HMS Queen Elizabeth’s official helicopter squadron has been training with the Australian Navy on demanding anti-submarine warfare missions in Scotland using Thales sonar.
Crews from Culdrose-based 820 Naval Air Squadron are normally deployed on board the Navy’s new aircraft carrier (affectionately known in the Navy as Big Lizzie). But as the ship is currently back in Portsmouth, the aircrew were able to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior, an international exercise based in Scotland.
As well as testing themselves against a variety of NATO ships and submarines, the Culdrose helicopters based themselves at Stornoway Airport on the Isle of Lewis, where for the first time they also worked alongside Seahawk submarine hunting helicopters from the Australian Navy.
The specialist Merlins of 820 Squadron are fitted with Sonar 2189, a Folding Light Acoustic System (FLASH), which includes an active sensor dipped into the water by winch to locate submarine targets.
FLASH-equipped Merlins and their highly-trained crews can operate over deep and shallow water, making them highly flexible and mobile platforms. During this recent exercise, the Navy described the Merlin as “one of the most advanced anti-submarine warfare platforms in the world.”
No 820’s Commanding Officer, Commander Jon Holroyd, said: “It’s really important for us to take part in these large scale war fighting exercises to keep our skill sets in that area honed.”
“Our day to day activity supporting HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea keeps us very busy, but it’s the results of exercises such as Joint Warrior that really prove to me that the Merlin Mk2 helicopter, and the men and women who fly it, really do provide the world class performance that the Royal Navy is renowned for.”
Petty Officer Nick Astill is an 820 Squadron engineer who detached for the entirety of the exercise to Stornoway. He said: “It was great up there. We had excellent weather and the Isle of Lewis to explore on our down time. It’s really gratifying to be a part of a large team all striving for the same goal; to hunt and destroy the submarine - which we did successfully!”
Having finished Joint Warrior, the Merlins have returned to their home base in Cornwall to prepare to return to duties on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.