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Ten-day major Baltic workout begins for seven Royal Navy warships

Seven Royal Navy warships are geared up for the largest naval workout in the Baltic this year.

Destroyer HMS Defender provides the firepower and leading-edge technology, while six of the smallest craft in the Royal Navy’s inventory – Archer, Charger, Explorer, Exploit, Ranger and Smiter – provide the speed, agility and numbers to swarm around participants in Baltops 22.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, BALTic OPerationS tests the ability of NATO and its partner nations to safeguard the region and maintain freedom and security of sea lanes.

This year 16 nations are due to take part in the ten-day exercise ¬– committing more than 45 ships, 75 aircraft and 7,000 military personnel – which is hosted by Sweden and begins tomorrow.

To demonstrate their swarm credentials, the P2000 boats of the Coastal Forces Squadron subjected Defender plus Lithuanian, Latvian and Norwegian ships – all Joint Expeditionary Force partner nations – to concerted ‘attacks’.

Similar swarm attacks will be the Coastal Forces vessels’ ‘party trick’ when Baltops moves into dynamic phase.

The exercise forms the crux of a two-month deployment by the half-dozen P2000s – the first time the squadron has been able to visit the Continent since the pandemic.

In the past few years, the RN’s small boat flotilla has been transformed its old name of 1st Patrol Boat Squadron replaced by the historic Coastal Forces Squadron, its role shifting from giving undergraduates a taste of life with University Royal Navy Units to front-line operational roles, such as protecting Gibraltar’s territorial waters, helping train NATO ships for missions and patrolling home waters as required.

The boats are normally crewed by a core of five sailors, but have welcomed an eclectic mix of additional crew aboard for the Baltic mission.

The sextet have embarked an array of trainee warfare officers – some in the early stages of their education, others about to be tested to become qualified Officers of the Watch; despite a P2000’s size, the principles of watchkeeping are exactly the same as on a frigate, carrier and even submarine.

Their size also allows visits to ports not called at by larger warships – which means crew do not have the detailed navigation information available for those bigger harbours, while the ability to understand a chart and visualise it in real life is a skill which takes time.

This deployment marks the end of months of planning, allowing us to deploy and engage with multiple navies.

Lieutenant Martin Head

The boats also need no help with tugs – so trainees can practise berthing and casting off. As with navigation, the principles are the same, only the scale is different from a frigate or destroyer.

Also earning their spurs are a small group of weapons engineers who’ve joined the deployment while waiting for their first major assignments.

With no weapons engineering ‘department’ on such a small craft, they’ve joined in general engineering and seamanship duties - something they will rarely get to do.

“This deployment marks the end of months of planning, allowing us to deploy and engage with multiple navies,” said Lieutenant Martin Head, in command of HMS Exploit.

“There have been some fantastic and rewarding days – such as training with our Joint Expeditionary Force partners, allowing us to improve our capability together – and fantastically warm welcomes in some truly fantastic cities: Antwerp, The Hague, Hamburg, Copenhagen.”

All six boats have embarked students from University Royal Naval Units for longer exposure to life at sea; they’re responsible for defence engagement during some of the port visits, ordering food supplies, helping out on the upper deck and, as they grow in confidence, taking the helm.

And for the first time a dedicated chef has joined for the deployment with CS Adams has from minehunter HMS Ledbury loaned to Exploit.

Traditionally, the executive officer cooks for his or her shipmates on a P2000; the addition of a chef frees them up for planning and watchkeeping… and the top-notch meals served up is a boost to morale.

Another novelty for this deployment is the presence of a mobile workshop to meet the six vessels’ engineering needs: a container strapped to a trailer hauled by an HGV.

It joined the six boats in Warnemünde, northeast Germany, to support their mid-deployment short maintenance spell ahead of Baltops.

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