One of the exhibitors at DSEI I received an early heads up on was SubSea Craft and their VICTA Diver Delivery Unit (DDU). I was immediately drawn to it because of the artistic drawings and if you have ever wanted to see something that had the potential to have been built by “Q” division then here it is.
VICTA combines the characteristics of a Long-Range Insertion Craft (LRIC – high-speed, long-range vessel normally associated with the discreet insertion of small specialist teams) with those of a Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV – a submersible craft normally associated with the covert, sub-surface delivery of divers). Its fly-by-wire control enable it to transition seamlessly and quickly from one domain to the other.
The vessel is currently in build and so whilst there wasn’t a VICTA on display at DSEI this year, the team from SubSea Craft had a fully working cockpit simulator as well as virtual and augmented reality ‘tours’ of the vessel. Fully marinized to enable its seamless operation above and below the surface, the fully fly-by-wire helm, specially designed for VICTA, employs an advanced control system created by BAR Technologies and based on experience gained in other projects such as America’s Cup yachts. The console consists of two large MFDs developed by SCISYS which provide the crew (pilot/navigator) with essential navigation, control and mission information.
VICTA carries eight divers plus equipment and has a surface endurance of 250nm. Its delivery into an operating area is highly flexible as, because of the craft’s size (11.95m long, 2.3m wide and 2.0m high), it is compatible with most launch methods, whether that be by road, surface vessel or by helicopter and it can fit into a standard shipping container. Combined with the craft’s range and speed, this flexibility delivers options to commanders, allowing an array of tactical choices to be explored, at range from an objective area and without an enduring requirement for expensive strategic assets.
For submerged operations, 140kw Li-ion batteries power twin 20kw thrusters to enable a maximum speed of up to 8kts with a planned 6kt cruising speed and a range of 25nm whilst the on-board life-support delivers 4 hours endurance through a communal air-breathing system. The maximum operating depth is 30 metres.
On the surface, VICTA uses a Seatek 725+ diesel engine and a Kongsberg Kamewa FF37 waterjet propulsion system which provides speeds of up to 40 kts. The seating is provided by Ullman Dynamics and comes with an advanced shock absorbing system to provide a smooth ride at high speeds on the surface.
The craft has a retractable radar and a mast which can be used for camera, GPS and communication. Although Defence is VICTA’s primary market, there is interest from elsewhere and the configurable nature of the accommodation confers flexibility for mission planning – balancing fuel and air with the load carried. Conversely, alteration in size or specification offers the potential to increase capacity.
Overall, VICTA looks to be a promising prospect, offering a more flexible and potentially cheaper alternative to the more conventional Submarine and DDU combination. Certainly, for countries that do not operate a Submarine force, but seek to enhance their maritime capability, then VICTA could well be the choice for them.
I will be following the progress of VICTA over the next year or so, hopefully getting to see it in use during some of the sea trials as they take place.
Sunday the 6th of October 2019 sees the start of Exercise Joint Warrior 192.
Taking part primarily to the North West of Britain, mainly off the coast of Scotland, the exercise brings together a number of navies and ground forces for two weeks of training.
Despite media headlines such as “Joint Warrior 19(2) features 17 countries, 75 aircraft, 50 naval vessels and 12,000 troops” this isn’t the JW of old. It is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, in participant numbers since the exercises started and the headlines are completely incorrect – in fact most of the headlines use stock Royal Navy media notices that cover all JW exercises.
In reality, JW 192 has 16 ships, will not really go over 30 aircraft at any one time and feature nowhere near 12,000 troops. Rumours have it that the exercise would have been cancelled had not the French elements insisted on it taking place. Unfortunately, media outlets have misinterpreted some of the RN notices as ships from other countries – such as Japan – participating, when in fact the countries have sent a number of officers to observe or be trained in the handling of exercises.
This JW has coincided with other NATO exercises – Dynamic Mariner/Flotex-19 for example -which are taking place in far sunnier climes, so the draw of the rough seas and bad weather of Western Scotland was not so great on this occasion. And with NATO forces spread out on real world tasks, the number of ships, aircraft and personnel required to cover all of these exercises is low.
The weather has already taken its toll with some of the first few days activities cancelled due to high sea states. Whilst you could argue that surely they should be able to “fight” no matter what the weather, in reality in the real world, operations do get delayed because of this. For exercises though, safety must come first. However, MPA activity is taking place with at least three flights up at the time of writing on Monday 7th October.
One saving grace for the number of ships and personnel that are taking part is the fact that Exercise Griffin Strike is shoehorned into JW192. Griffin Strike is a training exercise for the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) involving the UK and France and which is due to become fully implemented in 2020. Griffin Strike will contain the Amphibious part of JW192.
There are no visiting fighter aircraft from other countries, but there are the usual Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) consisting of 2 x US Navy P-8’s, 2 x Canadian CP-140’s and 2 x French Navy Atlantique ATL2’s. These are operating out of Prestwick again, likely doing the usual 4 hours “on-station” missions. This means that there will likely only ever be two or three airborne at any one time with a 1 hour or so transit each end of the flight. Callsigns so far have been OCTOPUS** and SUNFISH**(FNY), DINKUM** (RCAF), GROMMET** and DRAGON** (USN).
Also out of Prestwick will be mixed Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Hawks, along with Cobham Aviation Dassault Falcon 20’s acting as enemy aircraft. For information on how the Falcon 20’s operate read my previous blog on monitoring Joint Warrior.
There will be other aircraft movements of course, with RAF Typhoons playing their part. Also expected are E3’s of both the RAF and NATO fleets, RAF Sentinel and Rivet Joint aircraft providing ISTAR support and Air to Air refuelling from RAF Voyagers and C130’s. I would also expect F-35’s from 617 Sqn at Marham to be involved in some form, though I can’t confirm this for sure. These will all be operating from their home bases.
The aviation side of the exercise is capped off with plenty of helicopters operating from both land and sea, with Chinooks operating from Lossiemouth and most ships providing one or two various types. I was able to watch one Chinook, ONSLAUGHT01, practising a deck landing on RFA Lyme Bay (using callsign 4QW) to the front of my house in the Firth of Clyde. Lyme Bay later tweeted the event.
The most disappointing aspect of the exercise is the maritime part. The ships are sparse in numbers in comparison to previous exercises, with a light participation by the Royal Navy. The RN is providing Amphibious Assault Ship HMS Albion, possibly using her Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk.10 class vessels operated by the Royal Marines. Albion is the current RN flagship. Also taking part is Duke (Type 23) class FFGHM HMS Sutherland and a small number of Minesweepers and Minehunters.
**Edit: RFA Lyme Bay is now also confirmed as part of the exercise. RFA Argus and RFA Tidesurge are also now confirmed.
France has also sent a Amphibious Assault Ship in the form of FS Tonnerre, a Mistral class LHDM. Tonnerre can embark 450 fully kitted troops and 60 armoured vehicles or 13 main battle tanks, along with Landing craft and up to 16 helicopters. No helicopters were observed on deck as she arrived at the Greenock area on Friday 4th October 2019 – it is not known whether they, if any, were on the hanger deck. The same goes for APC’s/MBT’s on the lower decks.
Modified Georges Leygues class FFGHM FS La-Motte-Picquet arrived into Glasgow on the afternoon of 2nd October along with Éridan (Tripartite) class minehunter FS Cephee going into Faslane earlier in the morning.
The German Navy has sent a single ship – the Berlin (Type 702) class replenishment ship FGS Berlin – whilst the US Navy, who normally send a number of frigates and cruisers, have only sent Military Sealift Command Lewis and Clark class dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS William McLean.
Finally, Danish Navy Iver Huitfeldt class FFGHM HDMS Iver Huitfeldt is also participating, but due to other tasks is heading straight to the exercise area rather than going to Faslane for the pre-exercise briefings.
For submarine participants, Norwegian Type 210 (Ula) class SSK Utsira is one of the MPA targets. She arrived earlier in the week and departed on Sunday 6th October as the exercise began.
Also, an Astute class SSN of the Royal Navy departed Faslane on friday 4th. Though not confirmed, again it is highly likely to be taking part in some form or other.
As well as areas in and around Scotland, it is highly likely there will be the usual missions around the Spadeadam Electronic Warfare Tactics range and possibly areas out over the North Sea. GPS jamming also normally takes place as part of the exercise, normally out in danger areas situated to the NW, over the sea.
There should be Maritime Gunnery firing off the west coast of Scotland. Timings and areas are normally reported via the Royal Navy’s Gunfacts service either by a recorded telephone message and on NAVTEX at 0620 and 1820 UTC. Coastguards also broadcast the details at 0710, 0810, 1910 and 2010 UTC. If you happen to be in the area where gunnery is taking place then the duty broadcast ship sends out details at 0800 and 1400 local, or 1 hour before firing, by making a call on Maritime channel 16 and then the appropriate broadcast frequency for the area.
The navy also provides SUBFACTS warnings on submarine operations on the same telephone hotline and NAVTEX.
NOTAMs will also be available that provide warnings on most of the activities taking place. A good place to look for these is on the NATS AIS NOTAM page.
The amount of frequencies used for the exercise is huge, and near impossible to list. However, there is a list of VHF/UHF and HF frequencies on my Monitoring Joint Warrior Exercises blog from 2014. Despite being 5 years old, the HF freqs tend to be the same especially those used by the MPA’s when communicating with Northwood (Callsign MKL).
Noticeable so far has been the fact that the P8’s and CP140’s have both been out on their frequencies by 1.5 to 2.0 kHz when calling MKL on 6697 kHz (primary freq) and 4620 kHz.
The VHF/UHF frequencies won’t have changed that much either, but as most of the exercise is at sea, and generally out of range of most of us, it is hard to gather them all. Certainly the standard Swanwick Mil, A2A and TAD’s will be used, so if you have these you’re bound to get something.