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Royal Marines and sailors head for large-scale Arctic exercises 

24 February 2020
More than 2,000 sailors and Royal Marines will spearhead the UK’s biggest military exercise in the Arctic for nearly a decade.

Ships, helicopters, armoured vehicles, commando units, medics, and specialist raiding craft are all committed to the Norwegian-led Exercise Cold Response.

In all 15,000 military personnel from ten countries are committed to the demanding winter war games, which will test the abilities of allied nations to fight in one of the most hostile environments on earth.

The navy has sent flagship HMS Albion, plus Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland, survey ship HMS Echo, RFA Lyme Bay and Merlin and Wildcat helicopters of Commando Helicopter Force.

More than a thousand Royal Marines have been in the region since January on Arctic training missions building up to Cold Response and will launch on amphibious raids as the ‘tip of the NATO spear’.

The Green Berets have deployed to the Arctic in their largest numbers for years, with Lead Commando Group 45 Commando, small boat raiding specialists 47 Commando, 30 Commando Information Exploiting Group all in Norway along with related units. 

Lieutenant Colonel Innes Catton, 45 Commando’s Commanding Officer, said: “45 Commando Royal Marines are the UK’s mountain and cold weather warfare specialists.

“During Exercise Cold Response, we will be working alongside our NATO allies to give our adversaries hell from the sea.

“As the UK’s Lead Commando Group and poised to deploy on operations around the world, 45 Commando will be the ‘tip of the NATO spear’ during the exercise and we will strike the enemy using small, lethal teams on amphibious commando raids, reminiscent of our World War Two commando forebears.

“We have a long history of operating in the Arctic and remain at the forefront as experts in combat in one of the world’s harshest environments.

“On Cold Response, commandos will continue to confront the challenges posed by ever-evolving threats and work on developing small-team tactics as part of our Future Commando Force evolution.”

On Cold Response, commandos will continue to confront the challenges posed by ever-evolving threats and work on developing small-team tactics as part of our Future Commando Force evolution.

Lieutenant Colonel Innes Catton

Troops from Norway, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden will all be working alongside the British forces.

The large-scale exercise will boost NATO allies’ and partners’ ability to operate in sub-zero conditions. After Norway, the UK is the largest contributing nation in terms of the number of personnel.

This year marks the first of a decade-long training programme the Royal Marines have committed to with their Norwegian counterparts. 

Each year, around a thousand Royal Marines travel to Norway to test their skills hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle where temperatures drop as low as -30C.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “This decade will see the Royal Marines test their expert cold weather combat skills and build rock solid partnerships with our allies in the High North.

“The shifting landscape and increased strategic competition of the Arctic region will create new threats. But the UK will be ready to respond wherever they emerge.”

Training preparations for Exercise Cold Response 2020 begin on 27 February with the main field exercise itself, in which the thousands of multinational troops will simulate a high-intensity combat scenario, begins on March 12 and runs through to March 18.

Lt Col Catton added: "Embarking in a combined UK-Netherlands Amphibious Task Group, 45 Commando will rehearse a rapid reinforcement of Norway from the sea, in our role as the tip of the UK's, and by association, NATO's spear. 

"Like our commando forebears we will concentrate on striking critical parts of the enemy to allow the big hammer of NATO to be used, giving us the chance to experiment with new tactics as part of our Future Commando Force development.

"While reminiscent of the spirit of our commando forebears our update is very much in line with the sorts of Special Operations expected by the navy and the UK during high-end warfighting in the future. With a 'live' and genuinely adversarial enemy to spar against we are looking forward to celebrating some wins and learning some real lessons."

While on Cold Response, HMS Sutherland will be adopting primary Anti-Submarine Warfare duties. Throughout the exercise, the frigate will conduct a wide variety of serials including gunnery and boarding operations, maintaining and enhancing her readiness for future tasking.

Sutherland’s Commanding Officer, Commander Tom Weaver Royal Navy said: “This period of integrating with our NATO partners as part of a wider task group presents us a wide range of opportunities. My crew will be ready to meet the harsh conditions of the arctic region, and are looking forward to honing their warfighting skills alongside our allies.”

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