Ex Cougar 12, Commandos Get to Grip with Fast Roping

Ex COUGAR 12 was the deployment of a Maritime Task Group element of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG). Its primary purpose was to generate and maintain contingent capability whilst supporting defence engagement and regional capacity building. It also provided an excellent opportunity to conduct joint operations with the US, French and Albanian Armed Forces in addition to developing the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) concept. Training in the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas saw the Task Group link up with the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle and carrying out large scale amphibious landings. COUGAR 12 will seek to build on the operational lessons identified from Ex COUGAR 11 in addition to the training objectives achieved during Ex COLD RESPONSE and Ex JOINT WARRIOR earlier this year. Aviation is essential to the RFTG and JHC supported the exercise with 2 x Apache, 2 x CH47 Chinook Mk2, 4 x Sea King Mk4 and 2 x Lynx Mk7 embarked on HMS ILLUSTRIOUS. The Commando Helicopter Force provided a command element in the form of Joint Helicopter Force (Cougar) (JHF(C)) embarked on HMS BULWARK. The exercise provided the JHF(C) with a consolidated period of training at range from the UK and represented a significant step forward in the recovery of contingent and Littoral Manoeuvre capability.

Helicopters from 845 and 846 NASs trained hard aboard HMS Illustrious, as it steamed towards warmer climes.

Since leaving UK waters every opportunity was taken to further hone the fighting capability of the ship, its Sqns and the embarked Royal Marines. CHF aircraft provided vital troop lift capabilities throughout the exercise. During a dynamic flying programme, Royal Marines from `Yankee Company’ 45 Cdo grasped an opportunity to re-acquaint themselves with Fast Roping training from the Sea Kings.

“For the aircrew it provided an ideal opportunity to practice one of its ‘secondary’ roles. Roping is a skill that aircrew have to practice in order to be ‘current’ and add to their level of mission flexibility and capability”, said Lt Mark Halford of 845 NAS, one of the CHF pilots currently embarked.

The Marines have to practice roping to stay in date; three descents to get qualified and be current. Each descent gradually increased in height and the amount of kit each man has to carry, until they are descending with weapons and full kit, just as they would for real should the skill be called upon.

Lt Halford further explained, “Fast roping is one of those exercises that all the Marines who get involved will generally enjoy. Given that it has real training value it is a very under-practised skill, especially to a ship”.

Sgt Karl Lockhart, Troop Sgt of 4 Troop Y Coy 45 Cdo RM added, “This is a great opportunity to practice fast roping with the Sea King. We know for real it’s an excellent way to insert a lot of people onto the target rapidly. Everyone enjoyed it today. As we say in the Marines; train hard fight easy!”

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