Two unmistakeable silhouettes.
On the left a Bay-class support ship. On the right, a US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt making a pass as British and American forces combine for training in the Gulf.
RFA Cardigan Bay led three RN minehunters (Middleton, Chiddingfold and Bangor) into Neptune’s Kilt – a combined British-US Navy-US Air Force workout largely focused on dealing with mines… but with the added frisson of jets.
The latter were supplied by the US Air Force’s 75th Air Expeditionary Fighter Squadron: four A-10s, more at home on the battlefield than over the ocean.
Even without lightning, Thunderbolts – generally better known by their ‘Warthog’ nickname – are very, very frightening: it’s the go-to machine of choice when the US military needs to knock the stuffing out of enemy ground forces, especially armour.
The qualities which make the A-10 such a renowned tankbuster – maneuverability at low speeds/altitude, highly accurate weapons-delivery involving a varied payload of bombs, missiles, rockets and guns, the ability to ‘loiter’ for a long time and a lethal payload of guns, bombs – make the battle-hardened jet capable of providing air-to-surface support over the waves.
The Warthogs shared Gulf skies with two mighty MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters – used by the US Navy to haul sweeping kit through the water and clear patches of sea of a mine threat – while minehunter USS Dextrous and destroyer USS Paul Hamilton made the final pieces of the Neptune Kilt jigsaw.
The 12-day exercise built on lessons learned earlier this year when the British, French and US Navies combined to share skills.
‘Hostile forces’ peppered key sea routes with mines; the UK-US force was expected to clear them, allowing the safe passage of merchant shipping once more.
To this bread-and-butter mine warfare operation were added attacks by ‘enemy’ vessels to keep the warships on their toes… and later the Warthogs weighed in, forcing crews to deploy new tactics not routinely used during peacetime.
The British participants also hosted six guests from the US Naval Academy (the equivalent of the Royal Navy’s Britannia Royal Naval College).
The trainee US Navy officers lived and worked alongside British sailors, learning more about their daily routines and some of the different ways the Royal Navy works compared with their own.
Officer Cadet Sam Clyburn, who worked alongside the American trainees said, “I really enjoyed working with the US midshipmen. They had a good attitude and seemed to really enjoy their time with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary.”
Equally delighted with Neptune’s Kilt was Commander Richard Hurman, Commander UK Mine Countermeasures Force who was in charge of Neptune’s Kilt, including the American ships’ involvement.
“The operation was a great success and proved the UK and US can operate within a combined Task Group to deliver cohesive mine warfare operations, while reassuring our regional partners,” he said.
Captain Derek McKnight, the Royal Navy officer who is in deputy command of the US Fifth Fleet’s 5th Fleet’s mine counter-measures force in the Gulf: Task Force 52, added: “This exercise has enabled us to increase our proficiency in mine countermeasures and enhance the integration of our tactics from the air and sea.
“As a combined U.S.-UK task force it is an honour and a pleasure to work closely together.”