Looking Back: USMC Ospreys and Harriers Aboard the HMS Illustrious


03/25/2015: By Robbin Laird

In 2007, the HMS Illustrious was the first non-US ship on which an Osprey was to land.

I had the opportunity to be aboard one of those Ospreys and land on the ship and observe Marines working with the Royal Navy and operating their Harriers off of the jump-jet carrier as part of their training effort.

At the time British Harriers were operating in Iraq and not aboard the ship itself.

These photos show the Osprey and USMC Harriers operating aboard HMS Illustrious in the 2007 training exercise and are credited to Second Line of Defense. 

The final photo is credited to the Royal Navy and was shot when in September 2013, the Osprey landed again on the ship.

According to a Royal Navy story published in 2013:

Six years ago HMS Illustrious became the first non-US ship to fly an Osprey and was pleased to welcome one back on board with it completing a total of four deck landings.

Piloting the US Marine Corp aircraft as it landed at dusk was a Royal Navy Lieutenant – Alan Wootton – a former Army Air Corps pilot who transferred to the Royal Navy as a Lynx pilot.

 Al is on a three year exchange with the US Marine Corps and flew with co-pilot Captain Goudy of the United States Marine Corps.

Lieutenant Commander Nigel Terry, deputy head of HMS Illustrious’ Flight Department was also on board when the Osprey visited in 2007.

He said: “Opportunities like this present an invaluable opportunity to continue to grow our ability to work together with other nations.

This is absolutely essential in modern naval operations.

 “It allows us to grow our understanding of our different procedures as well as providing valuable training for our deck crews…..”

Until recently, USS Kearsarge had three Royal Navy aircraft handlers embarked as part of the Long Lead Specialist Skills Programme. 

This programme seeks to retain and develop the specialist skills required to operate the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers which are under construction at Rosyth dockyard.

Three US Marines and six US Navy personnel also visited HMS Illustrious during the rendezvous.

HMS Illustrious is currently part of the Response Force Task Group deployed on Cougar 13 operating in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Horn of Africa.

It involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group as commanded by Commodore Paddy McAlpine.

Recently, in an interview at Camp Lejeune, Major General Simcock, the CG of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, spoke of the importance of evolving a global amphibious fleet, where Marines need to train and be able to work with allies and partners off of their ships as well US Navy ships. 

Clearly, the kind of relationship the UK and the US has evolved is an example of this.

With the coming of the USS America, and the revitalization of the large deck amphibious ships with the twin operations of Ospreys and F-35Bs, there is a clear opportunity to expand those relationships with foreign warships, which can either operate the Osprey or the F-35B.

And with the British building the largest warship they have ever built coming on line in the period ahead, opportunities for shaping USN-USMC and British collaborative con-ops will go up as well.