Royal Navy warships from Portsmouth lead Baltic task group in show of force to Russia
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Frigates HMS Lancaster and Westminster are spearheading the security force of half a dozen military vessels in the region.
Supported by tanker RFA Tiderace and warships from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the mission is the latest display of the UK’s on-going pledge to provide security and stability in the Baltics, which has faced an increased threat from Russia.
The deployment is another test of elements of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force – a partnership of nine northern European nations committed to working together on operations as varied as warfighting through to humanitarian assistance and defence engagement.
‘Some of the UK’s closest and most steadfast Allies are found in the Baltics. This deployment is both the latest example of a long and proud history of defence cooperation and a clear demonstration of the capability of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force,’ said defence secretary Ben Wallace.
‘As the first maritime patrol of made up of exclusively JEF nations, we are ensuring our ships and people are ready to operate in challenging conditions alongside our Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Swedish allies.’
The Royal Navy ships have been joined by Estonian minelayer Wambola, Latvian patrol vessel Jelgava, and from Lithuania minelayer Jotvingis and patrol ship Selis, plus aircraft from the Swedish Air Force.
The focus of the deployment is to provide maritime security and protect freedom of navigation rights in the Baltics.
‘It is a real privilege to command the first task group of this type and I have been impressed by the capabilities on display from our partner nations,’ said Commander Will Blackett, captain of Portsmouth-based Lancaster, which is flagship of the naval force.
‘My ship’s company are continuing to deliver success on operations against the hugely challenging backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.’
The task force have been carrying out a series of drills and manoeuvres to get used to working as a united team.
‘It is hugely exciting to be working with allied navies on live operations and a real privilege for me to experience,’ said HMS Lancaster warfare specialist Able Seaman James Hearn.
Lancaster’s Wildcat helicopter is flying patrols by day and night, in particular making use of its cutting-edge thermal imaging camera to refine identifying shipping in the Baltic, as well as practising secondary duties such as search and rescue and winching.
The British ships underwent a week of ‘full-throttle’ individual and combined training in the North Sea on their way to join their Baltic allies.
The workout has covered firefighting, medical training, damage control, ships sailing in close formation, refuelling at sea, gunnery, air defence, and intensive training with helicopters.