Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Iron Duke shows her good and bad sides in NATO's Baltic war games

20 June 2017
HMS Iron Duke played friend and foe as the largest British participant in NATO's largest workout in the Baltic.

For the third year in a row the Portsmouth frigate joined warships, troops and air power from more than a dozen nations for Baltops - 'Baltic operations' - asn international exercise which has demonstrated NATO's commitment to the Baltic States since the early 70s.

Due to an unexpected change to the ship's programme, Iron Duke had to make rapid preparations to deploy and sustain herself in the Baltic with only a few days' notice, from storing enough provisions to sustain the crew for a month away, collecting £110,000 worth of Polish Zloty, Danish Krone and Euros to help the port visit programme, take onboard and, unusually for a Type 23 Frigate, embarking a Wildcat helicopter from the Commando Helicopter Force - more typically found supporting Royal Marines on the battlefield than warships mid-ocean.

The exercise itself was split into two distinct phases; the Combat Enhancement and Force Integration Training phase, which comprised an intense series of warfare activities.

In just one week at sea, the ship was put through 11 air defence exercises; four anti-submarine warfare exercises (the frigate's speciality); refuelling from German Ship FGS Bonn; six anti-surface warfare exercises and four gunnery shoots to hone the skills of the warfare department.

The second phase involved Iron Duke switching sides to play the fictional enemy of NATO Forces, posing a credible threat to NATO activity and providing the allied warships them a realistic adversary on which to practise their warfare tactics.

Part of the job of playing enemy forces is to train NATO; Iron Duke was part of a Danish-led Task Group which aimed to deny control of the sea to the coalition who brought their full suite of war fighting capabilities to bear on the Portsmouth-based frigate.

It's always a pleasure participating in world-class training with NATO to strengthen relationships between its partner nations and to make lifelong friends in the process.

Commander Steve Banfield

As part of her temporary role as the 'bad guy', Iron Duke sailed up to other participants, calling them to keep clear and releasing propaganda via simulated news websites and social media feeds to provide a realistic narrative to which the strategic communications officers in the NATO formation could react.

Although this was Iron Duke's third successive Baltops, it was also an exercise of 'firsts' -the first foreign port visits for a number of Iron Duke's most junior sailors and the first time that the Commando Helicopter Force variant of the Wildcat has deployed with a frigate.

"This exercise allowed the aircraft to switch from its regular operations close to shore to the sea, normally the preserve of its sister aircraft, the Wildcat HMA Mk2," explained Flight Commander Major Peter Clark RM of 847 Naval Air Squadron.

"Both types of Wildcat perform very different roles, so it has been incredibly challenging learning to operate it with a Type 23 Frigate."

'Marine 75' (the aircraft's callsign) was involved with 'surface search' activity, compiling the intelligence picture for Iron Duke and also 'spotting' targets to allow the ship to provide naval gunfire support with shells from her 4.5in main gun. In addition, the aircraft got to practise transferring stores by under-slung cargo net from the flight deck.

Iron Duke stopped in Szczecin in Poland, before, Aarhus in Denmark, during and finally, Kiel in Germany at the end of Baltops, where a number of the ship's company took advantage of some well-earned downtime and took the opportunity to sample the local culture with sailors from all the other participating NATO Ships.

Iron Duke is currently configured for Maritime Security Operations around the UK as well as providing training; as a result, the ship has routinely had approximately 200 personnel onboard (instead of the usual 180), all of whom benefited from the NATO exercise programme and experience of being away.

"It's always a pleasure participating in world-class training with NATO to strengthen relationships between its partner nations and to make lifelong friends in the process," said the frigate's Commanding Officer Cdr Steve Banfield.

"During Baltops 17, we've also been able to provide training for 40 Sailors and Young Officers from the Warfare and Engineering Training Squadrons and from Britannia Royal Naval College."

Having had a chance to explore one of the world's largest Sailing Festivals during Kiel Week 2017, Iron Duke is now bound for UK waters. After a whistle-stop visit to her home base, she's Liverpool-bound to represent the Royal Navy at national Armed Forces events this weekend.

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.