Falmouth-based RFA Argus has recently emerged from a year-long refit in her home port and, after helping Fleet Air Arm air and ground crews earn their sea legs and learn the arts of operating and maintaining hi-tech naval helicopters at sea, is now at the heart of the amphibious task force deployed to the Baltic for two months.
That deployment is led by flagship HMS Albion, which has a substantial flight deck, but no hangar.
So the wings of the Royal Marines – the Commando Helicopter Force and its Merlin Mk4 troop carriers (845 Naval Air Squadron) and recce/intelligence gathering Wildcats (847 NAS) – are embarked in Argus for the duration of Baltic Protector 2019.
The deployment is the first test of the RN-led international Joint Expeditionary Force, which has a British amphibious task group at its heart, sucking in ships, aircraft, helicopter, troops and armour from up to eight other allied nations all with shorelines on either the Baltic or North Seas.
“Although Argus has conducted exercises and providing training support both for the Fleet Air Arm and military medics – she doubles up as a casualty treatment ship thanks to an impressive suite of hospital facilities
It’s already completed training off the west coast of Denmark, with Argus’ air group supporting Royal Marines of 45 Commando and 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group conduct raids around the port of Esbjerg.
For 845 NAS in particular the deployment with Argus is returning to its roots after 15 years in Iraq and Afghanistan; CHF’s Merlin fleet is being adapted for amphibious/seagoing operations once again, with green Mk3 (designed for the battlefield) being turned into ‘marinised’ Mk4s (grey livery, folding tail and main rotor) better suited to operating from and being maintained aboard RN and RFA vessels.
Although Argus has conducted exercises and providing training support both for the Fleet Air Arm and military medics – she doubles up as a casualty treatment ship thanks to an impressive suite of hospital facilities – she hasn’t been dispatched on an operation since helping to rid Sierra Leone of the deadly Ebola virus over the winter of 2014-15.
She and the rest of the group are now preparing for the next stage of the deployment, the biggest war games of the year in the region, Baltops 2019, run by the US Navy.