Tag: Landing

Why the Royal Navy needs HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark

HMS Albion L-14 Landing Platform Dock
HMS Bulwark L-15 Landing Platform Dock

As reports emerge that the Royal Navy could see amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark taken out of service, Forces Network has been looking at their accomplishments.

It’s said the move, which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has described as “pure speculation”, could strip the Senior Service of its ability to attack enemy-held beaches.

But what operations have the two Albion-class warships been used for in the past?

HMS Bulwark

Entering service in 2005, Bulwark left Britain early the next year for her first deployment, a six-month tasking East of Suez.

She was involved in counter-terror and counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, before heading for the Persian Gulf to provide security for Iraqi oil platforms.

In summer the next year she was diverted from near Spain to support operations evacuating British citizens from the conflict area of the 2006 Lebanon War.

On July 20, she evacuated approximately 1,300 British nationals from Beirut – the largest evacuation conducted by the UK.

Bulwark helped evacuate British nationals after the outbreak of the 2006 Lebanon War. Picture: M Asser.

Bulwark underwent her first refit in 2010 before rejoining the fleet the following year, when she took over from Albion as fleet flagship.

She carried out this role until June 2015, when it was assumed by HMS Ocean, which is to be decommissioned in spring next year.

One of her most prominent operations came about that year though, in response to the European migrant crisis.

Assisted by three Merlin helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron, she played a key part in the search and rescue operation off the Italian coast for migrants crossing from Libya, rescuing over 2,900 migrants from the sea.

It was a busy year for Bulwark. Between November and December, she helped to provide security for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Malta.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, she was mothballed, at the same time Albion emerged from refit to take on the ‘high readiness’ role.

As part of cost-cutting measures, it was decided during the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review that Albion and Bulwark would alternate between high and ‘extended’ readiness throughout their service lives.

This led to Albion being placed into a state of ‘extended readiness’ – or mothballed – in 2011.

It’s been estimated that it costs £300,000 per year to keep one of the ships at extended readiness, while high readiness costs from £18-£39 million.

HMS Albion

Albion on exercise in Norway in 2004.

The ninth ship to carry the name Albion (an ancient name for Great Britain), stretching back to a 74-gun 1763 warship, this modern warship was deployed on a multinational exercise for the first time in 2004.

She was declared fully operational after taking part in Exercise Joint Winter off Norway (see above), during which time she completed her cold weather sea trials.

It wasn’t long before she was sent on operations for real.

Albion assisted in the 50-hour evacuation of British citizens from Ivory Coast later that year after the outbreak of civil war in the country, alongside a company of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, RAF Hercules aircraft and troops from 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.

The Ivory Coast football team was ultimately credited with helping to secure a temporary truce when it qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, bringing warring parties together. Picture: Bjorn Laczay.

In 2010, Albion was sent to Santander, Spain during the air travel disruption after the volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

As part of Operation Cunningham she rescued 450 stranded forces personnel and around 280 British nationals, before heading to Portsmouth.

The following year she was deployed to waters off Libya to provide assistance to NATO’s military intervention in the country, which was ultimately to lead to the death of its long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

She then continued on to the Indian Ocean to help with anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, before being mothballed as her and Bulwark swapped roles.

 

 

 

Security concerns after hobbyist lands £300 drone on deck of Royal Navy’s new £3bn flagship

Once it is fully operational, HMS Queen Elizabeth will doubtless be the most heavily protected vessel in the Royal Navy. For now, however, it seems the £3bn pride of the British fleet is so lightly defended that a £300 drone can be landed for an unauthorised visit to the aircraft carrier’s decks.

An amateur enthusiast has told how he overflew the largest – and most expensive – warship ever built for Britain’s armed forces with his Parrot Bebop drone before briefly landing on its vast flight deck as it sat, apparently unmanned, on Cromarty Firth in the Scottish Highlands.

Security

The ability of a hobbyist to take a private and unchallenged remote-controlled tour of “Big Lizzy” will raise difficult questions about security surrounding the vessel – as well as throwing into sharp relief the fact that the carrier will not have its own complement of aircraft for authorised take-offs and landings for several years to come.

The drone pilot, who asked not be named, posted footage on Facebook of a series of flights over the carrier while it was docked at Invergordon during ongoing sea trials before it is due to arrive at its new home port of Portsmouth as early as next week.

The enthusiast told the Inverness Courier: “I was amazed that I was able to land on the aircraft carrier for two reasons, the first being that there was no-one to prevent it from landing, although there were security police around in small boats who were waving at the drone.”

High winds

The amateur flier said he had been forced to land on the deck of the ship after a warning of high winds on the control panel of his drone. He added: “I expected the deck to be steel, which would send the drone’s electronic landing systems haywire, but I was able to touch down OK and took a couple of shots.

There was absolutely no-one around when I landed, it was like a ghost ship.” The 65,000-tonne flagship, one of two super-carriers being built for the Royal Navy, has not yet been formally handed over to the military as it continues to be fine tuned by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, the consortium that is building both vessels.

Trials

Trials with the carriers’ American-built F35B “Lightning” aircraft are due to begin next year but the Queen Elizabeth is not due to be fully operational until 2021. The drone pilot said he had been so concerned about his visit to the carrier that he drove to the dockyard in an attempt to explain in person to the crew what he had been doing but was told there was no-one available because all personnel were ashore at dinner.

The hobbyist added: “The ship has not been commissioned by the Royal Navy yet and doesn’t have aircraft, so I don’t think its defence systems that could block radio signals will be fully operational. If they were, there would be no way I would get within a mile of this vessel. “But it is worth a lot of money and I suppose I could have been a Talibani or anything.”

Near misses

The incident is the latest security scare involving drones, which have been involved in multiple near misses with commercial jets landing at airports as well as criminal uses such as delivering drugs and weapons to prisons.

A Scottish MSP said he was considering tabling a question in the Edinburgh parliament about the incident. Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone said: “I think the moral of this astonishing tale is that there is a serious question about security for the Royal Navy for it would have been quite easy for someone of evil intent to do something quite serious.

Even a drone crashing into its radar could cause damage.” The Ministry of Defence said it had tightened security on the carrier following the incident.

An MOD spokesperson said: “We take the security of HMS Queen Elizabeth very seriously. This incident has been reported to Police Scotland, an investigation is underway and we stepped up our security measures in light of it.”