NATO’s Proud Manta — Navy Merlins take part in anti-submarine exercise

Two Mer­lins from 820 Naval Air Squadron have been tak­ing part in the world’s biggest anti-sub­ma­rine exer­cise, NATO’s Proud Man­ta.

Two Mer­lin heli­copters from 820 Naval Air Squadron on the hard stand­ing at Hyères French Naval Air Sta­tion in the south of France [Pic­ture: Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Dave Thomas, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The air­craft — wide­ly acknowl­edged as the world’s best sub­ma­rine-hunt­ing heli­copter — trav­elled 1,400 miles (2,250km) across Europe from their base at Roy­al Naval Air Sta­tion Cul­drose in Corn­wall to the US Naval Air Sta­tion at Sigonel­la on the island of Sici­ly to take part in the exer­cise.

The two-week-long war games, played out off the east coast of the Ital­ian island, have seen naval air and sur­face forces track­ing down sub­marines from France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey to hone their sub-hunt­ing skills, while the boats them­selves prac­tised their eva­sive skills.

Air and ground crew from 820 Naval Air Squadron — one of two Mer­lin squadrons which can deploy en masse with the Navy’s two heli­copter car­ri­ers — flew out to Sigonel­la, which is 15 miles (24km) south of Mount Etna.

Once in Sici­ly, the squadron flew their Mer­lins along­side heli­copters (includ­ing Ital­ian Mer­lins of the Mari­na Mil­itare) and fixed-wing air­craft from NATO part­ners, work­ing with NATO ships to counter under­wa­ter threats played by NATO sub­marines.

The two heli­copters notched up 66 hours of fly­ing dur­ing the exer­cise — spend­ing more time air­borne and tak­ing part in more mis­sions than any oth­er nation par­tic­i­pat­ing. And, more impor­tant­ly, they man­aged to detect — and car­ry out sim­u­lat­ed attacks against — the boats they found beneath the sea.

Thanks to its sonar, the Mer­lin is renowned for its abil­i­ty to find sub­marines which don’t want to be found — but at times the con­di­tions in the Ion­ian Sea meant the dis­tinc­tive out­line of a boat could be seen with the naked eye from an air­craft over­head.

Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Stu­art Finn, senior observ­er and the 820 Naval Air Squadron detach­ment com­man­der, said:

“Plen­ty of sim­u­lat­ed attacks were car­ried out by the Mer­lins and the air­crew gained valu­able insight into how our NATO part­ners oper­ate and also demon­strat­ed to them the awe­some sub­ma­rine-hunt­ing capa­bil­i­ty that is the Mer­lin heli­copter.

“The chal­lenges posed by oper­at­ing at a for­eign base far from home were also met with gus­to by the engi­neer­ing team, engen­der­ing a close rela­tion­ship with our Ital­ian Mer­lin col­leagues in order to pro­vide ser­vice­able air­craft for the exer­cise mis­sions.

“Proud Man­ta 2012 was an extreme­ly valu­able exer­cise for us.”

In addi­tion to the air­craft and sub­marines, a size­able force of sur­face ships took part in Exer­cise Proud Man­ta, includ­ing ves­sels from NATO’s Stand­ing Mar­itime Group 1, destroy­ers from France and Italy, an Ital­ian frigate, two Ital­ian aux­il­iary ships, a US cruis­er and destroy­er, and a NATO research ves­sel.

Cap­tain Wal­ter Luthiger of the US Navy, chief plan­ner for the exer­cise, said:

“The assets put into this year’s exer­cise real­ly allowed us to put all the play­ers through com­plex and esca­lat­ing sce­nar­ios.

“We had enough ships, planes and peo­ple engaged that we could real­ly sim­u­late plen­ty of threats — and there­fore train hard in how to work togeth­er to deal with and neu­tralise those threats.”

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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