Divers hunt mines in joint US-UK exercise

Two Royal Navy minehunters and a specialist diving team have taken part in a week-long exercise with their American counterparts in the Gulf – locating and destroying a variety of dummy mines.

HMS Bangor and HMS Chiddingfold are based in Bahrain for six months while the divers of Fleet Diving Unit 3 were flown out from Portsmouth to take part as specialists in searching jetties, ships and harbours.

The Royal Navy ships joined with Royal Fleet Auxilary ship Cardigan Bay – used as the command ship for British mine and dive forces in the Middle East – and the American minesweeper USS Gladiator.

All three minehunters taking part in the ‘squad exercise’ brought something different: HMS Chiddingfold is designed to hunt and destroy mines in shallow waters; HMS Bangor has a sonar which can be lowered to locate devices in deep sea; and the USS Gladiator carries out sweeping – either detonating mines at a safe distance or cutting their anchor cables, bringing them to the surface so they can be destroyed.

It is great to be in command of such a diverse force.

Commander Jools Howe

HMS Bangor and Chiddingfold’s teams put their Seafox submersible into the water to locate, identify and destroy practice mines which had been dropped into the Gulf ahead of the exercise, while the Americans launched torpedo-like unmanned underwater vehicles to scan swaths of the seabed.

“Modern technology is advancing at pace and these exercises are a good opportunity to test new technologies out in warm waters,” said HMS Chiddingfold’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Steve White.

Although the waters of the Gulf are around 20˚C at this time of year – the Anglo-American force found itself facing high winds and worsening seas as the exercise progressed, putting extra pressure on them to detect, neutralise and recover the mines before they became dispersed by the weather.

“Although it was a challenging and tiring week, exercises like this remind us how effectively we can all work to our own strengths to achieve the maximum overall effect,” said Diver Ross Mcclung of HMS Chiddingfold.

“There is certainly a lot we can learn from each other when we conduct these exercises and they are a good way to practise for the real thing.”

Directing the exercise from Cardigan Bay, Commander Jools Howe – who is also in charge of the UK’s entire minehunting presence east of Suez – said the week of combined training yet again underlined the importance of the Royal and US Navies working together in the region.

“This type of exercise displays just how effective the UK and US partnership is in the operational theatre,” he said.

“It is great to be in command of such a diverse force.

“This reinforces our relationship with the US Navy, ensuring our ability to work with each other and demonstrating the use of new technologies to find and dispose of mines in a quicker and safer way.”