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21/03/23: Royal Navy completes world's second-largest maritime exercise

The second-largest naval exercise in the world has ended across the Middle East with Royal Navy ships and sailors pushing technological boundaries and sharing their expertise to a raft of allies.

All the UK's Gulf-based ships, supported by expert dive/bomb disposal teams flown out from the UK, Royal Marines boarding and search specialists, drone operators and medics, were committed to the huge International Maritime Exercise (IMX).

In size and scale, IMX – which ran for 18 days across the vast expanse of the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the Gulf – was billed as second only to the huge, long-standing, naval exercise run by the Americans in the Pacific.

More than 7,000 personnel from 50 nations with two dozen ships and board and search teams committed to IMX and, although the focus was principally on naval warfare, the RAF also provided aerial support from Cyprus.

Terrorism, smuggling, sea mines and aerial drone attacks were among the varied list of potential threats that the sailors learned how to tackle.

There was a strong focus on remote and autonomous systems, to iron out how crew and ships can be better protected from afar.

The Royal Navy's crewless Puma drone was tested as a flying 'spotter', operated by the 700X Naval Air Squadron.

The exercise also saw the first-ever use of a drone in a simulated medical evacuation scenario.

In the Gulf of Aqaba, Jordan, a dummy 'casualty' was transferred from a ship to medics ashore using a MARTAC T-38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vessel.

Thirty different autonomous systems were rolled out during the exercise, including, for the first time in the Middle East, the world's longest-range electric aircraft, the K1000ULE surveillance drone – capable of missions lasting more than one day.

The Royal Navy used its support ship RFA Cardigan Bay to test out new technology led by the Navy's Mine Hunting Capability (MHC), a remote/autonomous system capable of conducting many roles currently done by the Hunt and Sandown-class minehunters.

The technology allows for mines to be located and neutralised from a safe distance, keeping personnel safe.

Cardigan Bay also directed mine-hunting exercises involving HMS Chiddingfold, Bangor and Middleton, assisted by the regular briefings given by intelligence manager Chief Petty Officer Nicola Thomas.

"I think that it's important to work with our strategic partners to promote understanding of our respective working practices and to boost our ability to work together," CPO Thomas said.

The second-largest UK participant in the exercise, after Cardigan Bay, was HMS Lancaster, which served as a training ground for other international participants to board and search her for illegal cargo and suspicious individuals.

Commenting on the cohesion of the 50 participating nations, Lancaster's Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Max Wilmot said: "It was great to see the relationships grow between nations and I am proud we were part of such a diverse group of people who can operate in such a professional way."

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