Middle East

Watch: Defence Secretary wants more personnel deployed overseas, as CSG21 reaches Oman

Ben Wallace spoke to Forces News as HMS Queen Elizabeth docked in Duqm during the Carrier Strike Group 21 mission.

The UK military needs to be "out in theatre" to combat modern-day threats, the Defence Secretary has said.

During a visit to the Carrier Strike Group 21 mission, which has docked in Duqm in Oman, Ben Wallace told Forces News he wants British personnel to "see the world", with training set to be increased around the globe.

Oman is tipped to be one of five of the UK's 'land hubs', which, Mr Wallace said "are about us increasing our training – Oman is one – Kenya another and there'll be others".

"Just by being here – people in the same region understand that there's a projection and influence nearby," he added.

He said that Salisbury Plain is a "long way away from where we need to have influence".

"I think it's really important that we look at the threat today and recognise that unless you're out there in theatre, exercising and training and being ready to go, then you are actually not making yourself safer, you're making yourself more insecure."

Exercise Khanjar Oman is one of five exercises that has taken place across Oman in the past few weeks.

Forces News had exclusive access to the training, which took place in the country's largest training area, Ras Madrakah. 

It is 4,000sq km – more than twice the size of the BATUK training area in Kenya – and is big enough to fit every training area in the UK inside it.

Watch: The Carrier Strike Group story so far.

Major Christopher Wright, 1 Regiment Army Air Corps, said the environment in Oman is "so different from how we fly in the UK".

"Dealing with the heat in the aircraft, we haven't got an air-conditioned cockpit and we're at 42, 43°C in Musandam," he continued.

"Everywhere we land is into a dust landing so... we've been teaching a whole set of new techniques we don't get to train for or practise in the UK."

Meanwhile, in Duqm, Royal Navy's flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth has docked following her visit to India.

So far, during the Queen Elizabeth-class carrier's six months at sea, F-35B pilots have flown 1,863 sorties from the flight deck – a third of them by night.

HMS Queen Elizabeth docks in Oman 03112021 Credit BFBS.jpeg
HMS Queen Elizabeth has docked in Oman.

Part of the Carrier Strike Group's purpose on its seven-month-long deployment is to solidify diplomatic relations.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander of the Carrier Strike Group, told Forces News HMS Queen Elizabeth is "almost like a magnet".

"It's like nothing I've seen in my 30 years," he said.

"Whether it's defence and security or prosperity and trade – absolutely I think the embodiment of the Prime Minister's Global Britain vision."

The Carrier Strike Group has taken part in multiple exercises around the world and has crossed 10 time zones and engaged with 40 different nations on its maiden voyage.

On board HMS Queen Elizabeth docking in Oman 03112021 Credit BFBS
On board HMS Queen Elizabeth docking in Oman.

For the 1,600-strong crew on board, with an average age of just 24, jets taking off above their quarters has become the norm.

HMS Queen Elizabeth has covered more than 40,000 nautical miles with a month to go until the ship and her company are expected to be home in time for Christmas.

When asked, personnel on the deployment say the things they are most looking forward to when they are back home are the simple things: seeing trees, wildlife, going for a walk and working out in a gym that does not rock.