After sea trials, HMS Westminster switches to war drills

Having completed sea trials in January following a two-year refit, Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster and her crew started combat readiness drills.

The frigate has flashed up her main gun for the first time in two years – putting down 23 rounds a minute – and welcomed a submarine-hunting Merlin Mk2 back aboard.

With the Type 23 frigate anchored at a buoy in the Royal Navy’s traditional training ground, the Merlin Mk2 made the 50-mile flight from its base at Culdrose to conduct basic landing and take-off drills.

The spray kicked up by the 14-tonne helicopter – pictured here from the relative shelter of Westminster’s port ‘waist’ passageway – was a reminder to the flight deck team of Merlin’s powerful down draught, which is far stronger than a Lynx or Wildcat.

Merlin is also considerably larger, leaving little room for manoeuvre for the pilots before its safely lashed to the deck.

Before going into refit back in 2015, the ‘capital’s ship’ was the RN’s premier submarine-hunter, thanks to a combination of equipment (Merlin, Sonar 2087) and personnel.

“The combination of Westminster’s sophisticated sonar and the range and agility of the Merlin forms a comprehensive submarine hunting package,” explained Lt Cdr Matthew Cox, the frigate’s weapon engineer officer.

His ship emerges from refit at the same time as sisters HMS Montrose and Argyll – having undergone one of the most comprehensive revamps in her 24-year career.

Systems and sensors have been enhanced, the Seawolf missile system replaced with the newer, longer-range Sea Ceptor, and a refurbished main 4.5in gun reinstated on the forecastle.