Mine warfare exercise tests Plymouth warships and bomb disposal divers abilities
A MAJOR mine warfare exercise in the Middle East saw two of Plymouth's frigates team up with six other ships and a submarine robot.
Devonport-based Royal Navy frigates HMS Northumberland and HMS Monmouth joined three of the UK's four Gulf-based minehunters and their supply ship RFA Cardigan Bay as they linked up with US forces for eight days.
The aim of the training with American Avenger-class minehunters USS Scout and Devastator was to sweep a corridor of sea free of mines so a fictional ship could safely sail through it.
But before there could be any thought to beginning the training, the group were forced to wait for a dust storm to pass. The seasonal wind, known as a shamal, blows across Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
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When the weather improved, the exercise began, directed from Cardigan Bay by the Royal Navy's Cdr Jim Buck and the Mine Warfare Battle Staff.
RFA Cardigan Bay is the support vessel and command ship for the Royal Navy's Gulf minehunting force and embarked 70 personnel, two US Navy sea boats and underwater unmanned vehicles – mini-robot submarines – and their associated kit.
This cargo allowed the force to use all its minehunting skills and equipment such as the Royal Navy's sonar to detect objects on the seabed as small as a tin can.
Bomb disposal divers and submersibles used RFA Cardigan Bay's loading dock, by floating in and out of the cavernous feature on sea boats.
While the mine warfare teams were doing their bit in the Northern Arabian Gulf, HMS Northumberland and HMS Monmouth entered the fray to test Cardigan Bay's responses to 'attacks'.
These attacks were resisted by US patrol boats operating from the loading dock as protection for the task force.
Captain Paul Minter, the auxiliary's ship's captain, said: "Once again Cardigan Bay and her crew have shown themselves to be fully capable of supporting coalition warships in a demanding operational theatre. We've demonstrated our versatility as an integral part of the Naval presence in the Gulf region."
This event will be followed in May by a major exercise with navies and forces from more than 20 nations spanning four continents in the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 13, the biggest event of its type in the Middle East region.