As ever it has been a hectic few months for ECHO and her people. The eagle eyed amongst you may notice that there is a sense of déjà vu as you read on.
HMS ECHO was again tasked with entering the Black Sea in support of the principle of freedom of navigation. In further echoes (sorry) of the previous period we also carried out a maintenance period in Malta before commencing survey operations around the coastline of Gibraltar.
Doing what we do best…
This term has seen ECHO return to her core role of surveying. The ship is tasked via the Operational Survey Planning Group who prioritise areas that need to be surveyed. For many of the ship’s company this is the first time they will have conducted a full survey onboard.
One technique that the crew have been getting to grips with is side scan sonar (pictured below). Side scan sonar is a towed sensor which is streamed behind the ship and ‘flown’ above the seabed to get an image, often used for wreck investigations.
All surveys require sound velocity (SV) measurement at intervals throughout. We determine SV using a probe lowered by a winch from the Baltic Room (above, right). Speed of sound in the water column is the key variable that must be properly understood to ensure the accuracy of the data being collected by our sophisticated multi-beam echo sounder.
Once all the data has been collected it then has to be processed. This involves painstakingly going through every part of the data to identify anomalies. If the data is required urgently, a rapid environmental assessment is completed. More usually, a full report of survey is produced and the information then used for military purposes and the updating of charts as appropriate to the task.
Train, train, train and then train some more…
To ensure that we are always ready for any eventuality, the crew regularly run through exercises to make sure that everyone knows what is required when the unexpected happens.
During an extended stay in Piraeus, Greece, we took the opportunity to practice search and rescue techniques that might be required after a big incident such as a flood or fire either in ECHO or in another casualty vessel.
In the picture above the team are following a guideline set out for them, sweeping the floor to check it is safe as they would before starting to search a compartment.
Man overboard drills are a weekly serial to make sure that if it happens for real, the person is recovered as quickly and safely as possible.
There are two options for getting someone out of the water. The first is to use our PAC 24 sea boat in its rescue role. The second, as seen above, is by sending our ‘swimmer of the watch’ into the sea. This might be the only option if the sea is too rough for the boat to be launched.
For our Warfare department BANGs are as welcome as they are unwelcome to our technicians; our biggest come from the two 20mm canons. Regular shoots against a floating target allow personnel to stay in date for firing ECHO’s weapons and ensure that we remain lethal to our enemies.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the photo below was part of a sudden Mediterranean shower but no, ECHO like many warships, is fitted with a pre-wet system that would be activated in the event of a chemical or biological attack to wash as much of the contaminant off the decks as possible. Like all sysyems, periodic testing is required and with the sun shining it seemed like a good opportunity; they most definitely work.
The Black Sea
As the sun set over the Mediterranean, ECHO prepared to transit the Turkish Straits for the second time in six months once again under the banner of OP ROCKHARD.
ECHO’s mission this time was to work closely with regional allies to reinforce the principle of freedom of navigation within the Black Sea. Our first stop was Constanta, the oldest city in Romania. Here the ship conducted survey training alongside the Romanian Navy, taking the opportunity for cooperative training, demonstrating Survey Motor Boat Sapphire’s advanced survey capabilities. After a short stay we were back at sea and heading towards our second port visit in Batumi, Georgia. Another busy port visit saw ship’s company further build upon the rapport established with the Georgian Coastguard during an earlier visit in December 18, together with the opportunity to conduct joint exercises at sea. The ship was also able to open the ship to visitors, (pictured below), something that had not been achieved by a Royal Navy ship for over ten years.
Everyone very much enjoyed Batumi especially as it was almost 20 degrees warmer than the last visit. Talking to local media the CO said ‘I am delighted to return to Batumi where we have enjoyed such a warm welcome from our Georgian friends and allies and am looking forward to working with the Georgian Coastguard once again towards our common aim of peace and stability within the Black Sea.’
The final stop for ECHO was Odessa, Ukraine. This stop was a very busy one for the ship’s company which saw a number of events held on board as well as a rugby Sevens round robin against the Ukrainian Rugby team and the Military Academy. After some hard fought matches with some members of the crew coming ‘out of retirement’ ECHO came out on top and were named overall winners. The visit culminated in a number of training exercises with the Ukrainian Coastguard which included a PASSEX where the ships conducted manoeuvres around each other, a search and rescue exercise into a helicopter casualty winch (pictured below) and finally a towing exercise which would be used if ECHO had to assist a ship with no engine power. ECHO sailed with 4 Ukrainian Navy personnel on board to transit out of the Black Sea.
So… What’s next?
ECHO is now undertaking survey work in the vicinity of Gibraltar – more on this in the next edition. Now 18 months into the deployment there is an end in sight. Whilst we can’t yet say exactly when, look out for us returning to a UK port soon, whereupon if our operational programme permits we hope to have the opportunity to remake some acquaintances.
135 Geographical Squadron Royal Engineers
January to April
In January the squadron deployed on a Technical Exercise to test the squadron’s main role or Bulk Replication. This was a challenging exercise with live mapping tasks to complete.
In February, the squadron held one of it’s Military Annual Training Test weekends to ensure all the troops in the squadron were classed as efficient. In March a further Technical Exercise was held to build on the training in January, again successfully completing live mapping tasks for defence. In April a Troops Commanders weekend was held. This weekend included a variety of adventurous training exercises.
Endeavour dinner – May
Promoting excellence is always rewarding and this award provides the Worshipful Company and the Squadron the opportunity to jointly congratulate an outstanding member of the Squadron. The dinner itself is an alumni event and so allows those that have previously served with the Squadron to catch up with their old friends and to make new ones. The dinner was a huge success and we look forward to welcoming the new Master to the Remembrance weekend for the announcement of the new Endeavour Award winner.
Soldier First Syllabus – June
In June the squadron conducted an infantry training exercise. This is part of the wider Army’s Soldier First directive which ensures soldiers are up to date on their basics infantry skills. The exercise including arduous training in the field, using blank ammunition to make the training as realistic as possible.
MREP – June
In June the Squadron Sergeant Major took part in the Military Reserves Exchange Programme and spent 2 weeks in the USA with the US Army National Guard. He was hosted by 107th Engineer Battalion part of the Michigan National Guard. This was an excellent opportunity to see how the US Army Engineers operate.
Driving Training weekend – July
All soldiers in the squadron are required to be qualified as military drivers. This weekend ensured our soldiers were up to date on the various military and civilian vehicles the squadron holds.
Battlefield study – August
This year the squadron will be visiting northern France to study the Invasion of Europe in 1944 – Operation Overlord. Among the places the squadron will visit will be Pegasus Bridge and many of the beaches where allied forces landed.
In September, the squadron will deploy to Okehampton in Devon for 2 weeks to undertake various elements of training. This training will include a technical exercise, Infantry exercise, live firing on the ranges and also adventurous training.
Lord Mayor’s Show and Remembrance
In November the squadron will once again take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show in Central London. The squadron will also take part in the Remembrance activities on Remembrance Sunday.
7010 Sqn Activities, Feb – July 2019
Current Establishment: 94. Strength: 82. Fully Trained Strength: 51
Three members of the Sqn are currently mobilised in support of Op SHADER (the UK contribution to the ongoing coalition intervention against so-called Islamic State) and another two will be mobilising for a six-month period in Aug 2019.
The Sqn has provided support to Ex JOINT WARRIOR, Ex WARFIGHTER and Ex BLUE FLAG, all major exercises involving the UK’s armed forces and NATO partners in the UK and/or overseas. We have also been involved in Ex NORMANDY EAGLE, a campaign study which challenges participants to understand lessons from previous operations (in this case the allied invasion of occupied France in 1944) and consider them in the context of modern-day operational planning, law of armed conflict, international relations, etc. This exercise coincided with this years’ D-Day 75 commemorations too.
The Sqn’s primary focus continues to be the provision of intelligence analysis in support of operations and the augmentation of Regular RAF teams at RAF Wyton. Our structure remains centred around four teams, each focused on different intelligence tasks involving the analysis of imagery with one team supporting RAF Wyton over two weekends per month. We have recently re-organised in several areas to focus our analytical resource in a way which matches UK Defence priorities more closely.
Eighteen members of the Sqn are currently enrolled on the Operational Air Intelligence Course (Reserves) (OPAIC (R)). Successful completion enables participants to work as generalist Intelligence Analysts prior to completion of imagery specific training. Five Sqn members are anticipated to graduate from this course in Aug 19.
Sqn members have also completed a variety of professional development activities and courses including Diversity & Inclusion Facilitator training, Synthetic Aperture Radar, Junior Management & Leadership (JMLC), Intermediate Management & Leadership (IMLC), foreign language assessment and a variety of specialist analytical software training.
We have thirteen personnel undergoing Basic Recruit Training at RAF Halton.
Sqn members have been involved in the following activities:
– Two Sqn members participated in the Peterborough Regatta as part of the RAF Rowing Team, one also took part in the RAF Rowing Masters, coming a credible 3rd place with a bronze award.
– Three took part in the annual Pathfinder March on 22 June 2019, a 46-mile circuit which must be completed during daylight hours that takes in all four WWII Pathfinder stations surrounding RAF Wyton.
– One of our Sqn competed in the RAF Wakeboard Cable Championships 22-26 July 2019 and has also been awarded her colours as a member of the RAF Women’s Rugby Union team.
– One has competed in an Iron Women Triathlon and then the European Middle-Distance Triathlon Championships in Romania earlier this month.
– Four participated in “Uniform to Work” day with their civilian employers, an element of Reserves Day on 26 June 2019. One also attended the Reserves Breakfast at No. 10 Downing Street.
– Three attended the initial “Young People in Defence” networking event held at the Royal Aeronautical Society and which aims to support the career development of young professionals from industry, the Civil Service and Defence.
OC 7010 Sqn