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Icom Support Exercise Rigid Lion

In August this year Radio Distributor, Icom UK Ltd supported the British Army Powerboat Team in the execution of their event called Exercise Rigid Lion. This exercise involved a team of 13 young soldiers attempting to circumnavigate Britain in two 6.5m Humber Ocean Pro Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs). The project, led by Major John Winskill involved the team navigating and driving some 2397 miles around the coast of mainland Great Britain in 10 days. Icom supplied IC-M503 marine VHF Transceiver and DS-100 DSC safety units to both boats. This ensured that the team’s RIBs were able to maintain communications with each other throughout the duration of the exercise. The radio fits would also allow the boats to speak with HM Coastguard and the emergency services in order to provide a high level of safety should an emergency arise.

The aim of Exercise Rigid Lion was to raise the profile of Army careers to young people in the UK by demonstrating the diversity of opportunities available to them in today's modern army. The exercise also supported St Dunstans, the Blind Ex-Servicemen's Charity, with a world record attempt by Mark Threadgold to circumnavigate the Isle Of Wight. Mark, who is totally blind, drove the Humber Ocean Pro 6.5m Rigid Inflatable Boat around a single lap of the Isle of Wight – a total distance of 57.54 nautical miles, and in doing so, set the Speed Record for an IOW Circumnavigation in the Blind Unlimited Class. Mark was in sole charge of the boat with Sapper Steve Board acting as a safety supervisor. The record was achieved in a superb time, with Mark taking 1 hour 50 minutes to circumnavigate the course. That same afternoon the boats were involved in leading the Tall Ships International Parade of Sail from Portsmouth harbour into the Solent. The crews for Exercise Rigid Lion were drawn from different corps and cap badges across the Army. They included infantrymen from the Royal Scots and the Royal Green Jackets, Sappers from the Royal Engineers, vehicle mechanics from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, logisticians from the Royal Logistic Corps, military policemen and women from the Royal Military Police and signallers from the Royal Corps of Signals. To make Exercise Rigid Lion more difficult, work commitments meant that the crews were not able to meet and train together until just four days before setting off around the coast. Some had never even set foot in that particular type of boat until training started.

The RIBs set off from Southampton on 7 August 2002 and travelled clockwise around mainland Britain, with refuelling stops in Cornwall, Liverpool, Leith and London. Major Winskill stated that to the best of his knowledge, this was the first time a novice team has ever attempted to conduct this passage in this direction with the boats running against all prevailing winds and tides, without the help of a 'mother-craft.' The winds generally run counter-clockwise round the British coastline and hence a passage which allows the boats to run before them is easier and safer. The Army Team chose to go the opposite way.The soldiers were at sea for up to 12 hours each day, starting as early as 0130 hours in the morning. This allowed them to cover up to 250 miles and finish mid-afternoon to provide time for re-fuelling, team rest and allow the boats and their associated IC-M503 transceivers to be displayed in major city centers around the coast. The long distances required every crew person to operate to his or her maximum every moment whilst afloat.

Major Winskill said, ’considering the fact the crew were all novices, each one demonstrated a remarkably high level of courage, determination, self-reliance and strength of character to keep going. They were required to function as a team even when cold, tired and soaked to the skin. They might be soldiers but they are still very human too’. The boats used two of the latest products to come from radio manufacturer, Icom. Waterproof to IPX-7, the IC-M503 together with its optional DSC controller, DS-100, meet 'Class D' DSC requirements. Ideal for the harsh demands of the RIB market, both units feature large flush mountable front panels together with large backlit function buttons and LCD for confident operation under all lighting conditions. Dot matrix characters ensure that information can be read easily at all times.

Major John Winskill commenting on the Icom communications said,’ The radios were absolutely brilliant. They provided me with a guaranteed communications link between the boats and operated flawlessly in all weather and sea conditions. Additionally, it was very reassuring to have the GMDSS backup which provided the extra level of insurance just in case anything went wrong and we needed help in a hurry.’ He added, ’The radios were used constantly throughout the passage 'we didn’t have a single problem with them. They were extremely easy to use, had clear displays and were entirely user friendly. The logical layout of the systems made it easy for us to teach the young soldiers how to use them in a matter of minutes. The buttons and controls are clearly marked, large and well spaced to allow accurate adjustments to be made even when running in absolute darkness at 40 knots off the North coast of Scotland!'

Asked if there were instances where the Icom radios proved critical on the journey around Britain, Major Winskill said, ’The radios proved their worth during our crossing of the Bristol Channel in the afternoon of the 8th of August 2002. An hour after leaving the north coast of Cornwall, the team’s RIBs were subjected to force 6, gusting 7 with occasional gale force 8 winds and associated breaking waves of up to 6 meters. One RIB was broached by a huge wave that hit her on the starboard bow. Instantly, tons of water broke down onto the deck and the crew. The sheer force of this wave was enough to flip her onto her port tube at 90 degrees to her normal attitude with the keel clearly visible. This wave was powerful enough to cause a catastrophic failure of the boat’s A frame extension. Due to the dreadful conditions, the boats hadn’t seen each other for over an hour (although their GPS plots subsequently showed they were never more than 100m apart).

Following the incident, the only way that the second boat knew the first was still upright was to use the radio. The fact that the Icom units are protected against total submersion meant that they still worked despite being swamped and the boats were able to speak to each other'that was critical.’

Asked why he chose to approach Icom, Major Winskill said, ‘I have been a sailor for 20 years and as far as I am concerned, Icom are the best-known marine communications manufacturer and so they were the natural choice for the Army team'why go elsewhere. On behalf of the team I would like to express my thanks to Ian and the staff at Icom UK for the loan of this equipment. I am conscious that we had the opportunity to use high grade, high quality and extremely reliable radio equipment without which the exercise would not have been safe and hence I would have had to cancel it. Through the total success of the exercise we were able to give tens of thousands of young people an insight into what extra-curricular activities they might get involved with if they choose to join the Army. I cannot thank Icom UK enough for giving me the opportunity to demonstrate these great opportunities to so many youngsters. Additionally the radios allowed me to control the World Record attempt as I was able to marshall the support ships and aircraft. Hence we could give Mark the best shot at being a champion.

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