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17. Cape Wrath, Sutherland. (NC 260 747)

The most north-westerly point on the British mainland is also an 8,400 acre Ministry of Defence weapons range and army exercise area. Cape Wrath was first used as a weapons range in the 1930s but the Ministry of Defence only bought the ranges in 2001. Norse for 'turning point', Cape Wrath has the highest sea-cliffs on mainland Britain which acted as a land-mark for sailors navigating around the coast of Scotland.

There are four main ranges in the Cape Wrath vicinity:

There is a Naval Gunfire Support Range of around 3,400 hectares, covering the whole Cape Wrath area used for ship-to-shore bombardment. Royal Navy and other NATO vessels use the range for the practice firing of their 4.5 inch and 5 inch guns. The cliffs, which are an important nesting ground for birds, rise to almost 1,000ft vertically are used as ranging marks for the guns. The naval range is usually used between four and eight times a year. In 2003, three American warships from the Eisenhower Battle-group, the 9,600-ton cruisers USS Anzio and Cape St George, and destroyer USS Mahan used the range whilst they were en-route to the Mediterranean. The use of Cape Wrath by US forces has generated controversy because the US Government was forced to withdraw from using a similar range at Vieques in Puerto Rico in May 2003 after accidentally killing security guards on the range there and the discovery that Depleted Uranium munitions had been test-fired there despite repeated assurances that they wouldn't be.

The naval gunfire support range is used three times a year by the navies from many NATO members and plays a central part in the Joint Maritime Course (JMC),. Joint Maritime Courses are one of the largest military exercises to occur regularly in the Northern Hemisphere. Taking place three times a year, all three military services, air-force, navy and army, are involved jointly (hence 'Joint' Maritime Course.) The JMC is central to training of new recruits to the Royal Navy. All RN recruits undergo their 'Tier 2' Operational Sea Training during the Joint Maritime Course exercises, which take place off the whole length of the West Coast of Scotland and ran out of Faslane[74]. During the JMC, the Cape Wrath firing range is used extensively for Naval Gunfire Support. The JMC exercises can include up to 50 ships, 5 submarines and well over 100 aircraft and as a result are bigger than most NATO exercises.

The final JMC of 2003 involved 27 naval vessels from 13 different countries including Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, the UK and the US. The first JMC of 2004 took place between February 23rd and March 4th. The majority of ships taking part in the final JMC of 2003 came from the British and American navies, with the destroyer HMS Glasgow, and the mine hunter HMS Inverness amongst those involved. The JMC involved a number of exercises at sea and in the air with over 50 different scenarios practiced, including submarine manoeuvres. The exercise encompassed every aspect of warfare training, which meant that live firing not only took place on the naval range, but also on Garvie Island, where the RAF and the air forces of America, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium flew over 800 sorties and dropped up to 1,000lb bombs.

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