HMS Sutherland prepares to enter the water for the first time in six months as her refit approaches a major milestone.
The frigate has been out of action since October – and out of the water since the following month – while undergoing an 11-month revamp in her home base of Devonport. That revamp will effectively double the working life of the Type 23 frigate – which is celebrating her 18th birthday this year.
With work on her outer hull now just about complete, engineers from Babcock are preparing to flood the dock in the giant ‘frigate shed’ which dominates the Hamoaze waterfront near the Torpoint ferry crossing.
“It’s an amazing transformation since I joined the ship in January,” said 33-year-old Lieutenant Commander Jon Boughton, Sutherland’s weapon engineer officer – responsible for ensuring all the ship’s sensors and weaponry are combat-ready. “Back then she was stripped to bare steel and covered in pipes and cables. Now you can see the amazing job the company has done on her hull.”
The paint job Sutherland has received is not merely a cosmetic touch – the new coating is more resistant to marine organisms attaching themselves to the hull, and slowing Sutherland’s progress.
“Although the glossy finish you can see is impressive, it’s the work underneath the topcoat which deserves the most credit. That is where the real engineering lies and what will keep her at sea, and the UK safe,” Jon added.
A new sonar dome on the bow has been fitted, the new Artisan radar system giving her operations room team a far more detailed view of the surrounding area. Also putting the command team in a better position to make key decisions on front-line operations is the DNA(2) computer system which processes a wealth of information from radars, sonars and weapon systems better than Sutherland’s existing ‘fighting brain’.
The work is being carried out jointly by defence firm Babcock International and a kernel of the ship’s company who’ve stayed with or joined the frigate for the refit. The revamp is due to be completed this autumn, after which Sutherland will undergo thorough trials and her ship’s company thorough training to prepare both for front-line duties again.
Press Release, May 27, 2014; Image: Royal Navy