity of the United States Navy in the provision of not only a Carrier Strike Group but also mentoring and exercise enablers has been crucial in ensuring that Royal Navy is on the right path to stand shoulder to shoulder with the USN with a shared Carrier Strike heritage,” he adds.

One of the smaller but essential exercise elements is HNoMS Otto Sverdrup, named after a Norwegian Arctic explorer. This frigate is also the flagship for Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1).  

SNMG1 is a real task group run from NATO Maritime Command at Northwood, London which is maintained at continuous readiness to react to a variety of circumstances.

The first week of the exercise was a phoney war with task groups TF606 conducting manoeuvres off the Scottish coast while the Carrier Strike Group including GHWB sailed up from Portsmouth.  

This week in exercise Saxon Warrior 17 the game is on. The exercise is un-scripted to an extent and Commodore Petter Kammerhuber the Norwegian force commander of TF606 can use all the skills of stealth learnt from training in Norwegian fjords to operate his ships in the North Sea and the Minches – the beautiful remote channels in the Scottish Hebrides.

“I have enjoyed this exercise very much,” said Commodore Kammerhuber who is also the commander of SNMG 1. “It has provided us with a lot of warfare training and a lot of training for the staff as well. It has really been a good exercise to increase our operational readiness level.” To assist him he has a small air force of Hawk aircraft plus a few Typhoon jets flying out of Scotland.  

Arrayed against TF606 is the incredible power of the GHWB which can launch wave after wave of F18 Super Hornets and has already been operating 24/7 in the fight against DAESH in the eastern Mediterranean for the last six months.

Captain Frode Rote of the Otto Sverdrup is confident they have a chance against the Carrier Task Group. “It depends on how the scenario develops but we are a capable frigate and we are used to operating in close inshore waters like the Minches. I’m sure we will find some good ideas to counter the threat,” said Commander Rote.

Otto Sverdrup has been training hard during the last week off Scottish coast doing force protection exercises against small attack craft. The ship is equipped with a state-of-the-art air defence missiles and has conducted multiple air defence exercises. She has also carried out Replenishment at Sea (RAS) with RFA Wave Ruler and shore bombardments at Cape Wrath with her high speed 76mm main gun.

“Saxon Warrior has been a great exercise for us,” added Commander Rote. “There a lot resources in the area.  A lot of aircraft, vessels and helicopters so it is very good training in our primary warfare skills.”

The Otto Sverdrup also carries the highly effective Norwegian Naval Strike Missile capable of hitting land and sea targets 100 miles away.  

“Significant contributions from Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 and of Norway, Germany and Sweden were essential in making this a successful multinational interoperability exercise,” says JTEPS Captain Stacey.

While the exercise progresses there are other real world activities occurring including a giant logistics move involving dozens of truckloads of hundreds of tons of stores and fuel which were loaded on-board the aptly named American supply ship USNS Supply in a remote Scottish loch.

The process took four days to complete and included trucks bringing equipment from as far away as Sigonella in Italy. All this just to get the American Carrier Group home “across the Pond” as they put it.

“This has been a fantastic opportunity for our RN and RN Reservists to work with our US counterparts,” says Lieutenant Alex Meaden, a JTEPS logistic officer based at Northwood.

“We’ve been impressed with the scale of the US logistics chain and we’ve learnt a lot from them which will help us to prepare for HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier logistic operations,” adds Lt Meaden.

Captain Stacey concludes. “For JTEPS, Saxon Warrior represents the culmination of a long exercise planning process and also marks the first step in a busy future of UK Carrier Strike Group training.”

At the end of this week the exercise will end. The US Navy and Norwegians will go home and the British Carrier Strike Group will await the arrival of the Royal Navy’s mightiest ship HMS Queen Elizabeth’s entry to Portsmouth sometime between 17-22 August.

Exercise Saxon Warrior is an incredibly important and exciting step in the regeneration of the UK's Carrier Strike capability

Captain Andrew Stacey RN, JTEPS commander