Patrol ship HMS Tamar picks up the pace as 2021 begins

New patrol ship HMS Tamar has begun 2021 pushing the boundaries of what the five-strong class can do.

Britain’s newest operational warship sailed from Portsmouth on New Year’s Eve, picking up where she left off before Christmas: developing new tactics and honing skills working with Royal Marines.

Chief among experiments is harnessing air power. Although the new River class ships have no hangar, they have a large flight deck to host most military helicopters wherever they might operate in the world.

Having worked with the Fleet Air Arm’s smaller Wildcat helicopters last year, Tamar opened 2021 welcoming a submarine-hunting Merlin Mk2 helicopter aboard for the first time.

The commando variant of the helicopter – which can carry up to two dozen Royal Marines into battle – has been tested with HMS Medway, currently deployed in the Caribbean.

The naval variant is pretty much the same outwardly (save a distinctive radar dome beneath the cockpit) but inside is packed with submarine-hunting sensors and processors, and a ‘flying operations room’ for two aircrew to make sense of all the data being received.

It’s also more than twice as heavy as a Wildcat, and is renowned throughout the Navy for the powerful downdraught produced by its rotors.

The Flying Tigers of 814 Naval Air Squadron from Culdrose – the home of all three Merlin Mk2 squadrons – provided the helicopter for the training as Tamar patrolled the south west coastline.

These ships are the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of Defence and are a fantastic addition to the Royal Navy.

Lieutenant Commander Michael Hutchinson, HMS Tamar’s Commanding Officer

Culdrose has also provided a team of drone specialists to see how they – and their small pilotless aircraft – might be used on front-line operations.

Two Flights (one Puma, three maintainers/operators each) from 700X Naval Air Squadron – the Royal Navy’s only drone unit – are aboard Tamar.

Though small, Puma can reach speeds over 50mph, keeping pace with many fast craft – such as boats or jet skis threatening a task group, or speedboats used by drug runners – or monitor Royal Marines engaged in a board and search operation, feeding Tamar’s operations room with real-time moving images of operations – allowing commanders to make quick and accurate decisions.

That capability is particularly pertinent right now as the ship is resuming training with 42 and 47 Commandos (respectively the Royal Marines’ board and search and amphibious operations/small boat specialists) as they hone counter-piracy/terrorism/smuggling skills – missions they are likely to carry out when Tamar deploys. Her sister HMS Medway has worked with similar teams from the US Coast Guard in the Caribbean, leading to a multi-million-pound drugs bust.

“These ships are the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of Defence and you will see from what Tamar achieved in 2020 and how she is being operated that they are a fantastic addition to the Royal Navy,” said Lieutenant Commander Michael Hutchinson, HMS Tamar’s Commanding Officer.

“The ship’s company is a comparatively young team – average age 27 – and a quarter of them are female. They really are the pathfinders for the modern and transformed Royal Navy.

He continued: “We sailed on December 31 after a short, but well deserved period of Christmas leave having completed a record-setting first year.

 “This first Merlin landing, completed on New Year's Day, was the latest demonstration of the increasing capability of the ship and the first interaction with Culdrose’s Merlins.”