HMS Dragon and Defender begin sea trials


The HMS Dragon and HMS Defender, two of Britain’s latest state-of-the-art destroyers, have taken to the sea to further test their capabilities before initial deployments.

Dragon left a trail of smoke and fire off Portland as she tested her decoy flares for the first time during her intensive trials and training package. Meanwhile Defender left the BAE Systems yard on the Clyde on Friday for 28 days of tests and trials in the waters off western Scotland.

On the south coast, Dragon, the fourth of the Navy’s six Type 45 destroyers, has been working with military scientists to test her weapons and defensive systems.

The Portsmouth-based warship used the ranges off Portland Bill, with a team from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory – the MOD’s in-house scientists – ashore monitoring the destroyer’s radar cross-section and infrared characteristics as she fired off her decoy flares.

The distinctive angular nature of the Daring Class is designed to minimise the ‘blip’ the ships produce on an enemy radar screen and suggest that, instead of an 8,500-tonne warship bristling with weaponry, the target is an innocuous smaller vessel.

This angular shape, coupled with the Sea Viper missile system, which can take out incoming missiles and aircraft at ranges of up to 75 miles (120km) away, give it world-leading defensive capabilities.

Leading Seaman Wayne Fugatt, who was the loading team leader for the trials, said that “it’s a unique experience to be involved in taking a warship as capable as this out of build and up to her first decoy firing. It fills me with confidence that we’ve the right kit to do the job when it matters.”

Meanwhile, 450 miles (724km) north a mixed crew of Royal Navy and BAE Systems personnel are building on what was accomplished during Defender’s first trials last autumn, carrying out final testing of the ship’s power and propulsion and combat systems, and navigational and communications equipment.

If all goes well on this second ‘workout’, the £1 billion destroyer will be formally handed over to the Royal Navy this summer:
“Defender’s departure on her second set of sea trials marks another milestone in the life of the ship and her company as we prepare to join the fleet later this year,” said the destroyer’s senior naval officer Commander Nicholas Boyd.
“We are looking forward to operating her sophisticated equipment and systems during trials and beyond, putting our experience and training into practice.”

As well as the arduous task of fitting and testing the thousands of components and systems, Defender has used her time on the Clyde to begin to forge relationships with her affiliates, notably the cities of Glasgow and Exeter.

Upon her return to Scotstoun next month, Defender will undergo three months of final testing and checking of her systems before sailing to her home for the next 30-plus years, Portsmouth, in July to join the bulk of the Type 45 fleet.

As for Defender’s and Dragon’s four sisters, Daring is deployed and Dauntless and Diamond will do so later this year.

The final ship in the six-strong class, Duncan, is in the latter stages of completion at Scotstoun and will head to sea for the first time towards the end of the year.

She’s due to be handed over to the Royal Navy before the end of 2013, bringing the curtain down on a decade’s construction on the Type 45 project.

Earlier this month the Daring joined Australian, Pakistani, New Zealand and Yemeni ships and personnel for Operation SCIMITAR ANZAC, scouring the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Yemen for illegal activity.

The operation has also seen HMS Daring put her command abilities to the test for the first time as she hosted the Australian and New Zealand Navy personnel who are currently directing the at-sea activities of Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, to which the Type 45 belongs on her east of Suez mission.

As well as being able to shoot down incoming missiles travelling at three times the speed of sound, the Portsmouth-based warship has specially-built command facilities, including a dedicated planning room, from where the movements and actions of a task group can be directed.

Daring completed four years of sea trials and training late last year. She carried out various exercises as part of her final training, including hurricane disaster relief; evacuating civilians from a worsening international crisis; dealing with terrorist attacks; demonstrate that she can cope with an attack involving biological or chemical weapons; fighting off swarms of small attack craft at sea; and fending off an air attack.

The Type 45s are armed with high-tech Sea Viper anti-air missiles and will be able to carry 60 troops. They also have a large flight deck which can accommodate helicopters the size of a Chinook as well as take on board 700 people in the case of a civilian evacuation.

The UK originally sought to procure air defence ships as part of the eight-nation NFR-90 project and later the Horizon Common New Generation Frigate programme with France and Italy. The Type 45s take advantage of some Horizon development work and utilise the Sea Viper missile system (the SAMPSON radar variant of the Principal Anti-Air Missile System).

In an “intensive attack” a single Type 45 could simultaneously track, engage and destroy more targets than five Type 42 destroyers operating together. The Daring class are the largest escorts ever built for the Royal Navy in terms of displacement, at around 8 000 tonnes.

Originally a dozen ships were supposed to be bought but the number was halved in 2008, something that was hugely controversial.

The ships have a designed top speed of more than 27 knots and a range of more than 7 000 nautical miles.