As part of the Royal Navy’s transition to undertaking training in a more measurable way, MOD Aberporth supported the Royal Navy Fleet Operational Sea Training (FOST) naval gunnery training activity during July 2020. During Exercise Sharpshooter two ships came on to the Range for consecutive weeks, conducting training serials against both static and dynamic targets. The programme of work was enabled through T3E (Test, Trials, Training and Evaluation), providing not only the physical location for the activity, but the support of experienced personnel and equipment to conduct and record data.
MOD Aberporth was chosen to provide target systems on a safe and secure Range allowing the deployment of a full array of gunnery systems from both Type 23 Frigate, HMS Northumberland and Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Defender. Both ships deployed a Wildcat helicopter to support fall of shot spotting, passenger/equipment transfers and a Royal Marine deployment.
The Range Capability team cleared the Range Danger Area switching from designating set operations areas to complete a 360 degree of freedom of engagement where ships could conduct their training as if in a warfighting environment. In the planning stages, both QinetiQ and the Royal Navy completed environmental submissions – gaining approvals via Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) Ecologists.
Various static surface deployment target barges were used, with customer-funded superstructures atop a floating pontoon. Remotely operated instrumentation was deployed to observe the target’s surrounding area confirming no marine craft or sea life were close to the ships.
The instrumentation was also used to capture firing data. The majority of activities were during daylight hours, although one serial was conducted in low light/darkness to support the Royal Navy’s Starshell illumination training. This allows the ship to illuminate a potential target with either daylight flares or Infra Red (IR) illumination shells which are then followed by either Surface Practice rounds or High Explosive rounds used to destroy the target. QinetiQ provided a variety of targets including a static 5m barge target and the Royal Navy purchased three QinetiQ Hammerhead dynamic targets.
Outcomes and benefits
MOD Aberporth as a location for Exercise Sharpshooter ensured the provision of a sanitised Range for the Royal Navy, unhampered by congested air and sea space. Whilst the QinetiQ team ensured flexibility to meet the broad training requirements, a live data feed from activities ensured that data captured maximised the benefits of the firings. Safety control was managed throughout the event enabling flexible service delivery and Met Office acoustic forecasting ensured that Range environmental rules were adhered to.
Ship Commanding Officer: “I very much hope to return to the range in the future as SHARPSHOOTER continues to develop; it is an excellent opportunity for warships to prove their weapon systems and to improve lethality.”