07 April 2014 by Dean Wingrin
The British Royal Navy (RN) is making use of the opportunities provided by the Naval Base Simon’s Town maintenance facilities to conduct exercises with the South African Navy (SAN).
The Type 23 anti-submarine frigate HMS Portland arrived in Cape Town last Friday as part of a routine seven month deployment as the Royal Navy’s Atlantic patrol ship.
Having left Devonport on 13 January 2014, Portland has just spent three months on maritime security activities off the coast of West Africa before heading south to South Africa.
Commander Sarah West, Commanding Officer HMS Portland, said that the presence of Portland reinforces the particularly strong partnership that extends between the RN and the SAN, from the strategic to the tactical level. West is the first female Commander of a Royal Navy ship.
The Royal Navy sends two ships a year for a maintenance period in Simon's Town, with other ships using the facilities on an ad-hoc basis.
“That's because we value the work that goes on there. It also provides us with an excellent opportunity to work with the South African Navy,” West said.
Prior to her arrival in Cape Town, Portland conducted exercises for 24 hours with the South African Navy submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke, during which time West said that the South African submarine “demonstrated her effectiveness and professionalism.”
West told defenceWeb that the South African Navy has the advantage in knowing the waters off southern Africa very well, making the exercises with the diesel-electric submarine (SSK) very challenging.
“The submarine took advantage of the distinct thermal layers,” West explained, including the ability to submerge below the sonar level.
“We think she took advantage of that and the environmental conditions because it was quite choppy out there, so we couldn’t actually see her periscope if it had come up,” West clarified.
Portland also launched her Lynx Mk 8 maritime helicopter during the exercise, although the helicopter is not fitted with sonar.
Despite the challenging conditions, West felt it was a very good experience, providing a tremendous training benefit for both the RN and the SAN.
“From a navy that does not have an SSK, it really is beneficial to us to be able to train with such an asset. It is very, very quiet, a very good piece of kit,” West noted.
Following a two day R&R break at the Table Bay V&A Waterfront, Portland will commence a two-week maintenance period at Naval Base Simon’s Town. Once alongside, the ship will disembark its Lynx helicopter to visit 22 Squadron at AFB Ysterplaat. This South African Air force squadron operates the Super Lynx and Oryx helicopters.
The aircrew of both units will engage in some enjoyable flying, but also conduct tactical and operational flying. Not only will they be able to exchange practices and procedures, but this will allow them to build up a shared experience while exercising should they be called upon to perform operations together.
The success of the joint exercise with the SAN certainly has made an impression on the RN. “We're looking to make that a regular occurrence, we're looking to bring more units down and do it on a more regular basis,” West said.
HMS Portland is one of thirteen Type 23 Duke Class frigates serving as the mainstay of the surface fleet in the Royal Navy. Commissioned into the RN on 3 May 2001, HMS Portland was originally developed to hunt submarines with a towed array sonar. She was upgraded in 2012 with improvements to her main 4.5” Mk 8 MOD1 gun and the installation of additional and improved sensors and computer systems. This, the RN says, makes her one of the most advanced frigates at sea today, able to operate globally and undertake a wide range of roles.
Whilst in Cape Town, the ship’s company will engage in various sporting outreach activities with children from the local community.
Following the maintenance period at Naval Base Simon’s Town, Portland will continue her patrol in the south Atlantic, visiting South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.