Commando fliers ready for Caribbean after Wales workout

The wings of the Royal Marines hit Southeast Wales for a fortnight to prepare them should a major hurricane strike the Caribbean.

The Commando Helicopter Force is on standby to head to the region, bolstering a Royal Navy-led task group already on patrol.

RFA Argus was dispatched with Merlins, a Wildcat, and a specialist emergency relief team with supplies back in April, to work with the RN’s permanent presence around its overseas territories, HMS Medway.

Should they require assistance in the wake of Nature’s fury, the MOD will activate Operation Caribbean.

Caerwent doubled for the Caribbean as the Yeovilton-based force dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Dave – the scenario set not just aircrews, but also the substantial logistical team needed to support the helicopters in the field.

Exercise Merlin Storm saw Royal Marine Merlin and Wildcat helicopters share Monmouthshire skies with the RAF’s heavy-lifting Chinooks, using a former ammunition and armaments depot near Chepstow as their testing ground.

Planners used their experiences of relief missions in the Philippines in 2013 (Operation Patwin) and, more recently, in the Caribbean after a succession of storms in the autumn of 2017 (Operation Ruman) to prepare the two-week workout.

A wide range of training activities and tactical scenarios were achieved – mounted and dismounted tactical operations, a number of heli-borne vehicle, equipment, and personnel insertions across the training area

Lt Cdr Chris Marsden

The key test of Merlin Storm was as much about the helicopter force’s ground support as the aircraft themselves.

On a devastated island, the force will be expected to look after itself – fuel, food, clean water, maintenance and medical support – and help the local populace.

It meant personnel living in the field in rudimentary conditions, Navy chefs running field kitchens, sailors testing portable reverse osmosis/desalination plants to provide fresh water – far more practical than shipping in bottled water – and teams setting up small refuelling posts around the Caerwent range as they would around outlying islands.

For the second week of the exercise, planners introduced something new: criminal groups moving into the area and filling the gap left by the decimated legal authorities. This led to fighting on the ground, helicopter assaults involving Royal Marines from 40 Commando, based near Taunton, and threats to the CHF outposts peppered around the range.

It allowed CHF to test its Mobility Troop, charged with providing force protection in all terrain, all environments, all weathers.

In temperate climes, that means RWMIK Land Rovers and Jackal armoured vehicles crewed by commandos and armed with Royal Marines who live, work and fight from their vehicles for up to five days at a time.around the refuelling posts – automated sensors (infrared, seismic, acoustic and intelligent motion cameras) which report any movement to give the troops forewarning.

In addition, for the first time the Royal Navy’s dedicated drone squadron, 700X from Culdrose, provided additional surveillance for CHF, scouting buildings for troops to pave the way for troops moving in – or to help them avoid ambushes – and giving the boots on the ground an unparalleled 360-degree view and understanding of the world around them.

The results were hailed as “impressive” as was the overall outcome of the exercise.

“Merlin Storm allowed the Mobility Troop to prepare for Op Caribbean and humanitarian/disaster relief operations, while also providing the opportunity to remain at the top of their game with ‘green skills’ soldiering,” said Lieutenant Commander Chris Marsden, in charge of the Combat Service Support Squadron.