Mine warfare forces sharpen skills in Omani exercise

Four ships and more than 200 sailors led Britain’s involvement in an international test of allied sea power in the Middle East.

The Royal Navy joined French and US naval forces who accepted the invite from the Omanis for their annual workout – Khunjar Hadd (Arabic for ‘Sharp Dagger’).

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the exercise which this year focused on the ability of the four nations to keep sea lanes open – with the added spice of some board and search training.

Britain dispatched support vessel RFA Cardigan Bay and three hunters (HMS Brocklesby, Ledbury and Shoreham) to the Gulf of Oman – two fifths of the warships mustered for Khunjar Hadd.

The goal was to hone the collective skills of four participating nations should they ever have to operate – or fight – side-by-side and to practise long-standing and potential future minehunting techniques.

Cardigan Bay embodies both present and future. For the present, she acts as mother to all four Royal Navy minehunters operating out of Bahrain, providing them with fuel, food, fresh water, ammunition, stores and, if needed, engineering support.

As for the future, for Khunjar Hadd she was home to a specialist US autonomous boat – as she was at the end of last year during the major International mine warfare exercise.

Run from an air-conditioned shipping container on Cardigan Bay’s flight deck, the MHU (Mine Hunting Unmanned) system trails a sonar through suspected mined waters, beaming the picture back to the controllers to analyse… in the same way British mine warfare experts peer at sonar feeds in an operations room.

At present, the MHU can only locate mines. It cannot identify them. And it certainly cannot destroy them. 

So there were plenty of opportunities for dive teams to enter the water and counter-mine explosive devices sonars had located.

Sister ships Ledbury and Brocklesby led the way, methodically clearing a path through 40 miles of ocean. They found four dummy mines laid by exercise directors.

“Without doubt, Khunjar Hadd has been a huge success,” said Commander Neil Griffiths, Commander of the United Kingdom Mine Counter Measures Force directing the actions of the British participants from Cardigan Bay.

“It proved – once again – that while we are individually strong, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

“It’s a great opportunity to prove our ability to work together, to share ideas and best ways of working, as well as demonstrating our commitment as a valued partner of Oman”

“I particularly enjoyed meeting my fellow officers from the Omani, US and French Navies and exchanging ideas.”

Two sailors chalked up personal milestones mid-way through the exercise: Lt Fai Lee, on Commander Griffiths’ staff, received the Volunteer Reserve Service Medal for ten years’ service while Shoreham’s ET(WE) Conor Hopwood was named his ship’s ‘sailor of the month’.

And as well as a chance for participants to work together, there was a chance to play together too as the Omani Navy hosted a day’s sporting Olympiad for sailors to get to know each other.

RFA Cardigan Bay. Picture: LPhot Rory Arnold

Commander Neil Griffiths, Commander of the United Kingdom Mine Counter Measures Force

It’s a great opportunity to prove our ability to work together, to share ideas and best ways of working, as well as demonstrating our commitment as a valued partner of Oman