Wildcats join French task group for unique Pacific mission
The second of three Royal Navy deployments to the Pacific Rim in 2018 is under way - under the French Tricolore.
The flagship of the deployment, helicopter assault ship FS Dixmude, left her home in Toulon today bound the Middle East and ultimately the South Pacific.
It's the second year running that the Commando Helicopter Force has provided air power for the French deployment.
For the 2018 roll-out, the smaller, nimbler Wildcats have been assigned to the French to act as battlefield reconnaissance.
The 30-strong detachment of Brits, led by Lieutenant Mike Wells, left home at RNAS Yeovilton last week for the two-day flight down to the south of France to join 50 US marines, two Spanish Cougar helicopters and 133 French officer cadets who are beginning their operational training.
All were treated to a traditional French departure from the Marine Nationale's principal Mediterranean base - coffee and pastries aboard with the families before a formal parade on the 5,200-square-metre flight deck.
After Dixmude's Commanding Officer Jean Porcher had inspected the parade and Guard of Honour, it fell to the Deputy Commander of the French Navy, Vice Admiral Denis Bèraud, to conduct the formal inspection and wish all aboard: Bon vent et bon mer - fair winds and following seas.
The ceremony also saw the hallebarde - a large axe - presented by the French Naval College to the ship; it's a symbolic act, passing the baton of responsibility for looking after the young men and women to the ship.
The task group, which also includes the frigate FS Surcouf, will sail as far east as French Polynesia (including Tahiti) - a journey of a good 15,000 miles - and New Caledonia, 900 off the east coast of Australia.
As for the RN's other Pacific missions this year, HMS Sutherland is currently in Australia and her sister frigate HMS Argyll is due to head east later in the year.