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Iron age resumes as Royal Navy’s updated frigate returns to sea

For the first time in more than five years, HMS Iron Duke – one of the greatest names in British military and Royal Navy history – is back at sea as one of the nation’s most advanced frigates.

After more than 1.7 million hours of labour were poured into her by shipwrights, engineers, technicians and experts – both civilian and Royal Navy – the Type 23 frigate has begun sea trials to test all the changes and improvements carried out since she last sailed under her own power in 2017.

The Crew moved back onboard last November, since then they’ve been working with the Babcock team to add the finishing touches of the massive revamp. 

Iron Duke – known affectionately as the Iron Duck – has undergone a more complex overhaul than any other Type 23 frigate to date going through the life extension (LIFEX) programme in Devonport, not least structural work to the hull almost twice that of any previous refit in the class. 

The work will enable the mainstays of the Fleet, designed in the 1970s and early 80s and originally intended to serve for 20 years, to remain at the forefront of naval operations until their successors, the Type 26s and 31s frigates begin to enter service later this decade. 

Upgrades to key electronic equipment, including communications, navigation and weapon systems were carried out to counter the latest threats. As well as machinery, IT systems onboard have also been overhauled, as have the living spaces, so they can meet the needs and expectations of mid-21st Century sailors. 

It's the first time at sea for many of the Ship’s Company as well as many who are new in rank and keen to take ownership of their new positions at sea.

“Joining the ship gives me a unique chance to experience first-hand what it’s like to bring a ship out of refit,” said Seaman Specialist Ollie Walker. “It hasn’t been an easy road but now it feels extremely rewarding.”

Marine Engineer Kieran Bond added: “Familiarisation with the machinery prior to going to sea has given me an advantage, I have gained an appreciation of what it takes to deliver a ship to sea. Being involved with the trails has been a huge benefit.” 

Familiarisation with the machinery prior to going to sea has given me an advantage, I have gained an appreciation of what it takes to deliver a ship to sea. Being involved with the trails has been a huge benefit.

Marine Engineer Kieran Bond

Commander Charles Wheen, HMS Iron Duke’s Commanding Officer hailed a “hugely exciting and important moment” in the history of the Portsmouth-based frigate, named after the Duke of Wellington and modern-day successor to the nation’s flagship at the greatest clash of battleships at Jutland in 1916.

“HMS Iron Duke is back at sea and ready to start an intensive trials and training programme.  She is in great shape following the refit, with some exciting new capabilities, and our challenge now is to sharpen those capabilities and to restore the ship to front-line operations in the shortest time possible.
“Bringing a ship out of refit is no picnic and it puts considerable pressure and relentless demands on a Ship’s Company.  Achieving ‘Ready for Sea’ is testament to the months of hard work the team have put in and I am incredibly proud of their efforts. Now the fun work starts.”

Gary Simpson, Managing Director of Babcock’s Marine Support business said, “We’re proud to work alongside the crew of HMS Iron Duke to ready her for her next mission. Our team has shown relentless commitment and passion to get the job done and to deliver significant enhancements to the ship for the people who work selflessly to keep our country safe every day. 

“We look forward to continuing to support HMS Iron Duke’s success in future operations and to stand alongside our Royal Navy partner as we support the Type 23 life extensions of her fellow Duke-class ships.”

HMS Iron Duke now faces a challenging period ahead as both the ship and her crew undergo rigorous trials and testing to prepare for the future demands of Royal Navy operations both at home and around the globe.

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