Royal Navy Daring-class air-defence destroyers HMS Dragon (D35) faces a demanding two-week workout as she joins the French Navy’s biggest exercise of the year. The Portsmouth-based destroyer takes her place alongside 25 other warships, support vessels and submarines from half a dozen navies for a two-week test of the French fleet – and the ability of its allies to operate side-by-side; Exercise Polaris 21. Polaris – Préparation Opérationnelle en Lutte aéromaritime, Résilience, Innovation et Supériorité (Operational readiness in naval-air warfare, resilience, innovation and superiority is an unparalleled workout for the French Navy in every aspect of combat at sea: carrier operations, anti-submarine warfare, mine clearance, amphibious landings, as well as cyber threats and the latest drone tech.
It’s the third time this autumn the Royal Navy and Marine Nationale have worked together: the first saw Dragon tested on and above the water by French ‘attacks’ off Brittany, followed by support vessel FS Garonne testing her towing abilities by practising hauling assault ship HMS Albion. On top of that the Marine Nationale is keen to test its ability to ‘plug and fight’ with its allies. So while France provides the bulk of participants in two tasks, headed by her flagship aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle, Spain, Italy, Greece, the USA have all thrown their hats in the ring with the Royal Navy to get the most out of the exercise. In all, more than 6,000 personnel, two dozen ships, one nuclear submarine, Navy Rafale jets, French land and air forces are involved in Polaris, which is split between the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
HMS Dragon is the fourth ship of the Type 45 or Daring-class air-defence destroyers built for the Royal Navy. She was launched in November 2008 and commissioned on 20 April 2012. Dragon features a red Welsh Dragon on each side of her bow, the only Royal Navy ship to be adorned in this way. The dragons were there when she was launched, but were removed in a 2011 refit. They were restored in 2016 following a fundraising campaign led by the British Warships Association. Numbering more than 200, the crew of HMS Dragon is made up of Aircrewmen, Weapons Engineers, Communications Technicians and more. Dragon commenced her first set of contractor’s sea trials on 5 November 2010. Dragon entered her home port of Portsmouth for the first time on 31 August 2011.