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Queen’s frigate HMS Lancaster at the top of her game as 2020 ends

Lancaster alongside in Bodo Norway
11 December 2020
HMS Lancaster “is right up there with the rest of the Navy” after a 12-month transformation from untested grey hull to front-line warship.

The ship, which completed her duties for 2020 by returning to Portsmouth earlier this week, has been brought back to life by a new ship’s company and new commanding officer after four years out of action.

The ship, like the rest of the Royal Navy’s frigate flotilla, underwent a major refit in Plymouth to upgrade the entire class for mid-21st Century operations – new radars, new missiles, improved combat systems, refurbished machinery and systems and overhauled living spaces.

So 2020 began with Lancaster conducting sea trials, testing kit and training the ship’s company – 30 per cent of whom had never been to sea before and three out of five were in their first job at a new rank

It ended with the Queen’s frigate – named after Her Majesty in her role as Duke of Lancaster – sailing deep inside the Arctic Circle alongside the Norwegian Navy and then kept a close eye on the actions of the Russian Fleet close to UK territorial waters.

Training reached its climax in October with the ship passing Operational Sea Training – the Royal Navy assessment which ensures ships are ready to deploy – and firing her new Sea Ceptor air defence missile on a range off the north-west coast of Scotland.

The last eight weeks of 2020 tested this ship. As commanding officer, my confidence in her was always high but it has absolutely skyrocketed

Commander Will Blackett

Lancaster’s Commanding Officer Commander Will Blackett says throughout 2020 he’s endeavoured to show to the rest of the Fleet that the frigate might be 30 years old on paper (she was launched in 1990), but “she’s actually full of very young people, full of enthusiasm in their first operational warship, and the stuff we're doing is right up there with the rest of the Navy.

“The last eight weeks of 2020 tested this ship. As commanding officer, my confidence in her was always high but it has absolutely skyrocketed by her journey to the Arctic, through some of the biggest seas I have ever seen.

“We were in sustained 60-knot winds, occasionally ten-metre waves, and this ship just cut through it beautifully. The Type 23 was designed for operations in the High North and we’re returning to operations more frequently in that part of the world. HMS Lancaster performed incredibly well there.”

Both training and operations have been carried out against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has placed restrictions on the crew at work and at home.

To protect the ship’s company, the 185-strong crew isolated and then underwent three Covid tests to ensure that no one on board had the virus.

Once this bubble had been created no one entered or left the ship, not even when the frigate visited the naval base at Faslane or Bodø in Norway. It ensured the crew were protected throughout – ensuring their mission could continue.

So Commander Blackett, who took charge of the ship in December 2019, was delighted when he could release his sailors to finally re-join family members.

“Having achieved so much this year it’s fantastic to be able to send the ship’s company on leave to relax and spend time with their loved ones and families.

“All of the team have delivered on everything that has been asked of them in 2020 and they are a credit to HMS Lancaster and the Royal Navy.”

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