Royal Navy ship HMS Mersey has been deployed to the Baltic Sea for the last week, operating with the Estonian Navy and Royal Air Force in support of the nations’ security as Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) partners. This follows Mersey’s recent engagements with Swedish and Finnish Navies.
The British Army and Royal Air Force have also been operating in Estonia, supporting regional security as part of NATO. Estonia is a valued and strategically important defence partner for the UK and working together to respond to shared challenges provides an important boost for European security.
Four Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft have been conducting NATO air policing patrols alongside the German Air Force from Ämari Air Base, near Tallinn. Earlier this year, three Chinooks from 18(B) Squadron from RAF Odiham and approximately 100 RAF personnel deployed to Estonia following an agreement by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in November 2022 to help bolster defence and security across the Baltic states.
The deployments by the Navy and RAF complement the British Army’s operation in Tapa, leading the NATO enhanced Forward Presence, called Operation Cabrit. Established in 2017, the UK leads a multinational, combat-ready battlegroup to protect and reaffirm the security of the alliance’s member states. British units rotate on a continuous basis alongside Danish, French, and host nation Estonian forces. Around 1,000 British Army personnel are deployed to Estonia on Operation Cabrit.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
The deployment of all three services to Estonia demonstrates the strength of our relationship, exercising and operating alongside allies and partners in support of regional stability in the face of Russian aggression.
The UK and Estonia are Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) partners – a multinational force made up of like-minded, northern European nations – the UK, together with Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The deployment of HMS Mersey, an Offshore Patrol Vessel, reaffirms the UK’s capability and commitment to the JEF which is committed to European security with the Baltic region as one of its focus areas.
Portsmouth-based HMS Mersey has been working with the RAF Typhoons and long-range maritime patrol aircraft during its deployment. The RAF dispatched a P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to waters off Estonia in a long-range mission – a round trip from its base at RAF Lossiemouth of more than 2,000 miles, The aircraft worked with HMS Mersey to compile a complete picture of maritime activity in the region.
HMS Mersey’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander James Mitchell said:
The capabilities that Poseidon brings are impressive, especially on a foggy day like today when we struggle to identify shipping contacts,” said
Operating together we were able to generate a recognised maritime picture of activity across the Baltic Sea region. It’s another demonstration of our ability to integrate and operate alongside partners and allies both under the JEF framework and as part of the NATO alliance.
Colonel Dai Bevan, Commanding Officer of Operation Cabrit, said:
We recognise the importance of the UK and Alliance presence in the Baltic region to bolster security.
Since 2017, the British Army has led the enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia and welcomes the additional capabilities from the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and JEF partners to help ensure the security of Eastern Europe.
Wing Commander Ben Livesey, the Officer Commanding CXX Sqn and who flew on the sortie said:
This was an excellent example of what the Poseidon can do… reassuring our Allies and cooperating closely with our Royal Navy colleagues at range.
The ability to project our RAF Maritime Patrol capability into different areas like this allows us to better understand the battlespace, both above and below the waves, and this ability continues to grow as Poseidon builds towards Full Operational Capability. Despite the poor weather, we were able to achieve our mission objectives whilst conducting valuable training, which prepares us better for future challenges, whatever those may be.
Estonian patrol vessel Kindral Kurvits joined HMS Mersey for three days of combined exercises off the coast of Tallin, and the Head of the Estonian Navy Commodore Yüri Saska embarked on the Royal Navy ship for a day to observe the activity.
For the final exercise during which snow limited visibility to half a mile at times, the Kurvits searched the Gulf of Finland for ‘hostile’ shipping – played by HMS Mersey – which simulated a ship refusing demands to comply during the exercise, prompting the Estonians to call in the RAF, deployed to the country as part of a NATO air policing mission. A jet from IX (Bomber) Squadron, 140 Expeditionary Air Wing, based at Ämari Air Base responded, making repeated low-level passes of the Royal Navy vessel in a show of force.
Lieutenant John Hawke HMS Mersey’s gunnery officer said:
There is a lot we can learn from the Baltic navies – they have different skillsets from us and they operate in a very different geo-political sphere.
Wing Commander Scott MacColl, the Commanding Officer of 140 Expeditionary Air Wing said:
“This was an excellent opportunity for the UK and 140 EAW to demonstrate the flexibility and agility we can bring from a deployed location in Estonia. From an Air Policing posture, the team were able to seamlessly transition into a maritime role, reinforcing our excellent working relationship with Royal Navy units and other RAF capabilities. This versatility is key to interoperability with a wide range of Allies and Partners, and enhancing broader Baltic Security.”
The Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force activities in the Baltic are part of the UK contribution to the NATO and the Alliance’s collective work to ensure security and stability in the region.
Having completed her work in Estonia, HMS Mersey will remain in the Baltic for further exercises with regional navies before returning to the UK in April.