In the first training exercise by UK Land Forces on Saudi Arabian soil since the first Gulf War, Royal Marines have deployed onto the country’s scorching deserts as part of the Royal Navy’s TAURUS 09 deployment.
250 Royal Marines from Charlie Company, 40 Commando, deployed from UK amphibious landing ships HMS Bulwark and RFA Lyme Bay, supported by HMS Somerset, using the fleet of landing and raiding craft operated by 539 and 4 Assault Squadrons Royal Marines.
Saudi naval units operating with UK forces included a frigate, a tanker, coast guard vessels, maritime and troop-carrying helicopters and 180 Saudi Marines with associated vehicles and equipment.
More than a year in the planning, Exercise Red Alligator consisted of a maritime phase as the ships transited down through the Red Sea and then conducted the amphibious offload of troops, followed by combined Saudi-UK training ashore at Wadi Sirr, 80km north of the port town of Gizan.
Led by Commander UK Amphibious Task Group, Royal Navy Commodore Peter Hudson, the exercise also saw Saudi Arabian battle staff headed by a Saudi Navy Commodore embark on TAURUS 09 flagship HMS Bulwark to plan and co-ordinate the land assaults.
Royal Navy personnel also transferred into the Saudi units to share practices and provide a link-up.
The five-day exercise culminated in an extensive live firing exercise, including the firing of Javelin anti-tank missiles, and a VIP demonstration watched over by His Highness Prince Fahad, Commander Royal Saudi Naval Forces.
It is the first time in 16 years that conventional UK Landing Forces have trained with Saudi troops in Saudi training areas, marking a significant advancement in relationships in a region of great strategic importance to the UK.
A further highlight was the refuelling of Royal Navy frigate HMS Somerset by a Saudi tanker which could prove key for future refuelling capabilities in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
Speaking as the exercise came to a successful end, Commodore Hudson said:
“A task group of this size does enable the Royal Navy to conduct significant wider regional engagement activity with coalition allies. We have been partners with Saudi Arabia for many years therefore the opportunity to conduct joint amphibious exercises was hugely appealing to both nations but it requires careful planning and our teams have been engaged for over 12 months pulling all the strands together.
“The ranges at Wadi Sirr allowed us to conduct complex live firing in the littoral environment, especially from the sea into land, something which is nearly impossible to achieve in the UK.
“I am delighted that the five days together were so successful and that for the first time in the recent past conventional UK Land Forces were able to exercise in the desert of Saudi Arabia with our Saudi colleagues. It does present real opportunities for the future which are very welcome but most importantly it amply demonstrated, and further developed, the close relationship we have between our two Armed Forces.”
The TAURUS 09 Task Group aims to maintain the Royal Navy’s fighting capability as well as develop the UK’s capacity to operate with key partners and allies from NATO countries and other nations, enhancing interoperability and demonstrating the UK’s commitment to the stability and security of the Mediterranean, Middle East and South East Asia.
In exercising its ability to deploy globally, the Task Group will remain available for a range of potential missions as required, such as anti-piracy, humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
The Task Group is currently conducting Phase Two of the deployment in the Indian Ocean. Riverine training will shortly take place with the Bangladeshi Navy, the first such interaction in more than a decade. The deployment will culminate in an intense, multi-unit, multi-national training package in the primary jungles of Brunei.