Exercise Tamber Shield saw four RN Wildcat helicopters deployed in Norway to develop tactics for the use of Martlet and Sea Venom missiles against fast attack craft.
The Wildcats from 815 Naval Air Squadron and 90 aircrew and support personnel were dispatched from RNAS Yeovilton to Haakonsvern naval base, southwest of Bergen for a 2-week exercise with the Royal Norwegian Navy.
The fjords and complex geography of the region are an ideal environment for fast attack craft operations. For the exercise, two RN P200 boats, HMS Pursuser and HMS Archer were joined by Norwegian Skjold-class stealth corvettes to act as the ‘red force’ opposition for the Wildcats. The objective was to develop search and destroy tactics for the new Martlet and Sea Venom weapon systems, although this was not a live fire exercise and no weapons were released.
The Martlet (or Lightweight Multi-Role Missile) is a laser-designated weapon with a 3kg warhead primarily intended to counter small surface craft and boat swarms. The Wildcat can carry up to 20 Martlets loaded in panniers under the weapon wing mounts fitted on either side of the aircraft, although aerodynamic issues mean it is currently only cleared to carry 10.
Sea Venom is a light anti-ship missile with a range of more than 20 km and designed to counter small combatants up to the size of a corvette or light frigate. Although Initial Operating Capability was declared for Sea Venom in 2021, so far the RN has not publicly announced any live firings and Wildcats carrying the weapon have only been photographed on rare occasions.
While in Norway, the Wildcats accumulated a combined total of 200 flying hours. Aircrew were put through their paces with immersive and realistic training, significantly improving the Wildcat’s ability to hunt and destroy fast patrol boats attempting to hide amongst mountains, islands and inlets.
Recognising the NATO and the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) commitment to defend Europe’s Northern Flank, it is important for as many units and specialists within the RN to have experience of operating in the high north and Arctic environment. This skill set is also relevant to the RN’s ability to operate defensively in the inshore waters around the UK, something that is not frequently rehearsed.
The P2000’s of the Coastal Forces Squadron have been deployed increasingly further afield to provide training opportunities and experience for junior officers. In February four boats, HMS Smiter, Puncher, Archer and Pursuer began the long journey from Portsmouth to Norway. This is the first time P2000s have gone this far north or operated in the Arctic Circle. In March they participated in amphibious exercise Joint Viking and Joint Warrior, together with HMS Albion, RFA Mounts Bay, Norwegian and Dutch forces.
Crews from other P2000s were flown out and rotated for the return journey with HMS Pursuer and Archer remaining in Norway for exercise Tamber Shield. They are now in the Baltic Sea, along with HMS Charger, for exercise Aurora 23 with Swedish Forces and NATO BALTOPS exercise to follow.
In an alternative scenario, the Wildcats acted as scouts for the Norwegian vessels, providing targeting data while the corvette itself remained hidden amongst the natural features to avoid detection.