PHOTO: Second-largest maritime exercise in the world completed in Middle East

The second-largest naval exercise in the world has ended across the Middle East.

Royal Navy

In size and scale, International Maritime Exercise (IMX), which ran for 18 days across the vast expanse of the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the Gulf, was billed as second only to the huge, long-standing, naval exercise run by the Americans in the Pacific.

More than 7,000 personnel from 50 nations with two dozen ships and a similar board and search teams committed to IMX and, although the focus was principally on naval warfare, the RAF also provided aerial support from Cyprus.

Participants tackled potential threats as varied as terrorism, smuggling, sea mines and aerial drone attacks.

All the UK’s Gulf-based ships, supported by expert dive/bomb disposal teams flown out from the UK, Royal Marines boarding and search specialists, drone operators and medics, were committed to the exercise.

There was also a strong emphasis on remote and autonomous systems and how they will be integrated. The exercise explored the envelope of existing kit, with 700X Naval Air Squadron operating the Royal Navy’s dedicated crewless Puma drone as a flying ‘spotter’.

Some 30 different autonomous systems were in action during IMX. In the Gulf of Aqaba, Jordan, a dummy ‘casualty’ was transferred from a ship to medics ashore using a MARTAC T-38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vessel – the first time a drone has been used in a medical evacuation training scenario.

For the first time in the Middle East, the world’s longest-range electric aircraft, the K1000ULE surveillance drone, capable of missions lasting more than one day, was given a run out.

For the Royal Navy, support ship RFA Cardigan Bay served as the floating testbed for a string of technology trials, led by the Royal Navy’s new Mine Hunting Capability (MHC) which is a remote/autonomous system capable of conducting many roles currently performed by existing Hunt and Sandown-class minehunters.

Cardigan Bay also directed mine-hunting exercises involving HMS Chiddingfold, Bangor and Middleton.

South Korean mine warfare expert Lieutenant Jeong Won Kim also joined Cardigan Bay for the duration of IMX, to see how the UK and other partner nations hunt underwater explosive devices, especially the growing exploitation of drones and crewless systems.

“The exercise has been interesting,” he said.

“The objective of operations is similar to the Korean Navy but different ways are used to achieve the objective. It’s been good to learn about the different ways.”

After Cardigan Bay, the largest UK participant of the exercise was frigate HMS Lancaster which served as a training ground for other international participants to board and search her for suspicious individuals and illegal cargo.