While Naval personnel help the NHS deal with the coronavirus epidemic across the UK, HMS Richmond is gearing up to safeguard the nation’s future flagship.
The frigate has spent the past six weeks undergoing trials and training after a major overhaul in readiness for escorting new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden deployment next year.
Plymouth-based Richmond is earmarked as one of the escorts assigned to the carrier battle group when it sails next year, shielding the 65,000-tonne leviathan from hostile submarines.
The ship completed a lengthy refit in the hands of Babcock in February, since when she’s been testing the newly-fitted systems and shaking off the cobwebs after many months out of action.
As well as receiving many of the upgrades which the rest of the frigate flotilla has enjoyed (notably replacing the aged Sea Wolf air defence missile with the new Sea Ceptor), Richmond has been fitted with new engines to act as the test bed for the next generation of warships.
Richmond is the first Royal Navy vessel to be fitted with the PGMU propulsion system - a new generation of diesel generators, accompanied by a fully-modernised control and surveillance system, making it easier to control and monitor the engines and diagnose any problems.
The same system will be used to power eight Type 26 frigates, led by HMS Glasgow, being built as replacements for Richmond and her submarine-hunting sisters.
During the trials in testing conditions in the Channel – including a battering from Storm Jorge and a 33° roll which tested the ‘sea legs’ of Richmond’s 200-strong ship’s company – the new propulsion system proved itself to be reliable, more efficient and generated more power for the ship’s weapons and sensors – vital as technology upgrades means they will demand more power in the future.
During her trials, the ship has worked with Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, tested her submarine-hunting towed array sonar – run out of the ship’s stern in a long tube – for the first time in several years.
“It has been fantastic to get through the work-up period and feel part of an effective team,” said Engineering Technician William Christopher, one of the sailors who ensured the complex array was successfully tested.
And to foster the bond between the ship’s company there have been plenty of regular Royal Navy sporting and fun events: quiz nights, pizzas delivered by the officers to mess decks, and flight deck sports when weather allowed, including bucketball and cricket.
Commanding Officer Commander Hugh Botterill said that so far, his ship’s work-up had shown “not only that PGMU is the answer to propulsion for the Royal Navy’s future frigates, but also that Richmond is a highly capable anti-submarine asset in her own right.”
Although his ship is focused on being ready for standard frigate duties, Commander Botterill said his men and women also stood ready to help their nation.
“We live in extraordinary times. As the country is held in the grips of coronavirus, Richmond has been challenged to generate in increasingly-testing conditions so that Her Majesty’s Government will have another frigate in her armoury for whatever the future holds,” he continued.
“As the spread of coronavirus takes a firmer grip on the world, there will no doubt be an ever-greater requirement to keep our sea lines of communication open.
“But in the short term, I have a full ship’s company of firefighters and first aiders. So, who knows what will be next for my crew and me, but we are ready for whatever the request is.”