16 NAVY NEWS, MARCH 2011
IN AN iPod, iPad, iPhone world, perhaps it was inevitable. The Fleet Air Arm too is going touch screen.
This is the command console for the next-generation Merlin – featuring next-generation controls.
Where a decade or so ago tracker balls and keyboards were a leap forward, now it’s touch-screen displays,
monitor – and a new secondary display – to track targets as the helicopter goes a-hunting. The new mission command system is just one of the changes sweeping through the Merlin force as 30 Mk1 aircraft are turned into Mk2s by defence giants Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland in a £750m upgrade. Outwardly, the Mk2 is pretty much identical to the Mk1 which has been in service with the Royal Navy for more than a decade. But in the ever-changing worlds
of warfare and technology what was state of the art in 2000 can look like state of the Ark in 2010. In particular the revamped Merlin will be better able to deal with submarine operations closer to shore, rather than the deep oceans which have been the traditional domain of anti- submarine warfare.
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The gentle touch of command
beyond its original anti-submarine warfare mission,
concerted counter-piracy and counter-terrorism mission in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.
The Mk2 is being beefed up to meet the demands of that east of Suez role – improved night vision goggles and fast roping kit for Royal Marine boarding teams, and an M3M machine-gun. It’s also receiving improved radar to better track inshore targets for surface, rather than sub-surface, roles. The second generation Merlin is also expected to carry up to 16 troops or 12 casualties by stripping out the consoles and standard weapon systems and replacing them with seats or stretchers, depending on the mission. For Search and Rescue sorties, a new location system is being fi tted. The fi rst prototype Mk2 fl ew in
Yeovil at the tail end of last year; a second trials version is now airborne and two more will be in the skies of Somerset in a matter of weeks.
In addition to the leaps in technology between the Mk1 and Mk2, the new variant is seen as a much more versatile helicopter. That’s not to say the current aircraft is a ‘one-trick pony’ – it’s being used on sorties which go far
The quartet will spend the rest of the year undergoing thorough fl ight trials around Yeovil before being handed over to the experts at Boscombe Down to evaluate the new mission systems next year. In all, the four new Merlins will undergo around 750 hours of testing in UK skies over the next two and a half years
The Mk2 will be fully operation and in front-line service with 814, 820, 824 and 829 Naval Air Squadrons by the end of 2014. Picture: Lockheed Martin
Marines mark centenary
A CENTURY of Royal Marine aviation will be celebrated in May. All serving and retired RM aircrew (pilots, gunners,
aircrewmen) and anyone outside the Corps who’s flown with the Commando Air Troops, 3 Cdo Bde Air Squadron (3 BAS) or 847 NAS are invited to the dinner in the wardroom of RNAS Yeovilton on May 6.
door gunners and observers, air
The following day the air base holds a reunion for 3 BAS personnel and their families. The events mark the centenary of the first Royal to earn his flying certificate (the trailblazer was one Lt Eugene Gerrard RMLI, who qualified on May 2 1911 – one of the first four Senior Servicemen to volunteer for flying duties). Details at www.flyingmarines.
...but in a city for which Britons have sacrifi ced so much blood, sweat and tears over the past decade, Lt Cdr Mike Jones-Thompson is not only the last British sailor, but the last British Serviceman in Iraq’s second city. Having captured Basra from Saddam Hussein’s forces back in 2003 – thanks in no small part to 3 Commando Brigade’s assault on the Al Faw peninsula and crucial air support from Fleet Air Arm helicopters – the city became the centre of British efforts to stablise southern Iraq for the next half-dozen years. When the bulk of UK forces pulled out of Iraq nearly two years ago, a residue of Royal Navy personnel was left behind – chiefl y training the Iraqi Navy and Marines in Umm Qasr. And in Basra itself, one liaison offi cer was assigned to the US Army Division in southern Iraq. Today that offi cer is the 45-year-old sailor from Portsmouth.
WELL obviously not the last man in Basra, because that would make it a very strange place...
For Brits who’ve served in Basra, they’ll fi nd much has
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Last man in Basra
● Lt Cdr Jones-Thompson in front of the Basra command centre and (above) the naval offi cer accompanies an Iraqi soldier and Spc Raymond Quintanilla of the US 1st Infantry Division
Pictures: Shane Wilkinson
changed in the eight years since Saddam Hussein was toppled. Basra airport now operates
regular civilian fl ights (4,000 passengers a month) throughout the Middle East – something it’s not done since before the fi rst Gulf War – while the Shatt Al Arab Hotel which served as the HQ of British forces has been turned into the command centre for all Iraq’s emergency services and army.
As for the city itself, says Lt Cdr Jones-Thompson, “prosperity and trade are returning, the port has been cleared of all the war debris and there is a feeling from the people that their own destiny is in their hands.”
The two oil platforms in the
northern Gulf, which have been the focal point for RN operations ever since the 2003 war – and which account for well over 80 per cent of Iraq’s wealth – are
Dutch rig run
DUTCH sailors practised the art of replenishment at sea with their RN counterparts – without getting their feet wet. Ten Cloggies (official Jackspeak term for our Dutch brethren – Ed) headed to HMS Raleigh in Torpoint and the establishment’s well-used RAS rig.
The rig is used to teach RN and RFA
personnel the art of a replenishment at sea – a fundamental operation for any naval force with blue water aspirations. The Raleigh rig comprises the upper deck of a
warship and an auxiliary, roughly 50ft apart, with trainees expected to RAS as they would for real – firing gunlines and the like – tranferring stores, fuel, even people (the latter, admittedly, is very rarely used at sea these days). Dutch sailors regularly make use of Raleigh’s
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facilities – principally its damage control and firefighting school – when their ships are being put through the rigmarole of Operational Sea Training across the water in Devonport. In this instance seamanship specialists undergoing an eight-month course with a view to promotion in the Royal Netherlands Navy were given RAS training by WO Dave Deakin, Raleigh’s seamanship training officer, and his team.
The training the British instructors deliver is the same for all NATO sailors – making it easier for Allied warships to work together – and encompasses the basics of RASing, as well as some of the safety issues the trainees must be aware of.
bearing fruit. Infrastructure – bridges, hospitals, port facilities and the like – are being rebuilt or restored under the supervision of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams after decades of neglect under Saddam, and a lot of work has been done to assist the local police force, thanks in no small part to the hotel-turned- headquarters.
Centre is at the centre of bringing back normality to the people – since the provincial elections in 2009 the violence has been getting less and less,” says Lt Cdr Jones-Thompson. “It is now at its lowest point and security is no longer the main concern of the Baswarians, this is the lack of continuous electrical power.” And aside from the daily strains of call to prayer drifting across Basra, if you listen carefully you might just hear the Pompey Chimes. The naval offi cer is an ardent Portsmouth fan and thanks to the wonders of satellite TV he’s even managed to catch a couple of games has tried to encourage the American Army and locally-employed staff to support the Blues and sing their famous anthem... With thanks to Dennis Barnes.
“The Joint Operational
Picture: Dave Sherfield, HMS Raleigh
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