Christmas may be looming, but it’s Easter that’s firmly fixed in the diary of the crew of Devonport frigate HMS Portland.
The 152-strong ship’s company have just four months to complete a mammoth revamp of Royal Navy’s second-youngest frigate to take her to sea by Easter 2021 – her first time at sea in four years.
Portland is the latest ship in the Type 23 flotilla to undergo a major overhaul under the LIFEX or Life Extension programme which her sisters have gone through over the past five or six years.
After completing her last deployment in 2017 – to the North and South Atlantic – the ship was handed over to defence firm Babcock in 2018 to start her refit in the frigate sheds on the Devonport waterfront.
In the nearly three years which since passed, in the first for her class, two electric propulsion motors were removed, rewired and replaced, the Sea Wolf missile system has been ripped out and Sea Ceptor installed in its place, the 997 surveillance and 1084 navigational radars added, and the new to Royal Navy 2150 hull mounted sonar to sharpen her anti-submarine warfare teeth.
For good measure, machinery, computer and IT systems onboard have been overhauled, as have mess decks which were designed in the 1980s so they can meet the needs and expectations of 21st Century sailors.
Now to guide the ship through the final crucial weeks of the refit over the winter and spring, Portland’s first Commanding Officer in four years has been taken command: Commander Tim Leeder.
To date, the 23’s Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Craig Guest has served as her ‘Senior Naval Officer’, responsible for the growing band of brothers and sisters assigned to Portland throughout 2020.
They worked tirelessly to ensure the ship was ready to receive the baton of responsibility from Babcock and hoist the White Ensign for the first time in nearly three years.
“Commanding this fantastic team has been the highlight of my naval career thus far,” he said. “The work and drive from the Portland family to achieve moving onboard has been exceptional against a very challenging backdrop and I am pleased to be handing over to Commander Leeder with the team and the ship set fair for success.”
Mark Reed, Babcock’s Project Manager for HMS Portland, said: “Work on the refit project continues, with sea trials planned for early next year, but this is a major milestone and a great moment for the team who have continued to adapt and work hard to return the platform back to the Royal Navy with enhanced capabilities.”
The goal is to be ready for sea by Easter, followed by extensive instruction and assessment culminating in Operational Sea Training after which Portland will be ready for front-line duties again.