HMS Duncan’s NATO task group clears through simulated minefield

NATO’s two Mediterranean task groups joined forces to clear and sail through a simulated minefield at sea.

The destroyers and frigates of Maritime Group 2 – currently led by Portsmouth-based Royal Navy warship HMS Duncan – linked up with the international minehunters of Mine Counter Measures Group 2 in the central Mediterranean to test themselves against the challenging exercise scenario.

For all the capability of Duncan and other major warships, they – and any merchant shipping – are vulnerable to sea mines, just as shipping was through both world wars and, more recently, the ‘tanker war’ in the Gulf in the 1980s. 

The scenario saw a minefield placed across a simulated narrow chokepoint which, when coupled with the risk of attack from hostile aircraft and fast attack craft, combined to present a formidable obstacle to the passage of ships. 

It’s a realistic scenario which either warships or merchant vessels might face around the world. 

Seven NATO warships from four countries proved their ability to overcome this complex challenge during the exercise. 

A chokepoint – a narrow passage of water where freedom of manoeuvre is limited – funnels high volumes of traffic through a confined space, making them vulnerable to attack from land or water-based foe… and can be relatively easily blocked by sowing mines… costing the global economy millions of pounds every minute.

Hence NATO navies need to be ready to react to keep these vital strategic shipping routes open. 

“Both the world economy and our daily existence are utterly reliant on merchant shipping. It is vital that we are able to keep these strategic routes open such that merchant vessels are able to pass through them safely,” said Commodore Paul Stroude, Commander of Maritime Group 2.

The minehunters and a command and support ship (Turkey’s Erdek and the Italian ships Stromboli and Viareggio) used their specialist equipment and expertise to clear a safe route through the minefield.

The vessels of Maritime Group 2 (Duncan plus frigates Gokceada (Turkey) and Carabiniere (Italy), bolstered by the USS Ramage, followed safely in their wake whilst providing protection from air and surface attack.

In this case the air and missile attacks were represented by computer simulation, and defeated by a combination of long and short-range missile systems (such as Duncan’s Sea Vipers) and close-in defensive systems such as Phalanx Gatling guns (also fitted to HMS Duncan among other vessels).

For good measure, small boats from the task group were used to represent fast-attack craft, countered by close-range weapons such as 30mm or .50 calibre machine guns.     

Commodore Stroude said was delighted with the outcome: “We have demonstrated that these two NATO task groups can operate seamlessly together to form a single, integrated, multinational force in the Mediterranean, capable of overcoming complex threats and real world challenges at short notice.”