Royal Navy: Portsmouth P2000 ships deployed on "challenging" Nato mission while HMS Queen Elizabeth stays put

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Four of the smallest ships in the Royal Navy will be venturing north on a "challenging" deployment while HMS Queen Elizabeth stays in Portsmouth.

HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter are all due to leave HMNB Portsmouth and head to Norway - close to the Arctic Circle. The tiny vessels - 68ft long with a displacement of 54 tonnes - set sail on Monday as part of their final preparations.

They are due to take part in exercises Joint Viking and Nordic Response, while also support Nato and Joint Expeditionary Force allies during Exercise Steadfast Defender. Meanwhile the navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth was due to be deployed on Sunday, but a mechanical fault to the starboard propeller shaft found during "pre-sailing" checks stopped those plans in their tracks. She is due to be replaced by HMS Prince of Wales, but no timeframe has currently been given as to when she will sail.

HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter are due to sail from Portsmouth to the fjords of Norway on a four month deployment. They will be working with the Norwegian Navy and Norwegian Coastal Ranger Commandos on Exercise Deployment Defender and other operations. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5295)HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter are due to sail from Portsmouth to the fjords of Norway on a four month deployment. They will be working with the Norwegian Navy and Norwegian Coastal Ranger Commandos on Exercise Deployment Defender and other operations. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5295)
HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter are due to sail from Portsmouth to the fjords of Norway on a four month deployment. They will be working with the Norwegian Navy and Norwegian Coastal Ranger Commandos on Exercise Deployment Defender and other operations. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5295) | Sarah Standing

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Pictured is: Commander Rich Skelton (41) Coastal Squadron Commander with 18 years of Royal Navy experience. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-6414)Pictured is: Commander Rich Skelton (41) Coastal Squadron Commander with 18 years of Royal Navy experience. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-6414)
Pictured is: Commander Rich Skelton (41) Coastal Squadron Commander with 18 years of Royal Navy experience. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-6414) | Sarah Standing

The P2000 vessels will be deployed for four months, with crew looking to continue their efforts from previous operations. Coastal Squadron Commander Rich Skelton, 41, said the team have a “real challenge on their hands”. He told The News: "They’re all prepared and ready to go. These are 20 metre patrol boats that are going 1,500 miles north into the Arctic Circle. The weather is definitely the biggest challenge. Once we’re out there, the tasking will be more operationally focused than they have done previously."

Cmdr Skelton added that patrol vessels are being sent on different types of operations “to capitalise on the assets” the Royal Navy has at its disposal. "There’s a real role for small boat operations," he said. "We're a maritime nation with 14,000 miles of coastline. It’s important that we have vessels that can get not just into deep blue water, but also into those coastal regions as well. P2000s and whatever replaces them are an ideal candidate to do that job.”

HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5269)HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5269)
HMS Biter, Blazer, Exploit and Trumpeter. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5269) | Sarah Standing

Sailors will also be supporting the Norwegian Navy and Norwegian Coastal Ranger Commandos on different tasks, including a mock amphibious assault and trials alongside Wildcat helicopters in air to surface exercises. Cmdr Skelton, with 18 years experience in the navy, added that the platforms “performed well” on previous missions and the crew learnt “lots of lessons” about dealing with harsh weather, with temperatures dropping below -30C. The ships have been fitted with new antifreeze systems and other upgrades to deal with Arctic temperatures.

Pictured is: Lieutenant Cameron Osborn (25) captain of Portsmouth based patrol vessel HMS Exploit. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-6417)Pictured is: Lieutenant Cameron Osborn (25) captain of Portsmouth based patrol vessel HMS Exploit. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-6417)
Pictured is: Lieutenant Cameron Osborn (25) captain of Portsmouth based patrol vessel HMS Exploit. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-6417) | Sarah Standing

Pictured is: AB Nina Goodwin (18) of Nottingham, scheduled for her first deployment on Exercise Steadfast Defender. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5130)Pictured is: AB Nina Goodwin (18) of Nottingham, scheduled for her first deployment on Exercise Steadfast Defender. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5130)
Pictured is: AB Nina Goodwin (18) of Nottingham, scheduled for her first deployment on Exercise Steadfast Defender. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5130) | Sarah Standing
Pictured is: AB Nina Goodwin (18) of Nottingham, scheduled for her first deployment on Exercise Steadfast Defender. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5130)Pictured is: AB Nina Goodwin (18) of Nottingham, scheduled for her first deployment on Exercise Steadfast Defender. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5130)
Pictured is: AB Nina Goodwin (18) of Nottingham, scheduled for her first deployment on Exercise Steadfast Defender. Picture: Sarah Standing (050224-5130) | Sarah Standing

He added that the vessels will play a more "active" role in the future. "Looking at where the coastal squadron was four to five years ago to where it is now, there has been a significant step change in what we’re doing," Cmdr Skelton said. "We’re much more involved in the operational sphere where previously we were seen as a coastal training asset. They are demonstrating that they can go above and beyond what they were originally procured for."

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Lieutenant Cameron Osborn, 25 - Captain of HMS Exploit - said: "We’re very well prepared. It’s definitely expeditious. It is the longest, furthest north deployment the P2000s have ever done." Discussing Exercise Joint Viking, he added: "It’s in their back garden, so we’ll be learning from them. We haven’t operated properly with them for a number of years.” LT Osborn said this upcoming deployment is a "complete step change" following the previous two and a half month mission in the Baltic Sea in the summer.

"The weather isn’t going to play ball I’m sure. We’ll be going a lot further north in difficult conditions, as part of Nato’s biggest land and maritime exercise in a long time. The wind, sea state and cold will create a very challenging environment. We’re gonna feel the conditions a lot more, and it’s just about managing that risk. We’ve done some cold weather training, and we’re prepared.”

AB Nina Goodwin, 18, of Nottingham, is scheduled for her first deployment. "I’d definitely be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it," she said. "Joining the navy was a no brainer. It’ll definitely be cold, but we’ve got a lot of gear to help us with that. Being on such a small vessel with a small crew will make me do things for myself, which will help me on future deployments."

AB Elliott Holt, 24, of Hornsea in East Yorkshire, will also be experiencing his first mission. "I’m looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead," he said. "It’ll bring my skills all together. I’m fresh out of training, and I feel fortunate to be working with a small tight-knit crew. It’ll get everything in place. The fact that I’m taking part in the exercise is something I'm very privileged to do.”

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