Royal Navy ships take lessons and fond memories from Indian visits
Frigate HMS Lancaster represented the UK in the annual Anglo-Indian exercise the Commonwealth navies run: Konkan
And on the other side of the sub-continent, HMS Tamar has been renewing ties in Indian cities not visited in several years by British warships as the patrol vessel’s three-month stint in the Indian Ocean draws to a close.
Konkan takes its name from the 500-mile-long stretch of coastline along the western seaboard of India – including Mumbai and Goa – in whose waters the exercise usually takes place (occasionally the Royal Navy has hosted the workout when Indian vessels visit the UK).
The exercise is aimed at underlining and enhancing the links – historical and present-day – between the two navies and the common goals of London and Delhi, namely security at sea.
Joining Lancaster – which is based in Bahrain on a three-year maritime security mission in the Middle East and surrounding waters – for Konkan 23 was frigate INS Trishul (‘Trident’).
What followed was a series of combined manoeuvres and exercises – gunnery, submarine hunting, board and search, transfer of supplies between vessels (replenishment at sea) – with a dozen crew from each vessel trading places to experience life in the other’s navy.
The main guns of both Lancaster (4.5in) and Trishul (3.9in) were trained on a ‘killer tomato’ (large red inflatable) target to hone marksmanship skills of gunnery teams, taking it in turns to pepper the tomato with rounds until it was obliterated.
Next up was submarine hunting as night descended on the Indian Ocean. Lancaster launched a robot submersible which simulates the actions of a submarine, then challenged the operations rooms of both warships – aided by their respective helicopters, Wildcat (UK) Helix (India).
Board and search operations are Lancaster’s core duty in the region – she scored a notable success just weeks ago with a haul of illicit weaponry.
Members of each ship’s company role played different scenarios including merchant sailors, fishermen, and smugglers as British and Indian board and search teams scoured the two vessels for suspicious cargo.
Konkan closed with the two ships sailing just 50 yards apart (roughly the length of three London buses) – the standard distance for a replenishment at sea when fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts are passed between vessels on the move.
“It’s been wonderful to be in India and to have been afforded the opportunity to work with our partners in the Indian Navy over the past week,” said Lancaster’s Commanding Officer Commander Tom Johnson. “All those we have worked with have been exceptionally welcoming and professional in getting us ready to continue our enduring mission in the region.”
At the end of the exercise, Lancaster sailed into Kochi in southern India, where she was welcomed by a marching band on the jetty.
The frigate hosted dignitaries and senior British representatives for a traditional sunset ceremony, while her sailors helped out at Kochi’s oldest orphanage, dedicated to helping at-risk children, by playing various sports and games with youngsters and treating them to a variety of snacks from the ship.
On the opposite side of India, Tamar is spending two weeks flying the flag for the UK and its industry, training with the host nation’s Fleet and promoting diplomatic, political, military and cultural ties.
Tamar’s visit to Chennai was the first for the Royal Navy since HMS Westminster in 2008.
Aside from a programme of official visits and tours, Tamar’s cricketers combined with those from INS Car Nicobar for a match against the Prince of Arcot’s XI.
Played on the private ground at the Prince’s palace, the joint naval team was ultimately saved by the rain and awarded the trophy in good faith at a reception hosted by the Prince after play.
Tamar reciprocated hospitality by hosting a reception on behalf of the Deputy British High Commissioner for Chennai, attended by the State Minister for Finance, local dignitaries from government and industry, and colleagues from the Indian Navy based in the region.
Before departing, the Indian Navy challenged Tamar to a sunrise game of beach volleyball, followed by a breakfast buffet featuring a selection of traditional food from across India.
“We are so familiar with the food because of its popularity in the UK – indeed it is one of so many aspects of culture and tradition the UK shares with India, which makes our relationship so strong and familiar, and a foundation for future success,” said Lieutenant Leo Jeune, Tamar’s correspondence officer.
Next up: Visakhapatnam – commonly shortened to Vizag – where she hosted another reception on behalf of the British High Commission, as well as a trade and investment lunch, and, most enjoyable of all, helping out at the Campus Challenge charity for disabled youngsters. Sailors helped re-paint the facility, plant saplings and challenge the children to cricket and volleyball.
Tamar’s last stop in Indian waters will be a second visit to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal – for this leg of the ship’s five-year Indo-Pacific deployment.
Lieutenant Commander Matt Millyard said Tamar’s sailors had thoroughly enjoyed their passage to India.
“Throughout, the ship’s company have been made to feel at home and the exchange of knowledge, ideas and understanding has been mutually beneficial as the Royal Navy continues to strengthen its historic ties in the region.
“India is a valued partner of the UK and our two navies share deep ties and friendships. It’s been great to be here, and we are very much looking forward to working ever more closely with our colleagues, as well as wider defence and industry partners.”