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Stirling exchange – RFA’s minehunting mothership begins training with experts in Scotland

15 February 2024
The future ‘floating home of minehunting’ has begun integrating with the specialist team which is revolutionising the way the Royal Navy deals with underwater threats.

RFA Stirling Castle is the new ‘mothership’ for leading-edge mine warfare technology – technology which will both keep the UK’s waters safe and reduce the risk to sailors.

She arrived on the Clyde in late January to take her place at the forefront of supporting the next generation of the Royal Navy’s mine countermeasures capability.
Her arrival coincided with the departure of HMS Penzance, the last traditional minehunter on the Clyde.

The 6,000-tonne Stirling Castle began life as MV Island Crown, before undergoing conversion in Devonport which will allow her to operate as home to the Royal Navy’s new autonomous mine countermeasures systems. 

The ship’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary crew are working side-by-side with Zulu Squadron of the Mine and Threat Exploitation Group (MTXG), the Royal Navy’s mine countermeasures specialists based at Faslane.

As the mothership, Stirling Castle has the capability to lift and transport the Royal Navy’s latest autonomous and remotely operated vessels to wherever they are required to keep the UK’s shipping lanes safe.

“I am very proud to be in command of this wonderful ship with the capability that it is bringing in support of the UK’s minehunting programme, which is at the cutting edge of autonomous systems technology,” Captain Richard Reville RFA, Stirling Castle’s Commanding Officer.

“We look forward to continuing our integration with MTXG to bring this exciting new capability into service.”

We look forward to continuing our integration with MTXG to bring this exciting new capability into service.

Captain Richard Reville RFA

To sustain operations and strike a good work/home life balance, two 27-strong RFA crews are assigned to Stirling Castle. Thanks to the vessel starting life as a commercial ship, they also enjoy a high standard of accommodation.

The threat from naval mines is rapidly evolving and this calls for the technology to keep pace.

MTXG are trailblazing this advance in technology, employing a full suite of current and future systems: Autonomous Surface Vessels (ASVs), Uncrewed Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), the joint French-UK Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) system, the Combined Influence Sweep (SWEEP) system, and Medium Underwater Autonomous Vehicles (MAUVs).

Those systems can be operated remotely by MTXG, using a portable command centre on land or from onboard RFA Stirling Castle, or they operate autonomously. Either way, they will be able to search a wider area more quickly than the Sandown-class ships they replace and without the need to expose RN personnel to the dangers of a minefield.

Over the past 12 months, the MTXG has been delivering operations and trials to develop autonomous systems, making use of a range of equipment to get a clear picture of the seabed in the Clyde Estuary. 

The team are now looking forward to working with Stirling Castle and her crew on further trials to understand how the technology can be exploited to enhance operations.

The ship will travel south soon to complete some final training in Devonport before returning to Scotland, where they will spend most of the year working with Zulu Squadron.

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