Weapons and Kit

HMS Lancaster Trials Extra Firepower

The .50 calibre guns can fire 500-600 rounds per minute, with the bullets able to penetrate light armour.

Portsmouth-based warship HMS Lancaster has been fitted with heavy machine guns to fend off small, fast-attack craft.

The .50 calibre guns have been tested for the first time on the Royal Navy vessel off the South Coast of England.

Generally known as the ’50 cal’ or HMG (heavy machine gun) – they can emit half inch/12.7mm diameter shells at 500-600 rounds per minute.

Effective at ranges up to about 2,000 metres, their bullets can penetrate light armour and will tear through plastics such as RIB speed boats.

They are also fitted to the Fleet Air Arm’s Wildcat and Merlin helicopters when they are providing air cover or hunting down smugglers.

Leading Seaman Mikey Benbow, HMS Lancaster’s close-range weapons instructor, attended a training course with his team on the use of the gun last year and has waited nearly a year for it to be installed.

"I was eager to get on the mount as nobody on the ship had ever fired it before and although it’s within the confines of my job on board, it’s a new weapon to me and has given me another challenge and weapon to train with," he said.

“When it actually came to firing, to be honest it didn’t have as much of a kick as I thought it would, but it really came into its own with the sound of each round leaving the gun.

“I can imagine it would be more intimidating than our current weapons for someone to hear if they were attacking the ship.”

Multiple rounds were fired at various angles in various directions from the bridge wing mountings, to ensure the weapon was safe and the gunnery team can handle it – and can use it in anger if necessary.

Further shoots to hone accuracy and test efficacy are lined up, including against the Royal Navy’s ‘killer tomato’ large inflatable target, allowing comparisons with Lancaster’s existing machine and Miniguns.

In addition, the gunners also ran out the general purpose machine guns and the ceremonial saluting gun.

As well as gunnery, HMS Lancaster’s trials this week included working with Wildcats from RNAS Yeovilton by day and night, to ensure they can operate the helicopter safely in all conditions, and testing her engines.

The ship’s company will also be put through their paces dealing with fire and flood – to be ready should either misfortune afflict the ship at sea.

Each member of the crew is trained to be able to deal with both and regular exercises on board ensure the ship is fully prepared for all eventualities.

For close-protection, ships either rely on the lighter general purpose machine gun (GPMG), sometimes the Minigun (a manually-operated Gatling gun) and as a last resort, standard-issue SA80 rifles.

HMS Lancaster began 2021 undergoing maintenance, before resuming her place in the Fleet’s order of battle having sailed on Sunday