HMS Dragon Refuels at Sea with US Carrier Strike Group

HMS Dragon Refuels at Sea with US Carrier Strike Group

Only 36 hours after taking over the Gulf patrol duties from HMS Monmouth, HMS Dragon seized a unique opportunity to replenish her fuel supplies. Whilst this is not an unusual method of sustaining a unit on Operations it would normally involve just two units side by side at sea.

On this occasion however it involved five – as over the horizon came the mighty Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and her Carrier Battle Group!

Fresh from joining Commander Strike Group 8, led by Rear Admiral Michael C. Manazir, USN, HMS Dragon dived straight into the escort and Task Group Air Defence duties that she has spent the last few months training for.

Rear Admiral Manazir welcomed the newly arrived British contribution to regional stability in style by personally piloting an F-18 from the carrier and conducting a high speed flypast of HMS Dragon.

In order to maximise the co-operation between units there followed a series of personnel transfers within the Task Group , allowing key players from each unit to meet their counterparts, put ‘faces to names’ and refine operating procedures.

Exchanges like this are vital to ensuring the smooth integration of the latest Type 45 destroyer to deploy on Operations into the already-established Carrier Strike Group.

For example, Leading Communication Information Specialist Lee Sandy (22, Hull) is part of HMS Dragon’s communications team and spent time on the USS Hué City. He said:

 “This was my second visit to a US warship and it was good to see what Comms equipment they had and, more importantly, how they used it.”

He added:

 “Although the Hué City is over 20 years old and our technology is more advanced, they have some systems that we don’t and so we really complement each other when operating together.”

Lt Tim Anderson (29, Plymouth) is HMS Dragon’s medical officer and visited the US carrier to gain an appraisal of the medical facilities onboard – just in case there was a ever a need to call on their services. He said:

 “They have fantastic facilities, exceptional for an afloat platform and reassuring for us if we ever had an incident that needed that higher level of medical care.”

He went on to say:

 “Of course the carrier operates on a much larger scale – with a crew of over 4700 they get up to 140 patients a day. That compares to less than ten a day on Dragon.

“They do only have 11 fully trained medical staff to deal with those, though, compared to the three we have in our medical team, so we are really well provisioned to look after the crew on HMS Dragon.”

HMS Dragon was expecting to Replenish at Sea (or RAS) from the USNS Walter S. Diehl, but what soon became clear was the colossal operation that Dragon would be a part of.

The 91,000-tonne Eisenhower, or ‘Ike’, would receive fuel and stores from the Walter S Diehl, at the same time as Dragon was being resupplied on the other side of the tanker.

In close company astern, launching aircraft to or replenish via helicopter under slung loads, was the USNS Medgar Evers, whilst the ever-watchful USS Hué City stood guard over the Task Force.

The RAS may well have been on a much larger scale than warships would experience in the South Coast Exercise Areas with Flag Officer Sea Training, but the principles are just the same.

With the Welsh Flag proudly flying from the halyards alongside the White Ensign, Dragon marked the end of the RAS by blasting a rendition of “The March of the Men of Harlech” (in Welsh: Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech) over the upper deck broadcast – adding a distinctly Welsh flavour to the region that continues where HMS Monmouth left off.

For the Navigator, Lt Carla Higgins (28, Wolverhampton), this was a real test of planning, preparation and ship handling. She said:

“It was amazing to think that the ship had come from training in the South Coast Exercise areas and the first RAS on the deployment was in company with the Eisenhower.”

She added,

“The team worked really well and all the hard work put into the planning and practice by everyone involved paid off in having a 2 hour pit stop without any incident, it went like clockwork.”

The Commanding Officer of HMS Dragon, Capt Iain Lower, said:

“The last few days have been really important in setting the right tone for forthcoming operations, we’ve done well so far and there is more that we can do to refine things even further.

“We welcome the opportunity to integrate with the Carrier Strike Group and to demonstrate what a really capable platform the Type 45 is. We are conducting our operations here with the future Queen Elizabeth-class carriers in mind, and are capturing all the learning points to enhance the smooth integration of that significant capability into both the Royal Navy and Joint Operations.”

Naval Today Staff, April 30, 2013; Image: Royal Navy