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HMS Portland is a fighting force to be reckoned with after completing 8-month regeneration

HMS Portland
16 December 2021
HMS Portland is ready to take her place on the front line of naval operations once again.

Eight months after emerging from a major refit in her home base of Devonport – and four and a half years after her last deployment – the second youngest frigate in the Royal Navy has passed her sternest test to date.

The Navy’s second most senior officer – Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Andrew Burns – joined the ship off Plymouth for the final day of six weeks of intensive training, a day-long ‘battle’ testing Portland’s sailors in every aspect of modern naval warfare and operations.

Beyond delivering another Type 23 frigate to the front-line fleet – the entire class of 12 ships has undergone or is undergoing the upgrade, which includes installing the Artisan 3D radar and replacing the aged Sea Wolf missile system with the new Sea Ceptor – Portland’s completion of Operational Sea Training marks the first test of a new crewing model being trialled on the ship.

That model assigns sailors to for specific missions – submarine hunting, air-defence, maritime security and so on.

The aim is to get the most out of the ships – and those who serve in them.

The ship has had to adapt its routines and how it deals with incidents – particularly firefighting/flooding and recovering casualties – while the team from the Fleet Operational Sea Training (FOST) in Devonport who prepare British and Allied warships for deployments around the world have devised a new regime to train and assess Portland’s sailors.

The frigate’s crew have gone through two weeks of OSST: Operational Sea Safety Training – damage control, navigation, engineering, sea boat operations, in short the fundamentals of all seafaring operations.

It’s testing teamwork, the ability to work under stress or when tired. You’re fending off fast attack craft at 7am, missiles and jets in the afternoon, taking on fuel and supplies in the night.

Commander Tim Leeder

And following that, four weeks of WOST: Warfighting Operational Sea Training, dealing with the ‘business end’ of what is ultimately expected of Royal Navy warships: carrying out a combat mission in the face of potential air attacks, submarine attacks, torpedo and bomb hits, weapons, sensors, machinery breaking down – often simultaneously.

“In under eight months we’ve gone from emerging from refit to becoming a fully operational warship – that’s an impressive ‘flash to bang’ for a state-of-the-art frigate,” said Commander Tim Leeder, Portland’s Commanding Officer.

“FOST and the South Coast Exercise Area is a phenomenal ‘office’ – the best in the world. It’s testing teamwork, the ability to work under stress or when tired. You’re fending off fast attack craft at 7am, missiles and jets in the afternoon, taking on fuel and supplies in the night. 

“It’s been hard work, but throughout my ship’s company have remained cheerful, shown they are up for a challenge. For all the capability which the ship carries, it’s the people who shine. And they have.”

Among them, Leading Medical Assistant Ashleigh Newby from Huddersfield, who’s served for eight years and featured in one of the ‘Made in the Royal Navy’ TV adverts.

Normally she’d be in charge of a ten-strong team of first aiders at action stations, co-ordinating their efforts. With fewer sailors embarked, that’s reduced to eight, but it’s also meant she’s treated ‘casualties’ rather than acting as a boss.
“I like the challenge,” she said. “The training has definitely been different and it’s been incredibly tiring, but I can cope with a hurricane! I’ve really enjoyed getting stuck in, being hands-on. And this is a great ship, a fantastic ship’s company.”

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