Among the ships alongside at the NAVDEX waterfront is the UK Royal Navy (RN) Sandown-class minehunter HMS Penzance.
Forward based in Bahrain, and under the command of Lt Cdr Jim Lovell, Penzance is one of four RN mine countermeasures (MCM) vessels – the others being HMS Bangor, HMS Middleton and HMS Chiddingfold – deployed to the region in support of Operation Kipion.
Given the strategic significance of the Gulf, and the importance attached to maintaining safe access through the Strait of Hormuz, the RN has maintained forward-deployed MCM forces at Mina Salman, Bahrain, for the past decade.
This permanent presence serves a number of purposes: it gives crews greater exposure to the challenging operating conditions encountered in the Gulf; it enables the promoting and sharing of MCM experience and expertise with regional navies; and it allows for a rapid response should mining threaten sea lines of communication in the region (the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, and the Suez Canal all fall into this area of interest).
While RN forces deployed to the Kipion area of operations are under the command of the UK Maritime Component Commander, and remain at very high readiness assets are principally exercised and operated in coalition with the US Navy under Commander, Task Force 52 (CTF 52). Stood up in January 2009, CTF 52 provides command and control of all US mine warfare assets in the Fifth Fleet’s area of operations.
Penzance, one of seven Sandownclass ships in RN service, is equipped with the Thales Sonar 2093 variable depth minehunting sonar, a BAE Systems NAUTIS command system, and the Ultra Electronics/Atlas Elektronik Seafox mine disposal vehicle. It also carries a decompression chamber and a diving team.
While the Sandown class was originally designed for operations in deeper waters, the Sonar 2093 has the advantage that it can be deployed to the most favourable depth in the water column to exploit the prevailing environmental conditions. This is particularly important in the Gulf because it allows the sonar to go down beneath the warm surface layer.
An upgrade to Sonar 2093, introducing wideband processing technology, will be implemented later this decade. This will improve the long-range detection and classification of low target strength mines.
As well as the four MCM vessels, the RN also maintains a permanent forward support unit and a Mine Warfare Battle Staff in Bahrain. The landing ship auxiliary vessel RFA Lyme Bay is also deployed in theatre, being used as an afloat forward support base.