Culdrose Sub-Hunters Conjure Up Magic in Norway

‘Flying Sailors’ from the Merlin Training Squadron at RNAS Culdrose have arrived home in Cornwall after two demanding weeks of searching for submarines in the Norwegian Fjords.

824 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) flew two of their magical Merlin Mk2 helicopters – the best anti-submarine helicopter in the world -  across to Norway to take part in Exercise Rogue Wizard 2018 for two weeks of intensive Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) training.

824 NAS is the unit which trains students in every aspect of the Merlin helicopter, equipping them with the knowledge and skills that will be required once they deploy on operations at sea.

The trainee Pilots, Observers and Aircrewmen taking part in the trip, were not only responsible for operating the aircraft whilst detached, but they also planned and executed the complicated transit from Cornwall through Scotland and across the North Sea.

It’s a real test of our skills and is certainly the highlight of my career so far.

Lt Nick Jackson-Spence RN

Based at RNoN Haakonsvern near the city of Bergen, the crews flew intensively to locate, track and attack the Norwegian Submarine HNoMS UTHAUG, dedicated to the exercise. Starting offshore in the North Sea, the scenario quickly developed and progressed inland to the deep fjords allowing invaluable training to take place in a relatively unfamiliar environment.

The primary aim of the exercise was to train the students before they are award of their ‘Flying Wings’ this Summer.

Detachment Commander Lt Cdr Dan Waskett said: “The North Atlantic remains one of the most important for the Royal Navy.

“Developing ASW skills to operate within the fjords and challenging conditions of Norway, is critical to support future Merlin Force tasking in support of UK interests.

“The techniques and experience are transferable across a range of environments however, and the excellent training opportunities afforded us, allow our crews to develop the deep specialist knowledge essential in maintaining our tactical edge.

“In tandem, the opportunity to work with our Norwegian counterparts as they develop their NH90 ASW aircraft has been invaluable.

“Their support of this exercise has been first rate, no doubt recognising as we do, the value of our strong NATO commitments.”

Student Pilot Lt Nick Jackson-Spence said: “So far in our careers we have only operated in the UK, it’s the result of years of training that we have been able to deploy two aircraft across the North Sea and are now operating against a foreign submarine in the deep Norwegian Fjords.

“It’s a real test of our skills and is certainly the highlight of my career so far.”

Student Observer Riley Handforth said: “To come here and operate against a foreign submarine in their own backyard is as much of a challenge as it is a privilege. 

“The submarine crew know their waterways so well so it really does make it all the more satisfying when we are able to detect and attack them.

“We’re extremely thankful to the Norwegians for the opportunity to further develop our skills.”

Student Aircrewman Acting LACMN Andrew Smith added: “This is a very different environment to the one we are used to in Cornwall - the deep fjords coupled with the fresh water running off the glaciers make for an extremely challenging ASW environment.

“However, our previous training has prepared us well for the exercise.”

Once the students pass the course and are awarded their Wings, they will move to frontline Squadrons where they can expect to regularly deploy overseas on both exercises and operations in support of UK tasking.