NAVY NEWS, JUNE 2011
Picking up the gauntlet
and two Americans. What a fine example of international naval co- operation.
In the middle of the Gulf, Allied mine warfare forces join up for Arabian Gauntlet 11
a Royal-Navy led test of the ability of divergent ships to work together to deal with a potential mine menace in the heat of the Gulf (where it’s now in the mid-30s Celsius – over 90˚F). Your cast for Arabian Gauntlet
– THERE are four Britons, two Pakistanis
Higgins and Pakistan’s brand-new frigate, PNS Saif.
Air and surface targets were successfully engaged by the bolstered force, demonstrating its ability to respond swiftly and effectively to a variety of threats. It’s the second major international
were mother ship RFA Lyme Bay, two Sandowns (HM Ships Grimsby and Pembroke), one Hunt (Chiddingfold), one US Avenger-class minehunter (USS Gladiator), one very large USS minehunting helicopter (a Sea Dragon from the ‘Blackhawks’ – HM-15) and two Pakistani (PNS Munsif and Muhafiz).
The UK Maritime Battle Staff used Lyme Bay – officially a landing support ship, but she’s being employed in the Gulf as a support vessel for Britain’s four Bahrain- based minehunters (Middleton, No.4 in the quartet wasn’t partaking in this exercise) – as their base to choreograph a number of training serials and tests. Following a joint departure from Bahrain, Pembroke led the minehunters in some co-ordinated gunnery. After that there was some core business (ie minehunting) with a sustained hunt in challenging temperatures and a less-than-benign sea state. The weather did not stop Pembroke launching her Seafox robot submersible to track down several exercise mines, while her clearance divers also took to the murky waters of the Gulf to do the same. “Exercising with so many different countries has really given us the chance to further our skills and gain a useful insight into working with minehunters from other countries,” said Lt Cdr Angus Essenhigh, Pembroke’s CO. Arabian Gauntlet drew to a close with the big guns joining in – Arleigh Burke destroyer USS
exercise involving RN mine forces in the Gulf in the past few weeks. Pembroke, Middleton, plus Lyme Bay joined the final stages of Inas Bahr (Friendly Seas) which saw one of NATO’s two minehunting forces (Group 2 – Group 1 is dealing with Gaddafi’s mine threat off Libya) leave the Med and make a rare foray into the Gulf.
As with Arabian Gauntlet, the aim was to test the abilities of ships from numerous nations – Greece, Turkey, Germany, Spain, Italy, France and the USA, plus the British contingent – to hunt mines together. In this instance, there was a great deal of knowledge which the Brits could pass on to the visiting force.
RN minehunters have built up a wealth of experience thanks to their near-constant presence in the uniquely- challenging waters of the Gulf over the past decade.
It certainly rubbed off, according to
the NATO task group commander, Capt Georgios Pelekanakis. “Exercising with ships and crews with a long experience of working in these waters made this extremely useful,” he said. “We also made a good show of ourselves and demonstrated that we are indeed able to operate at strategic distance.” That ‘strategic distance’ was aided
to some degree by Lyme Bay which provided the NATO vessels with fuel and supplies – something she does for Royal Navy mine vessels on a regular basis. With the arrival
of the international force there was the chance to practise
replenishments with different vessels – and on a much larger scale.
Blyth spirit of the night
THIS is not a piece of modern art, but the trail left by tracer from the guns of HMS Blyth as the minehunter prepared for a punishing deployment.
Officer Sea Training’ as the Navy’s ultimate ‘MOT organisation’ readied Blyth’s crew for their seven months in charge of HMS Pembroke which is currently in Bahrain (rotation of the ship’s companies allows for a constant RN minehunter presence in the region).
Five weeks of intensive training were just what the doctor ordered for the Sandown’s crew as they prepared for the Gulf. We say ‘doctor’ but really we mean ‘Flag
training’s a daunting prospect,” he said. “Human nature tends to take over and you assume that the FOSTies will arrive onboard with the sole objective of placing you under extreme pressure. “It was a pleasant surprise to learn – very quickly – that actually their focus is purely on identifying your shortcomings and giving encouragement and advice on how to improve.
Although FOST for small ships is a shorter experience than larger vessels (five weeks not eight or nine), many of the tests and scenarios are identical: stem flooding, fight fires, fend off fast attack craft, jets, helicopters, deal with the media (although some of the sailors do struggle with the constant disputes between Brownia and Mustardia, the fictitious states at the heart of the FOST scenario). And being a minehunter there are some bespoke tests locating and blowing up mines.
The FOSTies assess the competency of the Blyth team as a whole, but for some members of the ship’s company there’s one-on-one assessment, such as navigator S/Lt Martyn Mayger.
“As a first-job navigator, operational sea
of sadness at leaving Blyth behind. They have brought her out of refit at Rosyth at the end of last year and breathed fresh life into her. There is little time for ‘mourning’, however, as thoughts turn to the Gulf: the keys for Blyth are handed over at the end of May, those for Pembroke are collected in early June. “The period of training has put the right amount of pressure – with support – on my team to prepare us fully for an operational theatre,” said Lt Cdr Rich Hutchings, Blyth’s CO. “Given the uncertainty of current climes – and the recently-publicised mine clearance operations off Libya by HMS Brocklesby – the training is totally realistic and covers the full spectrum of tasks that we could be called upon to do.”
“The standard of teaching was brilliant. With a bit of determination and personal effort, I’m sure the lessons they taught me will make me a better navigator.” Although the ship’s company will take over a sister ship, there is a tinge
l (Foreground to background) PNS Munsif, HMS Chiddingfold, HMS Grimsby, HMS Pembroke, PNS Muhafiz and USS Gladiator with a Sea Dragon from HM-15 overhead.
Picture: MC1 Lynn Friant, USN
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