Submarine hunters touchdown on HMS Prince of Wales

Topic: Fighting armsFleet Air Arm Storyline: 820 NAS

The Royal Navy’s premier submarine hunting helicopters have arrived on HMS Prince of Wales ahead of large-scale exercises in the Arctic.

Protecting the carrier from any potential threats above and below the waves will be Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol Merlin helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron.

These formidable aircraft – combined with their crews’ extensive training – make them among the best submarine hunting force in the world.

The squadron, based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, is dedicated to protecting both the UK’s aircraft carriers and last year played a central role throughout the carrier strike group’s deployment to the Indo-Pacific.

Commanding Officer, Commander Ian Varley, said: “The focus of our last five years has been all about HMS Queen Elizabeth and getting the first carrier strike group up and running and deployed. We’ve done very little so far with HMS Prince of Wales – but that is set to change this year.

“These things don’t just happen overnight. We have planned to spend more time with HMS Prince of Wales this year than we will with HMS Queen Elizabeth.”

One third of the squadron, aircrew and engineers, is taking part in the deployment, which will be a far cry from last year’s seven-month mission with its challenges of heat and humidity.

“This planned deployment is going to be different,” he added. “This is not the Mediterranean, India Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. We’re going to operate in the northern ranges and the icy and snowy climate off Norway.

“It will be a testing time for us, but it’s about forging us as one ship with its air group operating as one in these conditions. It will give us the opportunity to adapt to that and build from there.”

HMS Prince of Wales has deployed in her role as NATO’s command ship to Exercise Cold Response, the large-scale Norwegian-led exercises which will see 35,000 troops from 28 nations operate together in the harshest environment. 

The Portsmouth-based carrier leads NATO’s Maritime High Readiness Force – an international task group formed to deal with major global events – and deploys for the first time in that role to Cold Response.

Aboard the flat-top is the most senior sea-going staff in the Royal Navy – Commander UK Strike Force, headed by Rear Admiral Mike Utley, who will lead a sizeable task force as part of a galvanized NATO effort for peace and stability in Europe.