HMS Illustrious Fends Off Air Attacks amid Middle Eastern Exercise
- Training & Education
HMS Illustrious has had to fend off a succession of attacks from Omani jets off the coast of Oman during the opening stages of the last major exercise by the UK’s amphibious task group east of Suez.
The veteran warship was expected not just to thwart the attackers, but put Royal Marines ashore on the sands of Oman during the eight-day exercise, Omani Cougar.
The Royal Omani Air Force provided some of the ‘opposition’, sending its Jaguar and Hawks to attack Illustrious – one of the ‘high value assets’ during the exercise which had to be protected at all costs.
As one of the largest vessels in the Fleet – 22,000 tonnes, nearly 650ft long – the helicopter carrier presented a substantial target to the attacking bombers.
Omani warships provided the outer layer of defence for the duration of the exercise – and proved to be extremely effective.
But to ensure the carrier’s weapons systems, gunners, stokers and bridge team were also tested, some of the bombers got through.
All four Olympus gas turbines were cranked up to full power – pushing the carrier through the Arabian Sea at over 28 knots.
In addition to evasive manoeuvres, the ship has automated and manual guns to knock aircraft and missiles out of the sky.
Illustrious’ most effective defensive shield are Goalkeepers, seven-barrelled Gatling Guns which can track up to 15 targets at the same time, deciding which ones are the most dangerous before engaging them at ranges up to 1,500 metres (just short of a mile).
“Over the course of Omani Cougar, we had air defence exercises almost every day,” said Lieutenant Commander Steve Munday, whose weapon engineering department is responsible for the ship’s weapon systems and sensors.
“The Jaguars were good as they fly in much faster than the Hawks we usually exercise with during training in the UK.”
As for the wider benefits of Omani Cougar, Illustrious’ Commanding Officer Capt Mike Utley said he’d been “tremendously impressed” by the eight-day workout.
“Our hosts planned a very-well-thought-out exercise to meet specific objectives, which they executed in a very professional manner indeed,” he added.
“It has been a genuine pleasure to meet so many of our Omani colleagues and strengthen our bonds with one of our closest allies.”
Royal Omani Navy ships Al Muazzar, Al Munassir, Al Najah, Al Sharqayah and Al Mussandam as well as a contingent from the Royal Omani Coastal Regiment joined Royal Navy vessels for the exercise, led by flagship HMS Bulwark, and supported by amphibious vessel RFA Mounts Bay.
Omani Cougar concluded with a large maritime and amphibious demonstration to high profile military figures from both countries including: General Sir Richard Barrons (Commander Joint Force Command) and Lieutenant General Simon Mayall (Defence Senior Advisor Middle East), as well as Jamie Bowden, Britain’s Ambassador to Oman.
Press Release, October 31, 2013; Image: Royal Navy