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
We enter into a new year and another 12 months for our local defence movements calendar. January is a long month which is traditionally short on military visits. Indeed it has been the case in recent years that practically nothing has called in during the beginning of the year.
This month however was once again a mixed bag. The maritime picture was almost dead barring one interesting arrival. The focus for the month however was in the air with a very busy 31 days for RAF Gibraltar.
At sea the only naval visit took place on the 11th when the Astute-class nuclear powered attack submarine HM Sub Ambush called in. A day earlier an Astute class was spotted conducting a boat transfer off Europa Point leading many to surmise that it was the same boat. Ambush is no stranger to our City, being statistically the most frequent visitor of the boats in her class so far in commission. Other than that the UK Border Force cutter UKBF Seeker is still on the Rock providing a most welcome presence by this professional outfit which has been thrust into the public eye by recent events. Sadly as Operation Sofia winds down in the central Mediterranean and the focus of the migrant issue turns to the English Channel it may be one of the last times we see this type of vessel here, enjoy it whilst you can I say!
The military aviation scene by contrast has been active, varied and unusual as has been the case lately. We had a total of 5 A400 arrivals with ZM403 calling in on the 4th followed by ZM409 on the 11th, ZM411 on the 17th and ZM415 on the 26th. This last machine departed the next day but arrived back shortly afterwards. This was followed by the return of ZM411 on the 28th providing spotters with the rare sight of two A400s on South Dispersal at the same time. There was no shortage of pictures published on social media from all sorts of vantage points of this by our group of dedicated, intrepid and skilled aviation photographers.
Once again the much-loved C17 made an appearance in the form of ZZ175 on the 22nd giving us our monthly dose of four-engined turbofan rumble, much to the delight of many.
Saving the best for last the 15th of January saw what I hope could be a very significant development for our military relevance. Uncle Sam was not to be left out of proceedings and US Air Force C12 Huron ’73-1217’ arrived. Once again, although looking like just another small turboprop to the casual observer, she carried the United States Defence Attaché to London and his deputy for a visit according to MoD sources online. This may just be the breakthrough we are looking for as Gibraltar tries to regain the strategic significance it once held in the eyes of our NATO allies. As I have previously reported, much damage has been done by Spanish political pressure to ward formerly frequent visitors to Gibraltar and Britain’s own political passivity hasn’t helped but it is hoped that the increase in US military presence on the Rock lately is a sign that we have bounced off the bottom. Will this be too little too late and are we locking the door once Uncle Sam’s horse has bolted? We shall see!
As ‘la cuesta de enero’ is crested we look back on a busy month in the air and a disappointing month at sea (barring our much-welcomed December to January submarine bonanza) and look forward to what we hope will be a interesting and more importantly relevant year for our military base.
David Sanchez is a local military enthusiast and photographer with a degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies.