Amphibious support ship RFA Lyme Bay has arrived in the Middle East ready to throw her weight behind the biggest war game Britain has held in the region in more than 15 years.
The 16,000-tonne ship has enjoyed an action-packed 5,000-mile journey from Falmouth to the new port of Duqm in Oman, where Britain has permanent facilities to support her naval operations in the region.
The man-made port, which has turned a fishing village into a sizeable town in barely a decade, is the hub of naval operations for Saif Sareea 3, an unfrequent but large-scale Anglo-Omani exercise aimed at testing the two nations’ armed forces ability to fight side-by-side in the unforgiving Middle East environment.
There’s a substantial Royal Marines amphibious element to the exercise, which begins later this month, involving flagship HMS Albion backed up by Lyme Bay, whose command facilities were enhanced ahead of Saif Sareea (Swift Sword) to improve her ability to conduct and direct complex amphibious operations.
Both ships have been testing their commandos on the way to Oman: Albion in Borneo, Lyme Bay in Albania.
Lyme is packed with equipment, boats, vehicles and numerous personnel from 40 Commando, based near Taunton, the elite 539 Assault Squadron, with its hovercraft and fast Offshore Raiding Craft gunboats, a Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron, all making for an extra 350 men and women aboard (normally the ship’s company is just 60 strong).
Destroyer HMS Dragon – beginning a tour of duty in the Gulf – joined the auxiliary for the passage through the Suez Canal and down through the Red Sea hotspot of the Bab el Mandeb Strait.
As east of Suez is an operational theatre, the ship must be ready to defend herself against any eventuality; that means the Phalanx automated Gatling gun is fully operational and gunnery teams can react in a flash with machine-guns, miniguns and the main 30mm cannon should the announcement ‘Quickdraw’ sound – suggesting armed fast craft are approaching.
The two British vessels parted company in the Gulf of Aden after taking on fuel from the American support ship USNS Henry J Kaiser before Dragon sped off to begin maritime security patrols along the ‘Hashish Highway’ between Yemen and Somalia… leaving Lyme Bay to face the edge of tropical cyclone Luban on her own.
Captain David Buck RFA, Lyme Bay’s Commanding Officer, said his ship’s company had gone through an “intense period of regeneration” and were now ready to play their “crucial role” in the Anglo-Omani exercise, particularly after the workout in Albania presented her.
“Over recent years, the Bay class have become frequent visitors to Albanian shores which provide an excellent training environment for our forces both at sea and on land,” he said.
“Albanian Lion 2018 again proved a challenging test and a most valuable amphibious training opportunity.
“Having made a safe transit through the Suez Canal followed by a brief skirmish with tropical storm Luban, Lyme Bay is well placed for the challenge of Saif Sareea 3.”