Gulf mine forces link up for final workout of 2017

A giant America Sea Dragon helicopter passes HMS Bangor during the last all-action minehunting exercise of 2017 in the Gulf.

The Royal Navy's entire Middle East mine warfare force - five ships and a command team - were committed alongside American robot boats and the US minehunter Gladiator to test the two navies' ability to keep vital sea routes open should any nation or group sow the waters with mines.

The two navies share the same base (Bahrain), much of the same equipment (in particular the remote-controlled submersible SeaFox which locates and destroys mines) and above all the same goal: to keep the sea lanes east of Suez open to all legal shipping.

As well as conducting independent training and working with regional or visiting navies, every quarter the British and Americans conduct a joint Mine Counter-Measures Exercise (MCMEX) to really sharpen combined skills.

The ship successfully demonstrated it has the ability to remotely control mine warfare assets from the ship.

Captain Chris Clarke RFA

HMS Bangor and Blyth - specialists in locating deep-water mines - and HMS Ledbury and Middleton, used in shallower seas, their mother ship RFA Cardigan Bay and the Gladiator headed out into the Gulf to work though a fictional scenario in which key trade routes were suspected to have been mined.

Cardigan Bay - which is home to a Royal Navy staff who direct the day-to-day operations of the UK's Bahrain-based minehunters - provided fuel, food and stores for the Anglo-American force, allowing them to remain at sea longer than their usual fortnight of endurance.

The support ship was built to back-up amphibious operations involving the Royal Marines and her cavernous loading dock proved ideal for hosting two elite US units: the Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures Company, who use unmanned underwater vehicles to search the seabed, and the Mine Hunting Unit, who use remotely- controlled boats to tow sonars and other search gear in the effort to find mines.

Captain Chris Clarke RFA, Cardigan Bay's Commanding Officer, was particularly impressed by the Americans' hi-tech systems.

"The ship successfully demonstrated it has the ability to remotely control mine warfare assets from the ship," he said.

"This is a most flexible and resilient way to ensure navigation channels can be safely cleared of mines without putting the ship itself in harm's way.