HMS Dragon joined forces with one of the most potent naval forces on the Seven Seas, the USS Nimitz carrier strike group, on operations in the Gulf of Oman.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer helped to provide the flat-top’s aerial shield, as well as directing some of her aircraft’s sorties and providing assistance for planes coming back in to land on the Nimitz.
The USS Nimitz takes on supplies during a ‘double RAS’ from the USNS Rainier, which is also topping up the USS Princeton. Pictures: LA(Phot) Dave Jenkins, RN Photographer of the Year
AND well this engineer from HMS Dragon might look on in admiration…
Britain’s newest front-line destroyer linked up with America’s oldest supercarrier, USS Nimitz, as the Portsmouth-based warship slipped into the US Navy’s battle group in the Gulf of Oman.
She did so to show how a Type 45 can provide all-round air defence to a task group, and to give the ship’s company experience in traditional carrier operations – a small step towards the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth later this decade.
The Nimitz – nearly 40 years in service and named after the great WW2 Pacific commander – is on a joint mission to support US forces in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and the wider maritime security effort to keep the sea lanes east of Suez open.
Dragon has just passed the half-way point in her maiden deployment to the Gulf region – a two-week spot of maintenance and R&R in Dubai.
She found herself thrust into the action almost immediately upon sailing from the UAE metropolis, marshalling the skies above and around the Nimitz and her plethora of aircraft.
The flat-top is flagship of Carrier Strike Group 11 – up to seven warships – and home to Carrier Air Wing 11 – nine squadrons: Hornet and Super Hornets strike fighters; Hawkeye ‘eye-in-the-sky’ early warning aircraft; Prowlers for electronic warfare; Greyhounds for ferrying people and stores around; and Seahawk helicopters for anti-submarine, search and rescue and general duties.
Key to making order out of this controlled aerial chaos was one of Dragon’s Fighter Controllers, Flying Officer David Bowl – an RAF officer embarked in Dragon for her deployment.
It’s his job to direct friend on to foe as he looks at the aerial picture presented by the destroyer’s impressive radar.
The Nimitz experience was, says Lt Bowl, “a superb and unique opportunity – definitely the highlight of my Royal Navy exchange so far.”
Dragon also practised manoeuvres and set pieces which are only applicable when working with a carrier operating fast jets at sea.
One such job included acting as a ‘horizon reference’ for incoming aircraft – standing off about 4,000 yards astern of the mighty carrier and adopting a special lighting configuration to help guide pilots on to the Nimitz’s flight deck.
Once Dragon took up her station each night, a procession of up to 30 jets every night flashed overhead, cruising straight over the Type 45 with a roar of jet engines as they lined up for a high-speed landing on a narrow flight deck already crowded with other aircraft.
The bridge and operations room teams listened intently to the pilots as they flew down the glide path to touch down on deck with full afterburners applied – just in case the arrestor hook does not catch and they have to ‘bolt’ through to launch again.
It’s another glimpse of the future, nurturing skills which will be vital with the return of fast jet/big carrier operations in the RN from around 2018.
Nimitz is the second American carrier to have Dragon assist her this deployment; at the very beginning of her Gulf mission back in late April, the destroyer joined the Eisenhower group.