For the ORP “Gen. K. Pułaski” frigate, it has been one of the most crucial tests for a decade: launching missiles, a six-week training in the Royal Navy’s center, and the participation in NATO Trident Juncture 2018 Exercise.
The ORP “Pułaski” frigate leaves the Port of Plymouth. She joins the convoy shielding a “high-value vessel”. Already at sea, the crew is tasked to get fuel from a tanker. When this operation ends, the ship becomes a target for missile attack. The crew must smoothly shift to another task – putting out fire, which is spreading on the deck. “In wartime, incidents happen dynamically, several at a time, and the crew must deal with them simultaneously. There’s no time for rest,” says Cdr Paweł Werner, a commander of “Pułaski.” In the Royal Navy’s training center, where the Polish frigate underwent meticulous tests, war starts every Thursday.
Test in English Style
FOST (Flag Officer Sea Training) center was founded in 1958 – being an initiative of Admiral Louis Mountbatten – as a place where the British ship crews prepare for their difficult service at sea. Twenty five years later, the prestige of the center was high. At the end of the 1980s, the British fought with Argentina for the Falklands. Their victory cost them losses – more painful than significant. On May 4, 1982, the HMS “Sheffield” destroyer was hit by a missile fired from an Argentinian aircraft. It pierced the fuselage and set it on fire. Twenty crewmen died, and the ship went down. After this catastrophe, the British authorities developed new procedures on defense against fire and water aboard the ship. Soon, the center – which at that time was located in the Isle of Portland in the county of Dorset – started the trainings in new procedures.
Today, FOST center has its seat in Plymouth, and is considered one of the best training centers of this type in the world. “The center not only trains the Royal Navy ship crews, but also the ship crews of practically all NATO states, and even of the states outside the Alliance,” explains Peter Wooldridge, the Royal Navy press officer. “Rigorous exercises supervised by our specialists are to get the ship crews standing out to sea ready to manage in absolutely any emergency situation.” The main training cycle is the Basic Operational Sea Training (BOST). It takes six weeks, and – as the participants confirm – is so intensive that it actually cuts them out of life for a month and a half.
It all begins in the Port of Plymouth. “In the first week, we do the initial assessment of the ship technical condition and the crew training. This is for the instructor officers to know whether they can safely go through the training at sea,” explains LtCdr Arkadiusz Frącz, a Commander of the Operation and Maintenance Department at ORP “Pułaski”. The training takes another five weeks. “The ship operates outside the port from Monday to Friday. It is back for the weekend to regenerate combat readiness”, says LtCdr Frącz. All ship activities are based on weekly training schedules. “They are however regularly updated. The crew must be flexible, and instantly respond to all changes,” emphasizes LtCdr Piotr Jaszczura, the Commander of the Operational Department at the Polish frigate.
The crewmen I talk to all admit that Tuesdays and Thursdays were the most interesting ones of the entire training cycle. The first ones were about anti-aircraft defense. “In Poland, we obviously do air defense exercises regularly. But then, an attack lasts no longer than half an hour, because we have a limited amount of fuel for a pair of jet aircraft operating over the Baltic Sea. Here, during FROST, there were so many aircraft that air raids would last several hours”, recalls LtCdr Jaszczura. Still, Tuesdays were only preludes to Thursdays, reserved for the so-called “Weekly War”. On Thursdays absolutely anything could happen – the ships being attacked from air, surface, from underwater. “There were situations where our frigate – after having been hit – would suddenly lose speed, power and start drifting on the sea. We had to in a wink make her stay on the surface and keep ready for combat, in spite of damages, because our commander had already been notified of another aircraft attack within the next fifteen minutes”, explains LtCdr Frącz.
The FROST, even in its crucial part, does not take place only at sea. “One of the training elements are »Distex« rescue exercises. Scenarios can take various forms, but generally our instructor officers test the crew’s capability to respond to floods, earthquakes, terrorist attack or war damages of civil targets. The crew must also cope with the media, which is another issue in time of disaster,” says Wooldridge.
This time, the disaster falls on a small town built on the territory of the training center. The role of residents are played by civil extras, some of them being the schoolchildren of the nearest schools. The “Pułaski” crew faced such a challenge. “At the very last moment, the operation was cancelled due to the weather. It was a very stormy day, and organizers didn’t want to expose children to any risk”, recalls Cdr Werner. “However, we’d already been introduced to a situation, and tasked to come up with a proper rescue strategy. The center specialists reviewed our communication and command structure, or our reports to the media.”
Then, there was training summary – Final Inspection. The “Pułaski” crew was tasked to shield other vessel against enemy attack. The frigate had to deal with several ships. “Ultimately, the test results were successful,” Wooldridge winds up.
It Was A Good Time
There was no time to celebrate, though. When “Pułaski” was leaving FOST, another exercise – Trident Juncture 2018, one of the largest NATO exercises since the end of the Cold War – was in progress. The Polish frigate was to represent the Polish Navy. “We were part of the Canadian group, commanded by Canadian Admiral, and our flagship was the HMCS »Halifax« frigate,” recalls LtCdr Jaszczura. In the group, there were also two British frigates and the French one. “The group was heading Norway, on the side of Iceland. To join the group, we had to sail around Great Britain and head North. Then, we operated both on the Atlantic and the North Sea. All through rather bad weather,” admits the officer.
The Canadian group was one of several in the North Forces. Others were: the US airborne group (with the USS “Iwo Jima” ship), the Norwegian group (with two missile frigates of Nansen class), and the aircraft carrier strike group (with the USS “Harry S. Truman”). The North Forces were commanded by the Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO), with the USS “Mount Whitney” command vessel as a flagship.
“Our adversary were South Forces, commanded by the Allied Maritime Command NATO (MARCOM). They featured ships which are part of the two permanent NATO teams – SNMG1 and SNMG2,” informs LtCdr Jaszczura. Among the participating vessels, there were frigates from Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain or Turkey, and the French Mistral-class airborne ship. The Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 took place mainly on the land. The naval forces were to support the land forces. “This Exercise was a great opportunity to once again test the procedures and do the tasks, with which we had just struggled in the FOST center,” says LtCdr Jaszczura. Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 was a wind-up of a three-month period of extremely intensive training. Before FROST, the ORP “Pułaski” crew had done the SM-1 anti-aircraft missile shooting training on the coast of Scotland – for the first time since the ship had started her service under the white and red flag.
The Polish frigate returned to her mother port in Gdynia in the middle of November. She had been away from Poland for three months. “The ORP »Pułaski« hasn’t been away for that long for ten years,” reminds LtCdr Frącz, and adds: “It was a good time. We learned a lot, and earned the experience which we wouldn’t have been able to earn in Poland.” The frigate commander agreed: “From time to time, we hear opinions that ORP »Pułaski« is rather an old ship, and it’s no good for some things. We proved it’s not true,” emphasizes LtCdr Werner. “First launching missiles, then FROST, and then our participation in Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 have been a perfect tests before the next-year tasks,” he says. In several months, the ORP “Pułaski” will join the NATO Response Forces. Once again, she will become one of the SNMG1 ships, which controls security on maritime routes of Northern Europe.
Translated by Anita Kwaterowska
autor zdjęć: NATO