Culdrose engineers tune up tanker Tidespring's guns

Conducting maintenance on the self-defence weapons of tanker RFA Tidespring are the weapons engineers of 1700 Naval Air Squadron.

The Culdrose-based unit provides ships across the Fleet – and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels especially – with trained Royal Navy personnel to bolster ship’s companies and support front-line operations.

Much of that assistance revolves around flight deck teams of aircraft handlers to ensure safe helicopter operations, such as aboard RFA Argus currently making her way across the Atlantic with Merlin and Wildcats embarked for hurricane relief duties.

But the unique squadron also provides ships with extra chefs, writers, seamen specialists and engineers.

Such as the small group of weapons engineers aboard the 39,000-tonne tanker, currently off the South Coast supporting the Navy’s work in home waters.

On operations, our engineers are responsible for maintaining the operational capability of Phalanx, its functioning for calibration trials – and operate it to protect the ship if required. Our engineers then oversee the removal of the systems and all the associated spares, tools and maintenance equipment when the systems are not needed.

Lt Jonah Jones

Tidespring and her three sisters are built to serve with the UK’s new carrier task groups, providing fuel for HMS Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales and their escorts, plus the helicopters and F-35 Lightning jets in the carrier air group.

Given the importance of the tankers to the group, they have several layers of defence to protect them – and their precious cargo – including 30mm cannons, Phalanx Gatling guns and, as a last line of defence, small arms.

“1700’s weapons engineers oversee Phalanx’s installation, trials and operational acceptance,” explained 1700 NAS’ Lt Jonah Jones.

“On operations, our engineers are responsible for maintaining the operational capability of Phalanx, its functioning for calibration trials – and operate it to protect the ship if required. Our engineers then oversee the removal of the systems and all the associated spares, tools and maintenance equipment when the systems are not needed.”  

Tidespring has just emerged from her first refit, so the 1700 NAS engineers have been checking and calibrating systems, including the two Phalanx guns.

The weapon – fitted across much of the Fleet, including HMS Queen Elizabeth – spews out 20mm rounds at the rate of 75 per second – a wall of iron and fire which is intended to obliterate incoming missiles, aircraft or fast-attack craft on the water.