One of the Royal Navy’s fleet of brand new air defense warships – Dragon was designed with a flight deck which can accommodate many different types of aircraft.
And, to demonstrate this versatility, SH-60 Seahawk helicopters from the US Navy and US Marine Corps and all 3 types of Royal Navy helicopter – the Lynx, Merlin and Sea King – have all operated from the ship in the space of a week.
The flight deck, which remains unmanned throughout take off and landing, also has an automation and signalling system – involved in launching and recovering aircraft – that can land helicopters as large as a Chinook on board.
This flexibility gives the Type 45 an unrivaled capability among her counterparts in the Royal Navy and other forces operating in the region. HMS Dragon and her sister ships can operate aircraft with specialist roles in everything from maritime security to airborne early warning – which is vital to give awareness of the surrounding environment.
Lieutenant Commander Jason White, the Principal Warfare Officer on board HMS Dragon, said:
"Our sensors are highly sophisticated and provide plenty of information about the operating environment. We can gather much more information to make earlier and better decisions by working and operating with these aircraft. The challenge we have is in adapting our procedures to make the most out of our mutual capabilities.
Working with the Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control helicopter has also allowed us to build on our knowledge of air activity in the Gulf by giving us the full surface picture, enabling us to know what is going on for hundreds of miles around."
Dragon has also been able to experience how aircraft from other nations operate and how foreign navies do similar operations but in different ways. One such chance was in a joint fast-roping exercise between Dragon’s Royal Marines boarding party and a US explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team based on board the USS Nimitz.
Royal Marine Captain Guy Filmore was impressed by what he saw. He said:
"They operate in a very different way to us but it definitely works; their EOD capability really complements our specialist boarding role and it would be good to work with them again and carry out joint exercises."