HMS Dragon faces a demanding two-week workout as she joins the French Navy’s biggest exercise of the year.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer takes her place alongside 25 other warships, support vessels and submarines from half a dozen navies for a two-week test of the French fleet – and the ability of its allies to operate side-by-side in Exercise Polaris 21.
It’s the third time this autumn the Royal Navy and Marine Nationale have worked together: the first saw Dragon tested on and above the water by French ‘attacks’ off Brittany, followed by support vessel FS Garonne testing her towing abilities by practicing hauling assault ship HMS Albion.
Polaris – Préparation Opérationnelle en Lutte aéromaritime, Résilience, Innovation et Supériorité (Operational readiness in naval-air warfare, resilience, innovation and superiority ¬– is an unparalleled workout for the French Navy in every aspect of combat at sea: carrier operations, anti-submarine warfare, mine clearance, amphibious landings, as well as cyber threats and the latest drone tech.
On top of that the Marine Nationale is keen to test its ability to ‘plug and fight’ with its allies.
While France provides the bulk of participants in two tasks, headed by her flagship aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle, Spain, Italy, Greece, the USA have all thrown their hats in the ring with the Royal Navy to get the most out of the exercise.
In all, more than 6,000 personnel, two dozen ships, one nuclear submarine, Navy Rafale jets, French land and air forces are involved in Polaris, which is split between the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
The international force will spend the first week ‘warming up’: getting to know each other and their methods of operating, before Polaris shifts gear into a more demanding test of all participants, focused on the Charles de Gaulle battle group.