Minehunter crews in the Gulf have been pushing the tech boundaries and honing skills with American allies in the latest combined Anglo-American workout.
The two navies hold regular joint exercises to ensure there’s no ‘skills fade’ in the delicate art of finding and neutralizing mines – especially as crews and ships regularly rotate through the region, so there’s a high degree of churn.
For the latest “interop” exercise, HMS Chiddingfold, Middleton and Penzance plus RFA Lyme Bay, their command ship and home to the RN’s Mine Warfare Battle Staff, joined American minehunter USS Gladiator and giant MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters – which drag minesweeping kit through the Gulf waters – for eight days of trials and test.
The RN vessels were joined by members of the US Navy’s Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures Company, who bring autonomous systems to the panoply of existing mine warfare sensors, systems and kit.
That resulted in HMS Penzance becoming the first Sandown-class vessel to put a REMUS 600 vehicle through its paces.
REMUS has been used by the Navy for several years – but traditionally it’s launched from smaller craft. The device, which looks like a torpedo, moves through the water at speeds of up to five knots, scanning the seabed with sonar on ‘patrols’ up to three days long. In doing so, it surveys a huge area and, crucially, ensures the ship itself doesn’t have to venture anywhere near the suspected minefield.
This latest Interop developed the deployment and recovery of autonomous systems in a minefield, as well as more traditional hunting by the three minehunters with their inbuilt sonar suites.
Commodore Oscar Rojas USN, Commander Task Force 52 – which oversees mine warfare operations in the Gulf – said the region remained “one of the most environmentally challenging operating areas in the world” and both navies were working hand-in-hand to push the boundaries and develop the minehunting equipment and procedures of tomorrow.
He added: “By integrating next-generation US unmanned systems onboard UK ships, we were able to take another huge step towards achieving our mutual goal of employing unmanned systems that are modular, have commonality, and have interchangeable payloads and platforms within a combined MCM Task Force.
His Royal Navy deputy, Captain Don Crosbie, added that the eight-day exercise had allowed the Royal and US Navies “to deepen our understanding of the tactical employment of hybrid mine countermeasures combinations in this demanding theatre.”
Interop was the first taste of working in the Gulf for Middleton, which has recently arrived in Bahrain in company with HMS Bangor after the lengthy journey from the UK, replacing HMS Brocklesby and Shoreham which are due back in Portsmouth and Faslane imminently.
By integrating next-