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A whoosh from Westminster as she tests her submarine-hunting kit
21 March 2017

HMS Westminster’s long road back from refit to premier sub hunting took a big leap forward when she flashed up two key pieces of equipment.

The frigate – just out of a two-year revamp in her native Portsmouth – uncoiled her mile-long towed array (used to listen for submarines) and fired her on-board torpedo defence system.

LET’S kick start Tuesday with a bang.

Well, a whoosh, then a plop, courtesy of HMS Westminster as she runs through testing the gamut of weapons and systems aboard following her two-year refit.

A drogue parachute begins to deploy as a Sting Ray is propelled from its launcher and the Magazine-Launched Torpedo System on the ‘capital ship’ is put through its paces.

Having uncoiled its towed-array sonar – a 1,700-metre ‘tail’ lined with hydrophones (underwater microphones) which is normally wrapped around a gigantic drum behind the quarterdeck – to listen for any submarine activity, the weapons maintainers and ops room team flashed up the torpedo as well.

The Sting Ray launchers – just forward of the Portsmouth frigate’s hangar – use high pressure to drive the torpedo out of its tube, before the small parachute deploys and slows its entry into the water.

Thereafter, Sting Ray – just 8ft 6in long, but packing a 100lb explosive charge to ruin any submariner’s day – races through the water at more than 50mph until it strikes its target.

In this instance, the dummy weapon was recovered once the exercise was complete.

The system is among a Type 23’s last line of defence against the submarine menace; normally the towed array should find an enemy boat long before it is within striking range, and a Merlin or Wildcat helicopter armed with Sting Rays or depth charges should have finished it off.

But if the submarine evades detection…

Ensuring both towed array and magazine-launched system were in full working order was a team under POET(WE) Colin Howie.

 Well on her way, preparing to re-join the operational Fleet, today was a significant milestone for the submarine hunting frigate as she proved both her towed array sonar, her key tool for submarine detection, as well as, her Stingray torpedo launcher for fending-off submarines that stray too close.

“The firing of this torpedo system has been able to happen through hard work by a very able and determined team,” he said

“It proves working in partnership with the civilians and other agencies the Royal Navy is still a force to be reckoned with.”