Warships set off on exercise – for Gibraltar
Armed forces from the Westcountry are at the forefront of a major exercise and show of force for which Gibraltar will be the first port of call.
Plymouth-based warship HMS Bulwark will lead the Cougar 13 deployment, backed up by Devonport dock mate HMS Montrose, thousands of Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines.
Brigadier Stuart Birrell, Commander of Plymouth headquarted 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, said the exercise provided a "superb opportunity" to demonstrate their capability and capacity.
"Operating in a wide variety of countries across the Mediterranean and Gulf region, the task group will engage in capacity building and defence engagement with a range of partner nations, in some truly outstanding exercises. A demanding and ambitious deployment, we will look forward to the challenges and opportunities that Cougar '13 presents."
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The first call for the fleet is Gibraltar, currently at the heart of increasing tensions between the UK and Spanish Governments.
The Ministry of Defence said nothing should be read into this as the stopover had been planned for a long time.
After a number of other visits, the first major exercise for the force will be Albanian Lion in the Adriatic, a "high tempo" training session in which personnel will work with Albania's armed forces.
The ships will then sail through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf where the focus will transfer to the series of exercises with UK allies in the Gulf region; alongside Army and RAF units.
The Royal Marines contingent will include elements of 42 Commando, 30 Commando IX Group, the information exploitation unit, and 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, all based in Plymouth.
North Devon-based units the Commando Logistics Regiment and 24 Commando Engineer Regiment will also take part, as will elements of squadrons from RNAS Culdrose and Yeovilton.
Commodore Paddy McAlpine, who will command the UK Task Group, from HMS Bulwark, said: "Cougar 13 is a bespoke opportunity to enhance the Royal Navy's enduring core skill – the ability to operate and project power as a task group at range."
Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said: "Since its creation under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Response Force Task Group has demonstrated its formidable strength and readiness to respond to emerging threats worldwide through a number of operations and exercises. This now routine and long-planned deployment will demonstrate once again its ability to operate as a rapid reaction force on behalf of the UK and, importantly, underlines the global reach and flexibility of the modern Royal Navy."
The majority of the task group is due home to the UK in December, although HMS Montrose is one of three ships due to remain east of Suez to patrol shipping lanes and deter piracy.