RFTG Sails through Suez Canal
The Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) has sailed through the Suez Canal on its way to operate in a number of countries as part of the long planned Cougar 13 deployment.
The RFTG left UK waters in August briefly visiting Gibraltar, Rota, Lisbon and Palermo before arriving in Albania to conduct a final test of operational readiness for the Royal Marines of the Lead Commando Group, formed from 42 Commando Group Royal Marines.
The exercise Albanian Lion scenario required five Royal Navy warships and support vessels to conduct a narrow channel theatre entry and project 600 Royal Marines from sea to land in order to carry out two simultaneous assaults and a night cliff raid. To further support the Royal Marines and to sustain their projection of power inland, an aviation Forward Operating Base was established which used Royal Navy and RAF Merlin, as well as Royal Navy and Army Lynx helicopters. A Non-Combatant Evacuation exercise was also conducted in partnership with the local Foreign and Commonwealth Office – all in the space of five days.
HMS Bulwark, HMS Illustrious, HMS Westminster, RFA Lyme Bay, RFA Fort Austin and the Ministry of Defence strategic RO-RO ferry Hurst Point, carrying amphibious vehicles, transited through the narrow waterways of the Suez Canal at the mandatory 1500 yards distance. They join HMS Montrose, already in the Arabian Gulf, having sailed ahead of the Task Group to meet commitments to counter-piracy and counter-narcotics operations, in tandem with regional security partners.
Over the next three months elements of the RFTG will exercise with military and security forces in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman to strengthen British ties with historic and valued counter-terrorist, security and economic partners in the Middle East region.
It will also carry out counter-piracy operations in support of the European Union and conduct engagement with strategic partners in support of wider Government objectives.
Not all RFTG vessels have transited the Suez Canal; RFA Mounts Bay remains in the Mediterranean while supporting elements of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines on exercise Dragon Hammer in Albania but will eventually join the rest of the Task Group.
Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander United Kingdom Task Group, said: “Having successfully demonstrated our contingent capabilities and the value of engagement across the breadth of the Mediterranean over the past four weeks, everyone in the Cougar 13 Task Group is eager and ready to operate closely alongside our partners and allies to reaffirm our longstanding commitment and tangible support to the Gulf Region.”
The Cougar 13 deployment will operate in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Gulf, and Horn of Africa. It involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, commanded by Commodore Paddy McAlpine OBE ADC Royal Navy.
The RFTG is the United Kingdom’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines, at short notice to act in response to any contingency tasking if required.
Press Release, September 13, 2013; Image: Royal Navy