Two Royal Navy Sea King Mk7s visited the home of the French Navy’s carrier strike jets to practice skills required for when HMS Queen Elizabeth and her F-35s enter service.
Exercise Skinner’s Gold saw 849 Naval Air Squadron send two Sea King Mk7s across the Channel to France, however it is understood that one developed a serious gear box oil leak. According to the Ministry of Defence:
“The crew set it down on the outskirts of Brignogan-Plages, 20 miles northeast of Brest and a dozen from its destination, slap bang in a field where holidaymakers are warned not to camp.
Far from admonishing the fliers, locals – led by the mayor – were quickly on the scene, offering the crew food and drink, before French commandos guarded the site overnight while spare parts were flown over from Culdrose. 849’s engineers had the helicopter fixed and ready to take her place in the exercise within 24 hours.
The Baggers serve both as the Navy’s airborne early warning against air attack and the long-range eyes helping to direct friendly aircraft on to targets, be they enemy fighters or armour and troop concentrations on the ground – so powerful is the radar and the software fitted aboard the veteran helicopter it’s equally adept looking up or down.”
Observer Lt Ben Selwood said:
“Their pilots and crews were able to impart invaluable knowledge about live CSG operations and current tactics. With the Queen Elizabeth and F-35 Lightning now looming large on the horizon, these are vital preparations for the Royal Navy.
For us, this was a rare opportunity for the Royal Navy’s only airborne fighter controllers to work with maritime fourth-generation fighters.”
According to a Royal Navy press release:
“The first week gave the crews the chance to control many different tactical scenarios including air interdiction – guiding friendly fighters on to enemy fighters – and ‘air policing’, maintaining no-fly zones as British jets did over southern Iraq in the 1990s, for example.
Thanks to a data link, the Sea King crews were able to provide fighter pilots with all the information they needed about what was happening in the sky, on land and on the sea – giving them the upper hand when they entered the fight.”
Lieutenant Clark said:
“What a great chance to come to France and train with some of our closest allies. The opportunity to hone my fighter control skills with such advanced aircraft was incredibly challenging but also very rewarding.
I’m extremely proud to have completed my training as a fully-qualified observer. These are great times.”
The Sea King force will shortly pass on this skill set to the new Crowsnest Merlin.