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Submarine-hunting Merlin joins Westminster

13 June 2017
If there's something strange in your neighbourhood. Who you gonna call?

HMS Westminster and her Merlin Mk2.

Meet Gatekeeper, named for guardian to underworld from Ghostbusters, and now a permanent presence aboard HMS Westminster.

The ongoing regeneration of the Portsmouth-based frigate after a massive two-year overhaul in her home base has seen the focus switch to her primary mission: hunting (and killing, if necessary) hostile submarines.

The next few weeks will be a busy time for us, but we are looking forward to getting fully integrated with the ship and bringing her up to her full capability.

CPO John Court

Before undergoing her refit, the 'capital ship' was the nation's premier submarine hunter - a title she's keen to regain, and impossible without the addition of a Merlin Mk2, arguably the world's premier submarine-hunting helicopter, from 829 Naval Air Squadron in Culdrose.

Merlins have hopped on and off the flight deck during Westminster's work-up, but with the assignment of a permanent flight - same helicopter, same crew, same engineers - a much stronger bond is formed, crucial in the extremely patient and demanding world of anti-submarine warfare.

Thanks to the wizardry in the back of the helicopter, Gatekeeper brings what has been described as a 'second operations room' to the hunt, with the helicopter's observer and aircrewman using sonobuoys (expendable buoys which are dropped to listen for the presence of a boat) or dipping her sonar to locate and track the underwater foe, before launching Stingray torpedoes to neutralise any threat.

Embarking Gatekeeper is not as simple as landing on the flight deck - if landing a 15-tonne helicopter in all-weather conditions on an area three quarters the size of a tennis court that pitches and rolls with waves up to 20ft high could be considered simple.

The aircrew, engineers and over 15 tonnes of tools and stores need to be integrated into an already-full ship.

"It is good to be welcomed back on board Westminster and to be able to see all the improvements that were made during her refit," said CPO John Court, Flight Maintenance Coordinator, and a Westminster veteran as he was aboard on her final pre-refit deployment to the Gulf.

"The next few weeks will be a busy time for us, but we are looking forward to getting fully integrated with the ship and bringing her up to her full capability."

As well as the emphasis on anti-submarine warfare, the Merlin will practise counter-piracy and interdiction roles, ferrying troops/sailors around, transferring stores and performing rescues if required while attached to the frigate.

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