Minehunters complete Anglo-French-US workout in Gulf

Royal Navy minehunters helped ‘clear’ more than 70 miles of shipping lanes in the Gulf as they worked out with French and US counterparts.

More than 700 sailors, divers and aircrew and ten ships flexed their collective muscles in the central Gulf for Artemis Trident, a test of the three allied nations to keep shipping moving should anyone try to mine these busy waters which are so vital for world trade.

The three navies split their forces into three task groups, each taking charge of one. Under Royal Navy control for the duration of Artemis Trident were mother ship RFA Cardigan Bay and HMS Ledbury, plus a US Navy minehunting team and the French ship L’Aigle.

The other RN participant in the exercise, HMS Shoreham, came under French command as a Marine Nationale battlestaff set up shop aboard USS Lewis B Puller, which performs a role similar to Cardigan Bay – but is also home to minehunting helicopters.

These exercises allow me – along with my fellow task group commanders, and commanding officers of ships and diving units – to practise and refine our skills and procedures so we are ready when called upon to do this for real.

Commander Steven White RN

They were set the task of clearing paths for a humanitarian aid task force to reach a disaster zone through mined waters – and also potentially-mined harbours.

For good measure, exercise directors threw in the threats of attacks on the three task forces by aircraft and shipping, and tested Royal Marines in the art of fighting their way through a ship.

The vessel chosen to test the men of 42 Commando: RFA Cardigan Bay. Scores of compartments. Lots of stairwells and many decks to work through.

Broad corridors and passageways offering little cover. And enough bunk spaces and accommodation areas for a possible foe to hide in.

Ledbury and L’Aigle (Eagle) made use of Cardigan Bay by ‘rafting up’ – treating the her starboard side as a jetty or quayside to come alongside to take on supplies such as fuel, water, spare parts and ammunition – sustaining the hunters on operations for longer periods than their typical ten-to-14-day sorties if necessary.

They were both attached to Cardigan Bay as the auxiliary’s flight deck hosted a huge MH-53E helicopter.

Fully loaded, the Sea Dragon is more than twice as heavy as a Fleet Air Arm Merlin and is used to drag minesweeping gear through the water or carry up to 30 troops into battle.

"There are many similarities between all three mine countermeasures communities – from the comradeship and professionalism onboard these small ships, to the quest to embrace emerging maritime autonomous technology,” explained Commander Steven White, the Royal Navy officer in charge of operations aboard Cardigan Bay.

“Mine warfare is a complex and dangerous business that many people do not understand. These exercises allow me – along with my fellow task group commanders, and commanding officers of ships and diving units – to practise and refine our skills and procedures so we are ready when called upon to do this for real."

Lieutenant Pierre, L’Aigle’s mine clearance diving officer thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with the Brits and Americans.

“The exercise has been a highlight in our current deployment, and it exemplifies how we are stronger together in an area that is so complex,” he said.

“France deploys mine countermeasures vessels to the Gulf on a regular basis, to maintain expertise of the local environment, and I am looking forward to the next exercise.”

Captain Jeffrey Morganthaler, the American Naval officer in overall charge of Artemis Trident, said that complex, combined training such as this workout kept allied naval forces at the top of their game.

“Mines threaten maritime traffic indiscriminately. Training together ensures we can collectively protect unfettered operations of naval and support vessels, as well as commercial shipping movements,” he added.