Largest military exercise of the autumn in UK ends with ‘naval battle’ off Devon

Topic: Operational activityTraining Storyline: Surface Fleet

A ten-day workout for Allied military forces on land, at sea and in the air climaxed with a four-day naval ‘battle’ in the Channel as the UK’s largest exercise of the autumn ended.

Joint Warrior finished yesterday having tested 3,000 sailors, soldiers and aviators against the latest threats and technology: submarines, swarm attacks, drones, air raids, missile strikes and more.

Involving more than 20 ships, submarines and supporting vessels from Britain and nine NATO allies, plus over 30 aircraft and drones, Royal Marines and US Marines, the workout ranged from Cape Wrath and the Hebrides to the North Sea and finally the waters off the South Coast.

In company with American and Italian destroyers USS Roosevelt and ITS Andrea Doria and Polish frigate ORP Generał Tadeusz Kościuszko for much of the time, Royal Navy frigate HMS Kent focused much of her time hunting the live submarines participating in Joint Warrior. 

The crew of the Portsmouth-based submarine hunter adopted the ‘Patrol Quiet State’: every department had to focus on reducing noise to avoid giving Kent’s location away to the enemy below.

Engineers carefully managed engine states, auxiliary systems, and radar signatures to ensure the ‘ship’s signature’ was as small as possible enabling Kent to approach stealthily.

The extended period of anti-submarine warfare saw Kent prove her ability to conduct such hunts in concert with other surface ships as well as specialist helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft from all over NATO.

As Joint Warrior progressed, Kent was thrust into a large-scale naval ‘battle’ which saw the frigate and her allies fighting in a realistic combat exercise including every facet of conventional naval warfare – plus cyber threats – to prove that the different nationalities of NATO can quickly combine into a cohesive unit and at the same time allowing Kent’s team to broaden their training and knowledge, ready for any operational requirements that may follow.

“Exercise Joint Warrior was a tremendous opportunity for the ship’s company to work with allied nations from NATO and comprehensively prove our formidable anti-submarine capability,” said Kent’s Commanding Officer Commander Jez Brettell.

Joint Warrior also allowed some of the smaller assets in the Royal Navy’s inventory to show what they are capable of.

Small P2000 craft – just 54 tonnes and a mere 21 metres long – staged a series of ‘attacks’ alongside jet skis and speedboats to test the gunnery and evasive actions of individual ships or entire task groups.

Over four days, one such patrol boat, Portsmouth-based HMS Exploit, made 15 such attacks against minehunters, frigates and destroyers. 

“It’s been brilliant to interact with warships of different nations, putting their teams to the test when reacting to multiple fast-moving contacts as we attempted to get as close as possible,” said Lieutenant Martin Head, HMS Exploit’s Commanding Officer.

To add to the choreographed confusion of battle, these ‘swarm tactics’ sought to overwhelm gunnery teams and defensive weapon systems – aided by co-ordinated simultaneous air attacks by RAF Typhoon fighters and Navy Wildcat helicopters (which are now equipped with Martlet missiles to take out the threat posed by small craft).

It’s the live-action participation, realistic and the scale of the exercise which makes it a big draw for allied navies and NATO.

The latter committed two entire task groups – one focused on maritime security, the second on mine warfare – to the ten-day workout.

“Joint Warrior was an excellent high-end training opportunity for NATO’s Standing Naval Forces in all maritime warfare areas,” said Commodore Jeanette Morang, Commander of NATO Maritime Group 1, a force of Dutch, German, Norwegian and French ships.

The UK-wide nature of this Joint Warrior – the exercise is typically, though not exclusively played out in and off Scotland – was key to expanding the training and making maximum use of assets and training ranges in the British Isles.

“As the UK and its partners are tested at sea by our adversaries, it’s critical that the UK is able to demonstrate its capabilities to deter and defend,” explained Lieutenant Commander Matthew Harvey, from the staff based at RAF St Mawgan who directed the exercise.

“Joint Warrior gives the UK and its allies the confidence that we can operate together safely and effectively, whatever the conditions, whatever the threat.”

Joint Warrior was an excellent high-end training opportunity for NATO’s Standing Naval Forces in all maritime warfare areas.

Commodore Jeanette Morang