RFA Mounts Bay is a support ship, designed to land Royal Marines and their equipment during amphibious operations (Picture: MOD).
Support ship RFA Mounts Bay was used as the test bed for hosting a mobile US Navy minehunting force – including helicopters, divers, remote-controlled boats and automated surveying machines – at short notice.
The test was conducted off the coast of Virginia, USA, and the aim was to establish whether a task force without a minehunter assigned to it could hunt mines by sending out a mobile team with all their kit, as well as testing the possibility of doing it on a British ship.
Having spent the winter hunting drug runners in the Caribbean, it was assigned a ‘mine countermeasures mission module’, formed by around 120 US Navy sailors, civilians and contractors.
The support ship, designed to land Royal Marines and their equipment during amphibious operations, was turned into a makeshift hub of minehunting in just three days at the US Navy’s main Atlantic base in Norfolk, Virginia.
Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 – known as the Dragon Whales – flew their MH-60S Sea Hawks aboard.
The helicopters are equipped with a new laser system to detect mines below the surface of the ocean, as well as a new piece of kit which can neutralise them from the air.
The core of the team joining RFA Mounts Bay was drawn from the US Navy’s Expeditionary Mine Counter-Measures Mobile Unit Two (ExMCMMU2).
They used Mounts Bay as the launchpad for raiding boats carrying torpedo-shaped devices which can be sent out to scan the seabed; if they found anything, divers went into the water to inspect the objects.
The US unit also took charge of the mine warfare forces and units embarked on Mounts Bay, which showed how the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and US Navy can work together on a complex minehunting operation.
In addition, the Textron Unmanned Surface Vehicle was loaded aboard - it can be sent off on missions lasting hundreds of miles, searching for mines or submarines - one of the first times it has been successfully operated from a ship at sea.