Royal Marines

Royal Marines Test Future Commando Force Concepts In Cyprus

We were given special access to an exercise, where personnel trialled new methods which could transform the Royal Marines of the future.

The largest-ever deployment of Royal Navy ships has taken place in Cyprus, with more than 1,000 sailors and Royal Marines testing and developing new ways of responding to crises.

As part of Littoral Response Group (Experimentation) (LRG(X)), personnel used the waters, shores and exercise areas of the island to see how drones, autonomous equipment, new technology and kit can transform the way Royal Marines operate.

Forces News was given special access to parts of the exercise, from which elements of what personnel have been trying out could be incorporated into the Future Commando Force.

J Company Royal Marines from 42 Commando conducted an assault on a ship from the air with assistance from 47 Commando, which brought in more of J Company by boat.

Captain Benjamin Cox from 47 Commando Royal Marines explained that their main role during this part of the exercise was to transport the surface manoeuvre from the J Company boarders.

"It’s a pretty dangerous manoeuvre even though it looks quite simple, depending on the sea state, etcetera, it can get quite dangerous," Capt Cox said.

"Realistically, we’d rather work at night, with no lights, which obviously makes everything a lot more difficult.

"The more time we get practising out here in sort of easy sea states in the Mediterranean, with not much tide [and] with not much surf, it makes it a lot easier for us to just nail down the basics.

"Then we can move on to places like the Channel or just generally around Britain, where the seas are a bit more rough and we can start practising at night and getting it all down so this kind of training's absolutely vital."

Puma drone on deck of HMS Albion during Littoral Response Group Experimentation in Cyprus November 2020 DATE UNKNOWN CREDIT BFBS.jpg
A Puma drone on HMS Albion during the Littoral Response Group Experimentation.

The exercise as a whole went beyond nailing the basics, trialling new ways of working aimed at transforming the way Royal Marines operate in the future.

While on the surface it might have looked like a normal commando training, it had many layers of trials and assessment taking place, with some more nuanced than others.

Capt Cox said they are working on different sorts of capabilities.

"It’s all in development stage anyway, so the less our enemies know about it, the better," he explained.

He added that the commandos take "every chance" they get to go out and "push the boundary a little bit further".

"It’s a constantly changing skill, which is why the training has to go on so often and it takes up the entire year, which is why J Company are so good at what they do," he said.

State-of-the-art equipment is also being developed and was used during the exercise, but it was not possible to film or photograph it, given the sensitive nature of the defence sector.

47 Commando has new military-style jet skis that can drop small teams and supplies ashore.

Drones were also used to support the operation, with HMS Albion becoming the first Royal Navy warship to deploy with a fleet air arm drone.

“It’s been a bit of a new step for the Navy to actually take a Puma away and embark it within a capital ship and a task group,” Chief Petty Officer Marc Jones, from 700X Naval Air Squadron, said.

"It’s given us another ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance] asset that we can employ.

"For us instead of having to put manned aviation up just with a camera on the side, that aviation can now be tasked elsewhere so that way we can be talking to an aircraft, potentially hand over targets to them on the ground," Chief Petty Officer Jones added.

Close quarter fighting Commando Royal Marines forces during Littoral Response Group Experimentation in Cyprus November 2020 DATE UNKNOWN CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Close quarter battle techniques can be useful for Royal Marines when taking control of an enemy vessel.

The helicopters could carry Royal Marine snipers providing battlefield protection from the air as commandos board and take control of a vessel.

A maritime sniper from 42 Commando Royal Marines explained they are "specialists" in what they do.

"We’ll deploy with the J Company boarding teams in support of counter-narcotics and counter-piracy operations," they added.

Two pairs of maritime snipers were deployed on LRG(X), one of the pairs were in the helicopter during the assault manoeuvre to provide the “initial recce of the vessel”.

However, the task of maritime snipers could also take a different form.

The maritime sniper from 42 Commando said: "If required, [they] would provide a stop so they would use the AW50 to take out the engine of a smaller vessel and then use the sharpshooter rifle to provide overwatch as the boarding teams move on as protection for them."

Snipers could also be part of the commando team clearing and securing the inside of a ship.

Taking control of an enemy vessel using close quarter battle techniques is just one type of mission Marines could be sent on.

Another key part of the modernisation process is having a more agile fighting force based on a ship, ready for action.

Brigadier Rich Cantrill, Commander 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, told Forces News LRG(X) is a "stepping point" in the Royal Marines' "journey of transformation".

"We’re transforming ourselves from a force which is mostly held at readiness in the UK... to a force which wants to be more forward-deployed, more persistently engaged, working with partners, operating and offering daily value to the Navy, defence, partners and allies," he said.

"You don't have to squint too hard when you look at this deployment, LRG(X), and the experimentation that wraps around it to see what the future could be and how we can enhance our offer to the UK."

Want to read more about what the Royal Marines did in Cyprus? Check out our pieces on personnel testing larger teams and their use of drones.