Sub hunters play cat and mouse in Arctic

The game is on again for the Navy’s premier submarine killers as they join the largest hunt in northern waters this year.

Half a dozen warships, plus submarines, maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters are waging a ten-day battle in the Arctic circle for NATO’s Dynamic Mongoose exercise, involving more than 2,000 military personnel from nine nations.

Leading the charge for the UK are frigates HMS Sutherland and Westminster and three Merlin Mk2 helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron – all designed and built to hunt and destroy submarines.

NATO hosts two major anti-submarine warfare exercises every year, one off Sicily (Dynamic Manta), the other off Norway (Dynamic Mongoose), with regular Royal Navy participation in both.

To have so many surface ships, submarines and aircraft all join together for training provides us with a great opportunity to not only prove our ability to work with other units but also hone our renowned our anti-submarine warfare skills.

Lieutenant Commander James Mitchell RN

Beyond testing the abilities of different submarine hunting ships and submarines to work together to find underwater prey, the two exercises pose very different environmental challenges – the depth, temperature and salinity of water all affect the performance of sonar.

The waters off Troms and Nordland, where Dynamic Mongoose takes place until July 11, are a chilly 7-11°Celsius – half as warm as those off Sicily right now.

Another challenge is the constant daylight there is at this latitude – it’s known as the land of the midnight sun – with no sunsets or sunrises for two months in high summer it can disrupt sleep patterns, although sailors are used to operating around the clock.

The bulk of the surface ships taking part – including HMS Westminster – are drawn from NATO’s Northern Europe task force, Standing Group 1, bolstered by Sutherland who joined her sister in the port of Narvik fresh from successful missile trials in the Irish Sea.

“To have so many surface ships, submarines and aircraft all join together for training provides us with a great opportunity to not only prove our ability to work with other units but also hone our renowned our anti-submarine warfare skills,” said Sutherland’s Operations Officer Lieutenant Commander James Mitchell.

“Over the coming days the ship's company will face a number of challenges against nuclear and diesel-powered submarines which we will hunt and track as a collective task group.”

The frigate’s senior weapons engineer, Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman, added:"We are fully up for this - hunting submarines is what HMS Sutherland was designed and built to do.

"Couple that with a well-trained ship's company and Merlin helicopter both on their A-game and the ‘enemy below’ is going to have a tough ten days. Bring it on!"

The Merlins from the Flying Tigers have hopped 1,500 miles from their base at Culdrose in south-west Cornwall to the remote Norwegian Air Base on Andøya, 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle, after several fuel stops along the way.

One of the Merlins is operating from HMS Sutherland for the duration of the exercise, the other two will join the hunt from Andenes airfield daily, while HMS Westminster is supported by her smaller, nimbler Wildcat.

Before the game of cat and mouse began in earnest, the participants took part in a combined manoeuvre with some of the submarines poking their conning towers above the surface and the patrol aircraft circling overhead.