It has emerged that one of the two Type 45 destroyers accompanying the Carrier Strike Group, HMS Diamond has suffered a defect and remains alongside in a Mediterranean port, having not transited the Suez Canal with the rest of the ships.
HMS Diamond visited Alexandria in Egypt in late June before arriving in Larnaca, Cyprus. She sailed on 5th July but did not join the CSG which passed through the canal on the 7th July. Diamond subsequently came alongside at the NATO pier in Augusta, Sicily although the repair may be undertaken at a more suitable port.
A Royal Navy spokesman told Navy Lookout “HMS Diamond has experienced some technical issues and has detached from the Task Group for maintenance, inspection and any necessary repairs. She is expected to re-join the Task Group.” Unofficial sources suggest she has suffered a WR21 gas turbine engine failure and the unit may need to be replaced.
Although there have been well-documented issues with the design of WR21, GTs have the advantage that the compressor and power turbine unit at heart of the engine is designed to be removed and replaced with relative ease using designated access routes. RN vessels have conducted many GT changes in the past while on deployment in overseas ports and the process can take a few weeks. There are teams including Rolls Royce, BAE Systems and RN personnel that can be flown in to deliver engineering support when called upon. (Engineers onboard HMS Invincible even managed to change two gas turbines while at sea in the aftermath of the Falklands conflict).
HMS Diamond previously suffered a major breakdown in the Mediterranean in November 2017 and had to abandon a planned 9-month deployment. This was the result of a problem with the propellor shaft that was finally rectified in dry dock at home in Portsmouth. Assuming the current defect is an unrelated engine failure, this can be remedied without the need for dry-docking.
The RN notes in their statement that “ships will join and leave the Strike Group at different stages of the deployment” and the absence of HMS Diamond will not significantly impact the operations for now. The CSG already has HMS Defender, USS The Sullivans and HNLMS Evertsen providing air defence and warships from other allied nations will also join the group for short periods.
For the most demanding phase of the deployment in the South China Sea COMUKCSG would likely be more concerned about the absence of a Type 45. The RN appears confident that Diamond can be repaired but in the unlikely event that the ship cannot be returned to operational standard, HMS Dragon is the remaining active Type 45 and might be ‘crash deployed’ in extremis.
Further headlines about Type 45s breaking down, especially on a high profile deployment will of course be unwelcome. The RN continues to suffer the legacy of the engines selection made for its destroyers two decades ago. The short-medium term fix, the Equipment Improvement Plan (EIP) has allowed the Type 45s to operate effectively around the globe for many years with some restrictions. It was notable that the BBC reported HMS Defender was making 30 knots for some time in the heat of the Black Sea Summer during the recent interaction with the Russians off Crimea.
The Power Improvement Package (PIP) to finally cure the Type 45s propulsion issues finally started the engineering phase in May 2020 when HMS Dauntless arrived at Cammell Laird. This ‘6-month’ project is now in its 14th month. The new engines were installed relatively quickly by November 2020. COVID has not helped but the integration process is clearly proving way more challenging than anticipated. Once the work on Dauntless has been completed and proven, progress with subsequent ships, beginning with HMS Daring should be faster. Like the PGMU engine upgrades for the Type 23 frigates (only HMS Richmond has been completed), the Type 45 PIP has been far too slow and resulted in avoidable risk to the CSG21 deployment.
Phase 1 of the CSG21 deployment in the Atlantic and Mediterranean appears to have been overwhelmingly successful so far, but every major deployment inevitably will endure setbacks and changes to the programme. This has included the sad death of a sailor on HMS Kent in an apparent suicide. The Sun also reports significant a COVID outbreak onboard some of the ships which may curtail planned port visits for up to 3 weeks. The RN is well able to adapt and overcome challenges and HMS Diamond will hopefully pass through the Suez canal and eventually rejoin the group.