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Middleton's divers prove they can minehunt from US ships

Royal Navy divers proved they could work from an American ‘mother ship’ after a week-long exercise in the Gulf.

Divers from HMS Middleton spent time on their US Navy counterpart, USS Sentry, to test whether British dive teams could bolster the ship’s minehunting team.
Both navies operate a substantial mine warfare force from their base in Bahrain.

All four British minehunters based in the kingdom have ‘clearance diving elements’. Despite increasing automation of minehunting, the act of neutralising a mine relies either on an explosive charge placed by the small Seafox submersible… or physically by a clearance diver.

And there may be the need to disarm and recover a device for further inspection – again a job for the RN’s divers.

Although the two navies worked side-by-side on an almost daily basis, it’s been several years since Royal Navy clearance divers took their skills, kit and caboodle aboard a US vessel.

The Brits had to sort out the basics of logistics: where to sleep, store equipment, fitting into the daily routine onboard an American ship.

The most important drills to rehearse were launching a seaboat – the W525 rigid inflatable is different from the craft used by Sentry; practising recovering and treating a diving casualty; and using the Americans sonar operators to guide the divers on to an underwater contact.

That is something the US Navy rarely practices as their minehunters don’t have their own permanent dive teams.

“It was a challenging yet rewarding experience,” said Petty Officer Lewis Watson, Middleton’s coxswain and diving supervisor.

“The team worked extremely hard to ‘pathfind’ a way to allow a dive team from a Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessel to operate from a US Avenger-class ship.

“This has been a success and has given the command an extra capability if called upon. The Sentry team were very welcoming and we look forward to working with them again in the future.”

The team worked extremely hard to ‘pathfind’ a way to allow a dive team from a Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessel to operate from a US Avenger-class ship.

Petty Officer Lewis Watson

They put their training to the test during the week-long US-UK exercise – one of several dedicated mine warfare tests run by the two navies to ensure both forces are at the top of their game.

Though not a diver, mine warfare specialist Petty Officer Mine Warfare Luke Brady proved a vital member of the team.

Using his years of experience, he worked with the Sentry’s sonar operators to help them guide the divers on to their targets – so effectively that the tempo of training surpassed what the teams had expected, with round-the-clock operations, including night diving.

“It was impressive how fast the tempo of diving operations was able to pick up as USS Sentry, supported by Petty Officer Brady in the ops room, quickly gained confidence in deploying and directing the clearance divers on to underwater contacts to identify,” said Lieutenant Michael Merritt, Middleton’s Diving Officer.

“The training culminated with Sentry successfully deploying Middleton’s clearance divers at night to identify a contact, proving the concept of ‘interchangeability’ day or night.”

The lessons learned from the link-up are now being shared with both navies looking at how they can make it easier in future – including embarking US sailors on RN minehunters for greater understanding of how they work.

Lieutenant Commander Neil Skinner, HMS Middleton’s Commanding Officer, said with “a lot of corporate knowledge long since lost”, both ship’s companies made the extra effort to ensure the success of the combined training.

“This is now a baseline to build upon, enabling even closer working relationships between the UK and US, across broader mine warfare capabilities, to really maximise our potential.”

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