£1bn Portsmouth warship begins her nine-month deployment

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NORTH Korea could face the full wrath of the Royal Navy’s most advanced £1bn warship if the secretive nation continues testing deadly nuclear weapons, a top officer has said.

Commodore Peter Sparkes, who is in charge of the Portsmouth flotilla, made the comments as the city’s latest destroyer, HMS Diamond began her nine-month mission to the Middle East yesterday.

HMS Diamond leaving Portsmouth yesterday

HMS Diamond leaving Portsmouth yesterday

The Type 45 and her 260-strong crew are deploying to the Gulf to continue the fight against terrorists in Syria and to secure vital sea lanes in the region.

But Cdre Sparkes said the warship – which has the latest anti-air defence technology – could potentially be deployed to North Korea if international tensions worsened.

It comes as the insular state was hit by international condemnation after it successfully tested a nuclear weapon and an intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Cdre Sparkes said: ‘These ships are, without doubt, beyond peer.

These ships are, without doubt, beyond peer. As we look to North Korea at the moment, Type 45 has the potential to support future theatre ballistic missile defence capability.

Commodore Peter Sparkes, Commander Portsmouth Flotilla

‘As we look to North Korea at the moment, Type 45 has the potential to support future theatre ballistic missile defence capability.’

Asked if Diamond could be retasked to combat the growing North Korean threat, Cdre Sparkes said: ‘HMS Diamond, along with other units, are declared to the high-readiness maritime force. In the event of an urgent requirement she could be retasked anywhere in the world.’

North Korea’s latest missile test triggered a 6.3-magnitude artificial quake, reports claim; that’s 10 times larger than any of the country’s previous attempts.

US defence secretary Jim Mattis has vowed to meet any threat to America with ‘a massive military response’.

While South Korea responded with a live-fire simulation of an attack on a North Korea nuclear testing facility.

Diamond’s captain Commander Ben Keith said his team is ready for any eventuality and that the morale of the crew was ‘high’.

The 41-year-old dad-of-two, from Gosport, said: ‘A large part of what we will be doing is what the navy has done for the past 500 years – that’s keeping the sea lines of communication open.’

He added the ship would be working closely with the Americans in the Gulf.

‘We are going to be operating with them for about half the time,’ said Cdr Keith. ‘We will provide them with a protective umbrella, we will operate with their aircraft, we will ensure their safety as they’re flying.

‘So whatever the American tasking is – which is still ongoing with targets in Iraq and Syria – then we will fully support that.’

HMS Diamond is one of six destroyers based in Portsmouth. She will one day protect the navy’s new aircraft carriers, the first of which – HMS Queen Elizabeth – is currently alongside in Portsmouth.

AB Liam Fletcher is a chef on Diamond and will be helping fuel the ship’s crew.

This is the 26-year-old’s longest deployment. He said: ‘It’s nerve-wracking. It’s exciting. It’s the concept of not knowing what to expect.’

Lieutenant Josh Hind is the deputy marine engineer officer on board.

He is part of the team that will keep the ship working in the Gulf’s relentless heat.

He said Diamond is ‘absolutely prepared’ for the deployment, after an exhaustive period of maintenance on her key systems, including the propulsion.

Previously, problems with the Type 45’s engines have plagued the fleet. But the 26-year-old officer said Diamond’s engines are ship-shape and ready to go.

He said he was excited to be going and added: ‘The ship is in a good place. It’s been a hard two weeks of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts after a lot of intrusive maintenance prior to leave.’

Diamond is due home in May. A film crew is onboard documenting the mission.

Sister ship HMS Duncan is leading a Nato task group in the Mediterranean.