Royal, US and French Navies complete major minehunting workout in Gulf

Topic: Operational activitySecurity at Sea Storyline: Providing Security At Sea

Cutting-edge and long-standing minehunting methods were tested in the Gulf as the British, French and US Navies combined kit and expertise.

The three allied navies pooled their forces for Artemis Trident, run every two years with the sole purpose of honing mine warfare skills.

Both Britain and the USA maintain a permanent mine warfare presence in the Gulf – minehunters, dive teams, autonomous systems – while the Marine Nationale regularly deploys to the region.

They dispatched a specialist dive team for the two-week workout… which came hot on the heels of the largest naval exercise staged in the Middle East, IMX23 (billed as second only to the huge US-led RIMPAC in the Pacific in size and scope).

The three allies formed a small task group comprising UK support ship RFA Cardigan Bay and American minehunter USS Devastator.

The French brought a team of mine clearance divers and their robot submersible Allister 9 – which scans the seabed looking for suspicious objects, rather like the REMUS system used by the UK and US – aboard Cardigan Bay.

The Americans brought a combination of surface sail drones and underwater systems, plus MH60 Seahawk helicopters towing sonar.

And the Royal Navy used the exercise to test Harrier, the small hi-tech boat which is the future of the UK’s autonomous minehunting capability.

Over the next ten years, it and similar/successor systems will replace traditional ships with robot mother vessels launching drones into minefields, both speeding up the search and reducing the risk to human life.

As for the exercise, it set out to harness both the tech and the experience of personnel, sharing knowledge and tactics to detect, classify and clear mines effectively.

“This exercise truly enhanced our interoperability and operational effectiveness in mine countermeasures and explosive ordnance disposal operations,” said Captain Oscar Rojas US Navy, who is in charge of Task Force 52 – the US 5th Fleet’s mine warfare forces. “Working together at sea is vital to security in the region.”

The Anglo-French-American exercise was the last major act for the latest UK Mine Warfare Battle Staff to direct all Britain’s mine forces in the Middle East (currently HM Ships Bangor, Middleton and Chiddingfold, plus Harrier).

The staff spend six months at a time in the region, choreographing operations – minehunters, dive teams and, more recently, crewless systems and autonomous vehicles – from Cardigan Bay.

Beyond acting as a floating headquarters, the support ship is ideal for sustaining longer-term minehunting operations (minehunters typically have limited endurance) by providing fuel, food, fresh water and spare parts as and when required.

The six-month stint completed by the latest staff – known as Red Watch – has seen UK sailors and warships contributing to the international security mission which ensured the World Cup in Qatar passed without incident.

The UK task group, working with the Qatari Navy and multi-national partners, conducted operations on the principal sea routes in and out of Qatar’s main ports, ensuring they remained safe for shipping throughout the tournament.

Since then there have been a string of operations and exercises – some regular and relatively small in scale, others spread across thousands of miles like IMX – and general working alongside regional navies, visit to local ports and cities, and flying the flag for the UK.

The force frequently hosts partner nations, visiting officers and plays a full role in community events – such as recently hosting a high-profile iftar aboard Cardigan Bay in Bahrain for Muslims celebrating the breaking of fasting during the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan.

Among the overseas observers who’ve seen the British mine warfare team in action is Republic of Korea officer Lieutenant Junior Grade Jeong Won Kim who thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“I have been very impressed with the pride that people have to be part of the Navy. There is a good mindset amongst Royal Navy sailors,” he said.
The force draws upon decades of Royal Navy operations in the Gulf, with a permanent mine warfare presence in Bahrain for more than 15 years, with some sailors having completed half a dozen tours of duty in the region – so they know the mission thoroughly.

“The UK’s Mine Countermeasures Force has delivered a complex and enduring task to contribute to the highest possible level of security in support several maritime exercises such as Artemis Trident, whilst furthering our relationships with international partners and allies,” said Commander Dan Herridge, who’s commanded the Red Watch team for the past six months.

“I feel immensely privileged to have commanded UKMCMFOR in this unique task to demonstrate our capabilities in a dynamic operation like the FIFA World Cup, the first hosted by a Middle Eastern country.”