Military Movements Review: February

YGTV’s article series continues - each month, David Sanchez will review military visits to the Rock. Drawing on his in-depth knowledge and photographic skills, the articles will provide readers with valuable background facts to the aircraft and vessels that pop into the Rock.

By David Sanchez

As the second month of 2020 came and went, it was a very lax, if not to say boring month for military movements on the Rock. As shall be seen, the main incident involving defence affairs came not from a visit (wanted or unwanted) but from a news headline that vanished into the ether as soon and as completely as it appeared.

As I intimate above, the month very nearly warranted a skipping of my article due to a lack of visits worth reporting but contained just enough to fill an entry.

At sea, the first of the month saw an American visit in the form of the United States Maritime Security Program charter vehicles carrier Green Lake taking on bunkers in the Bay in what has proved to be her maiden call. Sadly we are once again avoided by United States Military assets but her presence was more welcome by local observers than may seem apparent.

The 10th saw a British charter RoRo pay us a visit in the familiar form of Anvil Point proceeding from Marchwood.

Lastly the now rare sight of a grey hull was seen on the 22nd with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary fast fleet tanker RFA Wave Knight berthing at the Tower. The ‘Mighty Knight’ was transiting to the United Kingdom after a busy deployment in the tense operating area of the Persian Gulf where she has played a crucial role in supplying Royal Navy and other vessels engaged in escort duties in the region. She has just arrived home at the time of writing so I wish her a lengthy and well deserved rest period after a job well done.

Airside, the Groundhog Day predictability of military aviation arrivals continues with nothing to get the pulse raised for the aviation enthusiast sadly. We had three RAF A400 visits with ZM414 on the 11th followed by ZM403 on the 18th and ZM413 ending events for the month on the 25th. Regarding RAF Gibraltar, all were saddened to see the sorry sight of our Gate Guardian Jaguar being dismantled and suffering the same ignominious fate as the Vulcan did a generation ago.

One item of news did characterise February and it came in the form of a press release by the Royal Navy that confirmed the Batch 2 River class Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Trent will be based from Gibraltar as of the autumn. Predictably this sent local enthusiasts into a state of euphoria, whilst fully aware that this does NOT imply that the vessel would be deployed here solely to patrol BGTW and deter incursions, the fact that for the first time since WW2 we would have a sizeable asset based here would increase our relevance exponentially. The ray of sunshine lasted barely six hours; the next morning the paragraph mentioning this was pulled and the Royal Navy officially stated that the decision has ‘not yet been made’. Perhaps this and the implementing of the necessary infrastructure is being left to the very last minute or perhaps other influences have interfered. Still, this wholly mismanaged incident left many locals feeling like a football fan that has seen their team score a wonder goal only for it to be disallowed by VAR.

Predictably to us wizened locals, this was followed by an exponential increase in incursions at sea as well as in the air. Tempers and patience were stretched to the limits as a result and the lesson to take is that now, if ever, more not less military presence is just what the average citizen desires for some much needed reassurance. The only factor that hasn’t been taken into account among the veritable mountain of analysis regarding these incursions seems to be what the locals feel. It is hoped that this will now change. Suffice to say that a network of sharp, experienced Gibraltar Coast Watchers has now been set up who monitor, photograph and advise of incursions of all kinds with astonishing speed and accuracy.

As the weather warms up and we head into the balmy Mediterranean spring, we hope that military visits to the Rock follow the barometer. We hope for better because frankly this month has proven that it cannot get much worse! Whichever way the wind blows, I shall be here as always to guide you through it.

David Sanchez is a local military enthusiast and photographer with a degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies.