The Royal Navy’s oldest frigate completes a memorable global deployment
Type 23 frigate, HMS Argyll returned home to a warm welcome today after 9 months in the Gulf and Far East, having sailed 37,329 nautical miles. Selected highlights are covered in this photo and video essay.
HMS Argyll was the first ship in the fleet to receive, and subsequently test-fire, the naval variant of the Common Anti Air Modular Missile (CAMM) known as Sea Ceptor. She is also the first RN vessel to deploy East of Suez with Sea Ceptor, a significant upgrade in capability and a system several navies may be interested in purchasing. The 29-year-old ship underwent Life-Extension refit between 2015-17 and is due to be replaced by the first Type 31e frigate in around four years’ time.
Until late September when Argyll sailed for the Pacific, we can assume she was mainly occupied with maritime security operations. For OPSEC reasons, the RN tends to provide limited media and coverage of taskings in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The ship’s company raised money in aid of the RNRMC using on-board rowing machines to complete the ‘row the Suez Canal’ challenge as she passed through the waterway in early August. The Red Sea remains tense as the conflict in Yemen continues and there is a particular threat to shipping in the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits.
Leaving Plymouth, 18th June 2018.
HMS Albion completed her time in the Pacific and as she headed north for Exercise Saif Sareea, she conducted a ceremonial PASSEX with HMS Argyll in the Indian Ocean on 25th September.
HMS Sutherland completed a lengthy Pacific deployment in the first half of 2018 and Argyll’s trip followed a similar pattern. (At the time of writing, HMS Montrose is exercising off Japan with the US and Japanese Navy.) The RN is ‘showing the flag’ and working to enhance military and diplomatic ties with partners in Asia. In particular, there is increasing co-operation between the UK and Japan following the Prime Minister’s visit to Tokyo in 2017. An increased RN presence is also a chance to strengthen ties with Commonwealth nations; Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand which co-operate with Britain under the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA). As the UK struggles with its future relationship with Europe, the RN can play a small part in enhancing connections with trading partners in other parts of the world.
Naval deployments in the Eastern Pacific are also designed for what is diplomatically called “promoting international security and stability while maintaining open access to the oceans”. Britain is showing a willingness to be a vigorous partner in confronting the Chinese flouting international law, especially in the South China Sea. The wisdom and strategic benefits to Britain of this stance divides opinion, even amongst fellow Cabinet Ministers. From a sailor’s perspective increasing opportunities to visit the Pacific region offer a range of exciting new runs ashore, operational variation and challenges beyond regular trips to the Gulf.
PHOTEX during Exercise Bersama Lima, 2-19 October 2018.
On the final leg of her journey home from Gibraltar to Plymouth, HMS Argyll hit the headlines by saving 27 merchant seamen from MV Grande America on fire in the Bay of Biscay. This rescue in dangerous conditions rounded off another highly successful deployment. Argyll has been rated as the best Seamanship and Above Water Warfare Ship in the Fleet Effectiveness Awards for 2018.
A warship like HMS Argyll that sails on operations represents a long logistic support line of naval personnel ashore, training establishments, naval bases, manufacturers, contractors, and Civil Servants. Ensuring this logistic tail is in good health is fundamental to frontline naval strength. HMS Argyll will now spend several weeks in Fleet Time in Devonport being maintained before regenerating, probably with a much-changed crew, as many of her current ship’s company move on to other jobs.
(Main image: @RFANostalgia – HMS Argyll passes Plymouth Breakwater as she returns home)