U.S. and UK Royal Navy mine countermeasures and surface assets are conducting Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2020 (MCMEX 20-3) in the Arabian Gulf April-May.
As the theater Mine Warfare Commander (MIWC), the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet’s Combined Task Force (CTF) 52, with embedded Royal Australian Navy and Royal Navy mine warfare staff members, designed and directed the exercise. Set in a scenario requiring a combined UK/U.S. response to a notional mining event by a regional adversary, the exercise’s main objective was to integrate Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessels (MCMVs) with U.S. naval forces, including MH-53 helicopters, an expeditionary squadron of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) divers and unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) specialists and Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships (MCM).
“This exercise was an opportunity for U.S. mine countermeasures ships to operate with our Royal Navy partners and enhance the combat readiness, flexibility, and capabilities of our forces in the region,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Golden, commanding officer of the mine countermeasures ship USS Gladiator (MCM 11). “We need to ensure that U.S. and UK ships can seamlessly integrate when called upon to execute a mission, and this exercise demonstrated that capability.”
The pre-planned exercise was conducted with U.S. MCMs and UK MCMVs, as well as Royal Navy Type-23 frigates with their embarked Wildcat helicopters.
Golden said his team, alongside Royal Navy forces, hunted and cleared training aids shaped like mines, and investigated dozens of underwater objects.
At a tactical level, the participating units executed unit-level mine countermeasure tactics to include sweeping, hunting and demonstrating interoperability in a critical maritime region.
“The Royal Navy’s contributions are critically important,” said Golden. “Our Royal Navy partners have tremendous experience in mine warfare and it was a great opportunity for us to learn from each other, building our bonds and improving our ability to operate jointly when needed.”
Participating U.S. ships included USS Gladiator (MCM 11) and USS Dextrous (MCM 13). Participating Royal Navy ships included minehunter ship HMS Shoreham (M112), mine countermeasures ship HMS Brocklesby (M33), Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose (F236) and Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll (F231), with her embarked Wildcat HMA2 maritime attack helicopter.
“Our team sustained mine hunting operations 24 hours a day for a week straight, an incredible feat. Every department onboard came together to make sure our combat systems operated smoothly, the engines kept us moving, the food kept the crew well-fed, and the communications were always ready,” said Golden. “The successful completion of the exercise was truly a team effort.”
CTF 52 provides command and control of all mine warfare assets in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations (AOO). The 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse is comprised of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the southern tip of Yemen.