Britain's Naval forces are taking part in training exercises and war games alongside Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands.
Royal Navy flagship HMS Albion is leading the first test of Baltic Protector 2019, an international Joint Expeditionary Force based around a British amphibious task group in conjunction with ships, aircraft, helicopter, troops and armour from up to eight other allied nations all with shorelines on either the Baltic or North Seas.
While the Albion has a substantial flight deck it has no hangar, so is being accompanied by the newly refitted RFA Argus which will carry the Royal Marines Commando Helicopter Force and its Merlin Mk4 troop carriers (845 Naval Air Squadron) and recce/intelligence gathering Wildcats (847 NAS) for the two month deployment. The Argus will also act as a casualty vessel thanks to its hospital facilities, which were last used operationally during the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone in 2014/15.
The operation also marks a change in function for the helicopter units. The 845 NAS has spent the last 15 years deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan; while CHF’s Merlin fleet is being adapted for seagoing operations once again, from green Mk3 battlefield loadout to ‘marinised’ Mk4s with gray livery and folding tail and main rotor for more efficient use at sea.
The Baltic Protector 2019 deployment began earlier in June, with a series of training missions in Denmark. Royal Navy Commandos together with Dutch, Danish and Norwegian allies, perfected helicopter raids, urban close quarters combat, the live firing of artillery and mortars, convoy and ambush tactics, and a dusk parachute drop around the towns of Esbjerg and Varde in western Denmark. The aim was to train amphibious, naval, ground and air forces from multiple allied countries together in the western Baltic and eastern North Sea, to ensure they work seamlessly. It is popularly believed that the exercises are also intended as a show of unity and strength in the face of increased Russian activity. The group will now take part in Baltops 2019, the biggest war games in the region, run by the US Navy.