Royal Navy destroyer operates with Greek navy and US supercarrier as Med mission ramps up
The Type 45 is deployed with the Royal Navy’s Littoral Response Group (North), an amphibious task force led by HMS Albion with more than 1,000 Royal Marines and sailors.
The task group includes support ships RFA Argus and RFA Mounts Bay, as well as Wildcat and Merlin helicopters.
It is designed to react to emerging crises in European waters, and work closely with NATO allies and partners, in an area vital to UK security and prosperity.
Defender left her home of Portsmouth in mid-September and has visited Spain, Italy and Crete before sailing for the Greek port of Piraeus to forge bonds with her Hellenic colleagues.
The Royal Navy’s fifth Type 45 hosted local children’s charities and cadets from the nearby naval academy, and welcomed Greek dignitaries on board for demonstrations of the advanced destroyer’s capabilities.
Defender followed up the port visit by working with Greek frigate HS Elli, training in surface and electronic warfare, as well as air defence, an area the Type 45 is specially designed and equipped for.
Lieutenant David Bowen, Fighter Controller on Defender directed American jets from the US Navy’s tenth and final Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush during the exercises.
“Working with the USS George HW Bush was a brilliant opportunity to prove our interoperability as partner nations and allowed us to develop relationships during the planning process,” he said.
“During the execution of the sortie I was nervous until the aircraft checked in, at this point I had to deliver the best service that I could to them, Fighter Controller training in RNAS Yeovilton and MWS Collingwood provided me with all the skills to do the job I have trained to do over the last eight months.
“It was a privilege to have been able to control US F/A-18s from the USS George HW Bush and I look forward to further opportunities in the near future.”
While in Greece, sailors celebrated Defender’s 13th birthday, which was marked by a visit from Commodore Tim Neild, Commander Surface Flotilla, who praised the ship for her recent operational successes.
Greek Defence Minister and Head of the Hellenic Armed Forces, Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, also came aboard Defender as the ship marked the 217th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Earlier in the deployment, Defender sailors spent time on the USS George HW Bush, as the two warships met in Crete's Souda Bay during respective deployments in the region.
Sailors toured the aircraft carrier, seeing the flight deck and hangars to gain further knowledge of how one of the UK's closest allies operates. Defender's deployment to the region later provided an opportunity for her to work with the George HW Bush Carrier Strike Group.
As one of the world's most powerful warships, Defender tested her air defence capability during an exercise with F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets from the George HW Bush.
Defender controlled some of the F/A-18s during the exercise with her Fighter Controllers, demonstrating the ability to work seamlessly with a close NATO ally.
A rare opportunity also allowed one of Defender's sailors to enjoy a day experience on the supercarrier as the George HW Bush Carrier Strike Group, Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, and the UK Littoral Response Group trained together during large-scale NATO exercises knowns as Neptune Strike 22.2.
It was a unique and memorable experience for Able Rating Umpleby. He said: “It was fantastic and the noise of the jets was incredible.
“The US carrier was huge and it was a real honour to get shown around and eat with the Captain of the GHW Bush; it’s something you just don’t get to do every day.
“I particularly enjoyed learning about the small ways in how we do some things differently and especially seeing the F/A-18s launching and recovering – it was epic.”
Captain Dave Pollard, Commanding Officer of George HW Bush said: “We’ve trained with our allies and partners throughout pre-deployment training and during deployment.
“More than 70 percent of our crew is on their first deployment and our training and operations with our NATO partners provide an opportunity for the newest generations of sailors – and our nation’s future leaders – to gain personal experience working with men and women just like them who share similar values.
“We know that trust and relationships cannot be surged, which is why engagements like ours with the Defender is so important to our collective defense and our national security.”
Of course, it isn’t all work and no play. Defender’s ship’s company took part in a 5km park-run during its stop at Rota Naval Base, Spain, and played a team from HMS Albion in a football match which, unfortunately for Defender, saw its side lose 7-1 to the task group’s flagship. The ship also had a flight deck BBQ as they sailed under the Mediterranean sun.
Commander George Storton, HMS Defender’s Commanding Officer, said: “HMS Defender is operating in the Mediterranean as part of the Littoral Response Group commanded from HMS Albion.
“Having already operated with allies and partners this year in the Arctic and Baltic, Defender has now worked closely with NATO units as well as a US Carrier Strike group while at sea in the Aegean Sea.
“The ship has proved its highly modern capabilities including exercising the embarked Royal Marine boarding team and controlling fighter jets launched from the nuclear aircraft carrier the USS GHW Bush.
“The rapid and seamless integration with allied task groups proves not only Defender’s interoperability but also the elite professionalism of all of the sailors who make up the ship’s company.”