Apache, Merlin and Chinook helicopters departed helicopter carrier HMS Ocean in large numbers for Exercise Albanian Lion.
The 21,000 tonne Ocean is an amphibious assault ship and landing platform helicopter. She is designed to support amphibious landing operations and to support the staff of Commander UK Amphibious Force and Commander UK Landing Force.
Captain Rob Pedre, Captain of HMS Ocean, said:
“I am in command of a truly joint defence asset with Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and RAF personnel on board and we will work together to deliver success for the Joint Expeditionary Force.
This deployment is the culmination of a year of hard work for the ship and HMS Ocean’s ship’s company have worked tirelessly to get us to sea today; I am very proud of their efforts.
There are a mix of emotions throughout the ship; excitement at deploying to do what we joined the Royal Navy to do – go away on operations; nervousness because for some of my sailors and Royal Marines this is the first time they will have been away from home for any length of time – and sadness at leaving loved ones at home.
I have no doubt that HMS Ocean is ready to take on the challenges of the deployment, delivering operational success over the next six and a half months.”
JEF(M)16 demonstrates the ability the UK has to deploy highly effective maritime forces at short notice, anywhere in the world.
Albanian Lion is part of a series of demanding exercises in the Adriatic and the Gulf, reinforcing the UK’s relationships with allies and ensuring that the task group is ready to respond if called upon.
Commodore Andrew Burns, Commander Amphibious Task Group (COMATG), said:
“This exercise is the culmination of a period of focussed preparation at sea, in the UK and in the challenging coastal environment of our NATO ally, Albania. I am hugely impressed by the ingenuity, resilience and professional dedication shown by every sailor, marine, soldier and airman in meeting the objectives for this deployment, and it is always a huge privilege to work alongside our Albanian Armed Forces colleagues.”
HMS Bulwark’s commanding officer, Captain James Parkin, said:
“The end of this exercise sees HMS Bulwark proven as ready to play her part as the Flagship of the UK Amphibious Task Group, and of the Joint Expeditionary Force, and demonstrates our key role in the Royal Navy’s overarching mission of protecting our nation’s interests, worldwide.”
During the JEF(M)16 deployment the maritime Task Group will be joined by further Royal Navy warships and partner nations.
Commodore Burns said:
“This deployment is a hugely important task for the Royal Navy, and for Defence, demonstrating our ability to deploy and operate worldwide, engaging closely with our allies and standing ready for whatever a deployment to an area of strategic interest to the UK can present.
I know that all of the units under my command are ready to make the most of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”
HMS Ocean will take over from a US aircraft carrier towards the end of the year, taking charge of coalition naval operations against Islamic State.
It is understood she has been chosen due to her command and control capabilities, rather than aviation capabilities as the role will largely be co-ordination of operations and the fleet itself.
Last year, French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle took command of US Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 50.
The commander of the Task Force will be leading coalition naval strike operations for Operation Inherent Resolve, the purpose of which is “to fight and ultimately destroy” Islamic State.
HMS Ocean will take command of CTF 50, which plans and conducts strike operations in the US 5th Fleet area of operations, at the end of the year.
She will also provide a range of flexible and adaptable capabilities to perform theater security cooperation efforts and maritime security operations aimed at increasing the Royal Navy’s interoperability with allies in the region.
HMS Ocean is leading the Joint Expeditionary Force, a British task force which will consist of forces from Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway.
The helicopter carrier is to lead the force to the Mediterranean in before heading East to take command of CTF 50, the deployment is to replace the previous COUGAR deployments.
The aim of the JEF is to create a UK military framework, focused around its existing and upcoming British high readiness capabilities, that its partners can join up with. While it is the UK’s intention to fully integrate the UK’s JEF partners’ contributions before 2018, the JEF could deploy immediately if required. It is designed with the following requirements in mind:
“a. act jointly and with allies, but able to act alone”
“b. be well equipped, but not tied to platforms”
“c. adapt as the environment changes”