Response Force Task Group
|Response Force Task Group|
|Branch||Royal Navy and elements of the British Army|
|Role||Direct Fleet Operations|
|Part of||United Kingdom Task Group (UKTG)|
|Garrison/HQ||Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth (Staff HQ)|
|Commodore Paddy McAlpine|
The British Armed Forces Response Force Task Group (RFTG) is a new initiative announced under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and is the heart of the UK’s maritime contingent capability, held at very high readiness to respond to unexpected global events. It highlights the enduring need for the British Armed Forces to plan and train for unforeseen events that may occur in parallel with the defence main effort of current operations. The RFTG will be poised to respond to short-notice tasking across a diverse range of defence activities such as non-combatant evacuation operations, disaster relief, humanitarian aid or amphibious operations.
Commodore John Kingwell, the previous Commander UK Task Group (COMUKTG), embarked aboard his flagship HMS Albion, has said (regarding the arrival of other ships in the task force):
"With the sailing of this second group, the Response Force Task Group is at full strength, and is ideally suited to respond to the uncertainties and instabilities that currently feature on the international landscape. This Task Group can operate at sea and in the air, and we will now commence a series of exercises to test versatility of this multi-role force."
Reporter Jonathan Beale has, however, described the first deployment of the RFTG as "...a modest number of warships - five in total - ready to react to a crisis."
In April 2011, the ships and their embarked Royal Marines deployed on their first deployment named 'COUGAR 11' to develop and demonstrate contingent capability for UK defence - in effect, the ability to respond to short-notice tasking across a diverse range of defence activities such as disaster relief, humanitarian aid or amphibious operations. The lead elements of COUGAR 11 were HMS Albion, RFA Cardigan Bay and HMS Sutherland. Follow-on ships were HMS Ocean, RFA Wave Knight, RFA Mounts Bay and RFA Fort Rosalie. The deployment of the task force under 'COUGAR 11' saw them transit through the Mediterranean where they will take part in multinational amphibious exercises before moving further east through the Suez Canal for further exercises in the Indian Ocean.
The RFTG has been involved in Exercise Cypriot Lion as part of their 'COUGAR 11' deployment. During this exercise, Elements of HQ 3 Commando Brigade and a detachment from 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps were also attached to the COUGAR 11 deployment.[dead link][dead link] British Army Apache attack helicopters fired Hellfire missiles for the first time whilst flying from a Royal Navy warship. On Monday 9 May on the way to Cyprus, 7 Senior Non-Commissioned Officers and the Officer Commanding the Support Troop from 6 Assault Squadron Royal Marines on HMS Albion held a service of remembrance at the Souda Bay Commonwealth Grave site in Crete to pay tribute to their fallen colleagues to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bitter battle for the island.[dead link] The Viking armoured vehicles attached to the group also practised amphibious landings.[dead link]
On May 25, 2011, Royal Marines Armoured vehicles practice amphibious landings off Cyprus. 26, 2011, the COUGAR 11 deployment began a joint UK-Albanian military exercise, code-named 'Albanian Lion'. This is the first major joint operation between the UK and Albanian armed forces since Albania joined NATO in 2009.
On the June 3, 2011, five vessels of the Response Force Task Group temporarily were detached from the Task Group and were deployed to operations off the Libyan Coast. HMS Ocean, and her embarked Apache attack helicopters were deployed days earlier) to supplement UK forces in Operation Ellamy/Operation Unified Protector.[dead link]
By late June 2011, the COUGAR 11 task group had passed through the Suez Canal and begun Operation Red Alligator, a major maritime security and anti-piracy exercise in the Red Sea with the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia.[dead link]
On 5 August 2011, RFA Cardigan Bay and her embarked military force from 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, arrived back in Marchwood Military Port. HMS Albion, and her escorting Frigate, HMS Sutherland, both arrive back in their homeport of Plymouth on Mon 8 Aug. Despite the end of the Cougar 11 deployment then, certain elements of the RFTG were detached from the group and remained at sea in support of other operations: Helicopter carrier HMS Ocean continued to support NATO maritime operations off Libya, where she was acting as a huge floating airfield for Apache attack helicopter operations; HMS Liverpool was enforcing the blockade in support of sanctions against the Gaddafi regime; and stores ship RFA Fort Rosalie continues to support Royal Navy operations in the Mediterranean. The head of the Response Force Task Group, Commodore John Kingwell, has praised the sailors, marines, airmen and soldiers for their achievement since the start of the year.
The second deployment in 2012, COUGAR 12 saw the RFTG deploy to the Mediterranean in early October 2012,to work with elements of the French Navy's Task Force 473, the FS Charles De Gaulle carrier battle group. The purpose of the deployment was to further co-operation between the two task groups with a focus on amphibious operations. The deployment involved HMS Bulwark, HMS Illustrious, HMS Northumberland, HMS Montrose, RFA Mounts Bay and 45 Cdo RM, who are expected to return home by the end of 2012.[dead link]
COUGAR 12 was one of the largest deployments ever, consisting of:
- HMS Bulwark
- HMS Illustrious
- HMS Northumberland
- HMS Montrose
- RFA Mounts Bay
- MV Hartland Point
- Headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade
- 45 Commando (in 2012, the UK’s on-call Royal Marines unit ready to respond to world events)
- 30 Commando IX Group
- 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines
- 814 Naval Air Squadron (Merlins)
- 815 Naval Air Squadron (Lynx)
- 829 Naval Air Squadron (Merlins)
- 845 Naval Air Squadron (Commando-carrying Sea Kings)
- 846 Naval Air Squadron (Commando-carrying Sea Kings)
- 854 Naval Air Squadron (airborne surveillance and control Sea Kings)
- 656 Squadron Army Air Corps (Apache gunships)
- 659 Squadron Army Air Corps (Lynx)
The tri-service elements practised large-scale exercises in the Mediterranean, and some of the ships stopped by Gibraltar. HMS Montrose paid a visit to Algeria along the way. Albion on the other hand, stopped by Malta after Exercise Albanian Lion.
Recent and Future operations
COUGAR 13 will deploy in the summer/autumn of 2013, including sixteen Vikings from the Armoured Support Group. These vehicles will operate from RFA Mounts Bay. COUGAR 13 will consist of HMS Bulwark, where the Commander UK Task Group and his staff, along with Commander 3 Commando Brigade, will be embarked. Joining Bulwark will be helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster. The Royal Marines will be embarking on HMS Bulwark, RFA Mounts Bay RFA Cardigan Bay and RFA Lyme Bay. They consist of the nation’s Lead Commando Group, which is 42 Commando and elements of 30 Commando IX Group, while the Commando Logistics Regiment will meet all the supply and medical needs. A number of Army Commandos from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, 24 Commando Engineer Regiment and 17 Port and Maritime Regiment Royal Logistics Corps will also deploy as part of the Lead Commando Group. RFA Fort Austin will provide stores, fuel, water, and ammunition while RFA Diligence is on hand to attend to any of the Cougar 13 ship’s engineering requirements. An unsubstantiated source has stated that Special Air Service units might join the COUGAR 13 deployment. 845 NAS, part of the Commando Helicopter Force, will also join the COUGAR 13 group after Exercise Pashtun Commando in Jordan. Other assets, based on a parliamentary answer, include the Point-class sealift ship MV Hurst Point, 3 Commando Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines, Fleet Diving Group, and elements of Joint Helicopter Command (three Lynx Mk 7, three Sea King Mk4 and three Apache helicopter 64, from 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps).
Bulwark's ASRM, 4 ASRM, has trained with the Portuguese Marines while 30 Commando IX Group, the Lead Commando Group and helicopters from 814 NAS have just started Exercise Albanian Lion 13. Montrose, as well as members from 148 Battery from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, engaged in anti-surface exercises with the Hellenic Navy ship HS Kanaris. The French Navy ship FS Somme joined the RFTG, re-supplying HMS Illustrious. In September 2013, Westminster practised anti-submarine drills with the Italian Navy Sauro-class submarine Salvatore Pelosi and the Durand de la Penne-class destroyer Francesco Mimbelli. Royal Marines in the COUGAR 13 task group got to work with the new Merlin Mk3 helicopters for the first time.
Bulwark, Illustrious, frigate Westminster, amphibious support ship RFA Lyme Bay, support ship RFA Fort Austin plus MV Hurst Point are transiting through the Suez Canal for the second phase of the COUGAR 13 deployment. HMS Montrose is already in the Gulf; she sailed ahead of the bulk of the UK Response Force Task Group. They will temporarily leave behind RFA Mounts Bay which has stayed off Albania to support another, smaller scale exercise, by 3 Commando Brigade, Dragon Hammer. Flagship HMS Bulwark, Illustrious, Westminster and RFA Fort Austin linked up with Saudi supply ship HMS Boraida and two Saudi frigates HMS Makkah and Abah for Exercise Red Alligator A MV-22 Ospery from the USS Kearsarge landed on Illustrious in a joint exercise. Likewise, Lusty’s Army Air Corps Lynx and Jungly Sea King dropped in on the Kearsarge, carrying a few passengers to get a brief insight into the America LHD. A Merlin Helicopter, from 829 Naval Air Squadron, usually flown from HMS St Albans, joined the RFTG, flying from Illustrious. 42 Commando Marines, along with the Viking armoured vehicles, returned to Albania for another exercise, code name Dragon Hammer. This saw Lima Company using night-vision technology to practise moving through an underground tunnel complex at Porto Palermo, near Himarë, which once served as a base for Cold War submarine operations in the Adriatic. Their week of Dragon Hammer concluded with a company-level attack on the small island fortress of Sazan, just off the Vlorë peninsula – and also the focal point for an assault during Albanian Lion. Meanwhile, Juliet Company carried out various exercises with live ammunition – including the chance to fire the new lightweight Glock pistols being introduced across the Armed Forces – and close quarters battle through buildings. Their week drew to a close getting to grips working side-by-side with the Vikings. Mike Company, along with elements from 30 Commando IX Group, were engaged in Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan. In the Gulf of Oman, the RFTG, especially Westminster, conducted anti-submarine drills against the USS Dallas. 42 Commando, 4239 Assault Squadron, 17 Port and Maritime Regiment and the Commando Logistics Regiment have participated in Exercise Red Alligator in Saudi Arabia. HMS Quorn briefly joined the RFTG for Exercise Sea Khanjar Exercise Sea Khanjar was observed by Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Philip Jones, Commandant General Royal Marines Major General Ed Davis, Lieutenant General Mike Hindmarsh and Commander United Arab Emirates Presidential Guard Marines, Colonel A Al-Tenaji. Th fleet flagship afterwards made a port call at Dubai
It however has been reported in the Sunday Times that Exercise Djibouti Lion has been cancelled due to an effort to save money.
The United Kingdom assigns relatively significant assets to the Response Force Task Group. The RFTG composition changes, depending on the scenario and the range of assets available.[dead link] This parliamentary answer provides a rough list of assets for COUGAR 11, 12 and 13.
In the future, the RFTG will include one of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
- Precise Media Planner, Joint UK-Albanian military exercise 'Albanian Lion' begins, Precise Media Planner, May 26, 2011
- "Response Force Task Group". Homeport Magazine. Autumn 2012. p. 10.
- Ripley, T., 2013, "Huge exercise beached by lack of MOD funds", The Sunday Times, 13 October 2013, p.11