As part of her six-month deployment with Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1), HMS Brocklesby has been taking part in Exercise Noble Mariner around the Strait of Gibraltar.
The exercise involves 21 warships from 17 different NATO countries and is designed to test a task group sent to keep sea lines of communication free in disputed waters.
The exercise is being run by Spanish forces and co-ordinated by Maritime Component Command based at Northwood in the UK.
And, thanks to the weeks they have spent together already, SNMCMG1 was able to begin the task of mine clearance operations almost immediately, working in shallow water off the south coast of Spain.
To date, HMS Brocklesby has identified and recovered five dummy mines in her area of operations, which is the most recovered by any ship in SNMCMG1 during this exercise.
On top of mine hunting, the task group has also taken part in warfare generation, with Spanish Navy personnel acting as attacking forces using both fast patrol boats and helicopters. In a recent exercise, one helicopter flew less than 50 feet (15m) from the surface of the sea, skimming the wave tops as HMS Brocklesby manoeuvred at top speed to keep her close range weapons trained.
Lieutenant Commander James Byron, Commanding Officer of HMS Brocklesby, said:
The dummy mines are designed to simulate the size and sonar picture of a real mine and so this exercise is extremely useful in keeping the crew’s skills honed in detecting mines. We have done a lot of this work in the last few months on Exercise Joint Warrior in October and during operational sea training in December and so to already have five drill mines on deck shows that this effort has paid off.
Next week we move into the tactical phase and I am sure that we will be capable of locating and prosecuting any dummy mines in our area of operations, as well as defending against any simulated attacks.
We have previously exercised in Scottish waters with the Royal Navy simulating the aggressors. I look forward to the challenges that working on a different coastline and with different navies will bring to this exercise.
HMS Brocklesby, a Royal Navy Hunt Class mine countermeasures vessel, left Portsmouth at the end of January for a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean as part of SNMCMG1, which also includes ships from the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Poland.
SNMCMG1 is a permanent high readiness task force based in western Europe and the Mediterranean that has thus far concentrated on the development of mutual integration and capability enhancement.
Given that the crews taking part have not worked together before, ensuring everyone can operate as a task group is essential. Each ship, although under the NATO banner, has different procedures for tackling fires, floods, intruders and a whole manner of other incidents.
It is essential that communication works across language barriers and that everyone pulls in the same direction. So far the group has undertaken numerous co-ordinated pilotages and transits (some in some very rough weather), replenishments at sea, force protection exercises, and navigation and communication exercises in between port visits in Holland, France, Portugal and Spain.