HMS Bulwark leads ten-ship task group on Gulf exercise

With nine ships safely lined up behind her, Britain’s flagship HMS Bulwark leads an international task group through the heat haze over the Gulf of Oman.

Breaking away from her normal duty of directing amphibious operations with the UK’s Response Force Task Group, the assault ship has switched to tackling piracy and smuggling – all part of the world’s largest mine warfare exercise.

The Devonport-based warship has been put in charge of one three international forces which have been formed from more than three dozen vessels taking part in the International Mine Counter Measures EXercise (IMCMEX).

As its title suggests, the aim of the massive fortnight-long exercise – involving more than 40 nations and over 6,500 military personnel, around 1,500 of the British – is to ensure the world’s navies are able to work together to deal with a mine threat.

But the scope of the 2014 variant of IMCMEX, which is run around every 18 months, has been extended to escorting and defending commercial shipping, carrying out maritime security operations, protecting oil and gas rigs, and safeguarding harbours and ports.

With the exercise spread across the Gulf, Arabian Sea and Red Sea, the participating vessels have formed three ‘combined task forces’ – 521 (led by Bulwark), 522 for mine warfare and 523 protecting infrastructure. Under the charge of Bulwark and the staff of the Commander UK Task Group, Commodore Jerry Kyd are:

  • frigate HMS Northumberland
  • minehunters HMS Chiddingfold and HMS Penzance
  • amphibious support ship RFA Cardigan Bay
  • support ship RFA Fort Austin
  • American destroyer USS Sterett
  • American minehunters USS Devastator and Dextrous
  • German frigate FGS Schleswig-Holstein

Mine countermeasures and maritime security operations are about the freedom of the seas – the arteries along which the life blood of global commerce and energy flow.

Commodore Keith Blount

"This exercise demonstrates the importance of maritime security to the world’s economy," said Commodore Kyd.

"It is imperative that we have the opportunity to work together with commercial shipping companies and cooperate with international partners across the globe, in order to prove our capability to keep the sea lanes open for legitimate trade."

The senior Royal Navy officer in the region, who is part of the international team directing the exercise from Bahrain, is Commodore Keith Blount, UK Maritime Component Commander.

"This exercise will allow the Royal Navy to operate with partners and in coordination with commercial shipping, to practice skills that are among those that define its role," he says.

"Mine countermeasures and maritime security operations are about the freedom of the seas – the arteries along which the life blood of global commerce and energy flow.

"The key for me is that the exercise demonstrates that the international community is capable and ready to work together in the spirit of co-operation and partnership."

The exercise is due to run until mid-November. Once Bulwark has played her part she is resuming her Cougar 14 deployment with further exercises in the region.