The Royal Navy’s most advanced destroyer has completed a large-scale exercise off the coast of Colombia – marking a return to full front-line action after a major overhaul.
HMS Dauntless has deployed to the Caribbean Sea to counter drugs smugglers alongside the US Coast Guard and provide support and reassurance to British Overseas Territories during the region’s hurricane season from June to November.
Kicking off the deployment, Dauntless – which returns to action fitted with brand new efficient engines – took part in the world’s longest-running multinational military drills, sailing into Cartagena in Colombia for Exercise Unitas.
Dating back to 1959, Unitas (Latin for ‘united’) brings nations together to show a united front in the fight for stability and prosperity in the region, making it the United States Southern Command’s most important exercise.
The Type 45 destroyer’s presence – Dauntless was participating in her second Unitas (the first was in 2012) – shows the UK’s commitment to the deepening relationship with Colombia, which is the only Latin American country to be a NATO partner nation.
The ship’s Wildcat from 815 Naval Air Squadron was in the thick of the action carrying Sting Ray light torpedoes, hunting down submarines and simulating attacks.
Assisted by Dauntless’ powerful array of sensors and a US Navy P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, the Wildcat showed its prowess in anti-submarine warfare.
It was a major step forward with the Wildcat fitted with new weapon wings – which can hold a variety of armaments for use on a range of targets – as it proves its ability to hunt and destroy submarines and ships.
Flight Observer, Lieutenant Wayne Henaghen, said: “Our ability to equip Wildcat with Sting Ray torpedoes demonstrates the versatility of the helicopter, and it is the combined effort of 815 Naval Air Squadron and HMS Dauntless which proves this capability on operations.”
In all 26 ships, three submarines, 25 aircraft and around 7,000 sailors and marines from 20 countries were involved in Unitas, which took place off the coast of Cartagena, as Colombia’s navy celebrated its 200th anniversary.
Commander Ben Dorrington, Commanding Officer of HMS Dauntless, said: “It is an honour to be here in Colombia to mark the bicentenary of the Armada Nacional Colombia and to test the capabilities of Dauntless with 20 allies and partners from across the region.”
Alongside the UK, participating nations included Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Spain, South Korea, United States, and Uruguay.
The task group took part in warfare operations, including firing weapons and amphibious landings, while Dauntless operated in her main role as air defence destroyer.
For Dauntless’ Sub Lieutenant Anastazja Masters participation in Unitas meant a reunion with Sub Lieutenant Silvia Santana, a Colombian officer whom she trained with at Britannia Royal Naval College in the UK.
She said: “It is a privilege to be work alongside Silvia again. The friendships made early on in our careers will last a life time and it is an honour to be in Cartagena to celebrate the formation of the Armada Nacional Colombia.
“Unitas has been an incredible experience to work with partners such as the Armada Nacional Colombia across an array of tasks with assets such as submarines and helicopters. This enables us to test our abilities from war fighting to supporting humanitarian aid and disaster relief.”
Silvia added: “I am delighted that HMS Dauntless is here to celebrate the bicentenary of the Colombian Navy and that we can enhance our understanding of how we work together. The Royal Navy is one of our oldest allies and I am proud to be part of the history of our two nations.”
While in Cartagena, the Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Martin Connell, visited as Dauntless hosted dignitaries and a reception – which included a performance by the Royal Marines Band.
He said: “We work very closely with the Armed Forces of Colombia and in particular the Colombia Navy in order to co-operate against illicit trading.
“I expect we’ll continue to do so closely in the years ahead, so that perhaps when the Colombia Navy is perhaps celebrating its 300th anniversary there will be another Royal Navy ship here.”
Dauntless now heads for Caribbean patrols with a US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment, Royal Marines sniper team and the Wildcat helicopter on board – making her suitably equipped to counter illicit trafficking activity.
The destroyer is also on standby to provide humanitarian and disaster relief, giving British Overseas Territories a valuable lifeline if a storm were to sweep the region.
Commander Dorrington added: “Dauntless is deployed to the Caribbean as part of the UK’s enduring commitment to our overseas territories and nations in the Commonwealth. We stand ready to support in the event of a natural disaster.”
Story and Images provided by Royal Navy