Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessel HMS Middleton has departed her home port of Portsmouth to undertake operations in the Persian Gulf and wider Middle East.
The ship has recently been fitted with a new mine-hunting command system, and is expected to remain deployed for at least the next two years on Operation Kipion.
Crews from the Second Mine Countermeasures Squadron will operate her in a ‘four months on, four months off’ model which will maximize HMS Middleton’s availability on task.
Having spent much of the past 18 months in an extended refit period in Portsmouth, she is the first of the Hunt-class to be fitted with this new technology, known as ORCA, which improves her ability to locate and destroy mines and keeps the Royal Navy at the leading edge of mine countermeasures capability.
Petty Officer Luke Brady, one of the ship’s two Mine Hunting Directors, said: “ORCA makes it so much easier to find and identify underwater contacts. This means we can classify objects as threatening or non-threatening without necessarily having to send our remote-controlled submersible, Seafox, to investigate further, saving us time and allowing us to focus on clearing genuine mines.”
The first crew to be deploying in HMS Middleton are MCM2 Crew 7, who have recently completed their operational sea training off the coast of Scotland.
This intensive month-long package put the crew through their paces, from dealing with fires and floods, through to gunnery training and counter-mine warfare. This has given the crew both the confidence and competence to embark on this epic journey and arrive ready for whatever tasking is required.
Leading Engineering Technician Reid said: “OST is a great opportunity for people to learn and hone the skills they need to keep the ship floating and fighting. It also allows more experienced members of the crew to develop their leadership skills in a testing environment.
“Despite feeling exhausted by the end of it, we were all also really happy to have passed with good scores.”
Despite Covid-19 restrictions preventing a traditional departure ceremony, Commodore Tim Neild CBE, Commander Surface Flotilla, addressed the crew before they departed, and family and friends were gathering in Southsea to wave-off loved ones.
Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Neil Skinner, said: “This has been an extremely long journey to reach this point. The major upgrades achieved in HMS Middleton are testament to the hard work and collaboration between the Royal Navy, BAE Systems, and their supporting partners.
“However, it would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the crew, supported by their incredible families and friends. They have all maintained their focus and sense of humour in some difficult and challenging circumstances, and now thoroughly deserve the reward of sailing such a capable vessel out on operations. I could not be more proud of the team.”
Following recent sea trials off the south coast of England and west coast of Scotland, ORCA has been cleared for use on operations, giving the green light for HMS Middleton to make the 6,000 miles journey to the Gulf.
HMS Middleton will be joined for the journey by her Faslane-based Sandown cousin, HMS Bangor, who has also been fitted with ORCA. They will be taking over from HMS Brocklesby and Shoreham, ultimately joining up with HMS Chiddingfold and Penzance who arrived in the Gulf last year.
The five other Hunt-class vessels will also be upgraded with ORCA over the coming years.