Royal and US Navies link up for Gulf mine workout

British and America mine forces have flexed their combined muscle for the second time in 2020.

Four minehunters from the two allies’ navies pooled their collective resources to work with two of the Royal Navy’s frigates operating in the Gulf for two action-packed days which extended far beyond the art of hunting mines.

Both navies maintain flotillas of mine warfare vessels in Bahrain – a blend of British Hunt and Sandown-classes (designed to find mines in shallow and deep waters respectively) and US Navy Avenger-class ‘mine hunter-killers’ – to ensure the free flow of shipping in the Gulf.

With the region responsible for one sixth of the world’s oil and one third of its liquid natural gas and the waters blighted by mines as recently as the second Gulf War in 2003, the two navies train regularly to ensure that should these waters be sown again, they can be cleared in short order.

Doing the clearing on this occasion were USS Gladiator and USS Dextrous and HMS Shoreham and HMS Brocklesby, all under Commander Neil Griffiths and his staff – who direct the Royal Navy’s Gulf mine forces on a daily basis.

Minehunting is slow and painstaking, the ships themselves are agile but not fast. For protection, they were given HMS Argyll and HMS Montrose, which can call upon a panoply of weaponry to fend off foes above, on and below the water.

The exercise began with the minehunters working together to clear a corridor through a (mock) mine danger zone.

HMS Shoreham alone investigated 40 ‘suspicious’ objects with her Seafox Mine Disposal System – a robot submersible which feeds back live imagery to the operations room and can also be used to safely detonate a mine; alternatively, the ships can send their dive teams down to place charges and neutralise the explosives – which Shoreham did on three occasions.

“Working with our fellow minehunters from the US Navy, HMS Shoreham has again proved herself worthy of her reputation as a highly-capable, operationally effective vessel,” said Petty Officer (Mine Warfare Specialist) Grant Mallion, Shoreham’s minehunting director.

“The exercise was also an excellent chance to prove our ability to work as part of a combined task group.”

That group then showed its ability to defend itself against a fast moving simulated surface threat.

HMS Argyll choreographed the response and provided protection with her 4.5in main gun, while her Wildcat helicopter buzzed overhead.

The Wildcat – callsign Razorback after Argyll’s Wild Boar crest – then got the chance to switch sides and play as the hostile threat in the skies, doing its best to threaten the important work of the MCMs with a skilful show of tactical flying until it was taken out by Argyll’s new Sea Ceptor missile system.

The joint exercise concluded with an impressive display of ship handling as four of the vessels took up close formation for a final sail past before breaking away to continue delivering ongoing operations in the region.

“I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the exercise, particularly as I was afforded the opportunity to provide force protection for my small ship brethren,” said Lieutenant Commander Tim ‘Castro’ Castrinoyannakis, HMS Argyll’s Operations Officer – and also a qualified minewarfare and clearance diving officer who used to serve in Shoreham.

“The exercise has again demonstrated the close relationship between the US Navy and Royal Navy, and the versatility of these capable ships and their crews.

“Standing together, ready and prepared for any tasking or contingency it has been a great opportunity to reassure the maritime community of our commitment to ensuring security and stability in the region.”

Petty Officer (Mine Warfare Specialist) Grant Mallion, Shoreham’s minehunting director

Working with our fellow minehunters from the US Navy, HMS Shoreham has again proved herself worthy of her reputation as a highly-capable, operationally effective vessel