For only the second time in more than 50 years of elite Royal Navy instruction, an American warship has been put through Operational Sea Training – the benchmark for any RN warship intending to deploy.
Destroyer USS Forrest Sherman spent two weeks in the hands of the Flag Officer Sea Training organisation in Plymouth – and hailed the realistic nature of her rigorous work-out.
Chief Fire Controlman Kevin Barnett, left, and Sonar Technician (Surface) 3rd Class Jared Metcalf brace for shock during Thursday War. Pictures: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katerine Noll, US Navy
WE OFTEN proclaim the Royal Navy’s front-line training is the toughest and most rigorous there is on the Seven Seas.
But don’t take our word for it – take the world’s biggest navy.
For (apparently) only the second time in the history of the Flag Officer Sea Training, an American warship has been tested to the limits of what can be achieved in peacetime training off Plymouth.
All British warships and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support vessels must go through Operational Sea Training before being declared ready to deploy; the intensive two months in the hands of the FOST assessors is compared by some ships as ‘pre-season training’ in the sporting world.
In the case of Arleigh Burke-destroyer USS Forrest Sherman, she wasn’t given the full FOST experience, ‘only’ two four-day condensed bursts of training: one period alongside, where the FOSTies determine whether the ship is ready for the intense examination, followed by the at-sea test, climaxing in the (in)famous ‘Thursday War’.
Damage Controlman 1st Class Shawn Roche and Damage Controlman Fireman Apprentice Zachary Saalfrank prepare to open a scuttle to let out smoke as FOST staff simulate fires aboard the US destroyer
All of which is bread and butter to the men and women of the Senior Service – Royal Navy vessels pass through FOST every year to 18 or so months, and also regularly return for training specific to their deployments, such as board and search.
The US Navy has a counterpart to FOST, known as INSURV – Board of Inspection and Survey – but the destroyer evidently still found the RN training regimen a bit of a baptism of fire, especially the Thursday War, which is the culmination of a week’s training off Plymouth featuring everything a ship’s company might be expected to cope with in a full-blown conflict.
The destroyer’s mission was to protect tanker RFA Orangeleaf amid fighter/bomber attacks, missile strikes, enemy submarines, and mine-swept channels, carrying out refuelling when necessary.
Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Jason Zimmerman and Operations Specialist Seaman Apprentice Brian Blanchard shore up battle damage
As is always the case at FOST, despite fending off some foes, the Forrest Sherman – ship No.48 in a projected class of more than 70 Arleigh Burkes – took hits and with them casualties and damage.
Casualties, in US Navy parlance, are machinery breakdowns, instead of the RN’s rescue dummy ‘Fred’ who has to be saved, the Americans have ‘Oscar’, and damage is contained or fixed not by ‘emergency parties’ as you’d find in British ships, but by ‘repair lockers’.
“The initial response was a little slow, but the team quickly picked up the pace and performed well," said marine engineer WO1 Al Jones, one of the FOST experts assessing the response of Forrest Sherman’s repair lockers.
Quartermaster 2nd Class Roland Williams steers the Forrest Sherman as helmsman while at general quarters (or action stations as the RN knows it)
His FOST colleague CPO(MA) Steve Pickering added: “There are different ways of doing things and this is a great opportunity to learn.
“The US Navy is huge, a global power, and it was exciting to work with such a very receptive crew. Their attitude was first class."
As for the Americans, they found the realism of the RN training particularly useful.
Ensign Michael Cullen, one of Forrest Sherman's visit, board, search, and seizure team leaders, said: "I really liked the reality brought to the anti-terrorism/force protection scenarios. When you have rounds and flash-bangs going off it adds a different perspective to the exercise."
“I've been through other exercises, inspections, and deployment and this was by far the hardest," said Sonar Technician 3rd Class Victor Williams. "It was even more intense than INSURV."
Ensign Cullen agreed: "I went through INSURV and Joint Warrior last year – and this was definitely more intense."
Ship's Serviceman Seaman Shan Willoughby rescues 'Oscar', the US Navy equivalent of Fred, during a man overboard drill
As well as FOST staff assessing the US destroyer’s progress, on the final day of Forrest Sherman’s spell at OST, Rear Admiral Scott Craig, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, joined the ship to observe the training.
When the fires had died down and the flood tide stemmed, the destroyer’s Commanding Officer Cdr Luis Sanchez spoke to the ship’s company:
“I received nothing but positive comments from the admiral and the FOST assessors. Good job to all of you for completing this monumental task. The thing that stood out the most was your enthusiasm and dedication. No matter what was thrown at you, you turned it into gold; a testimonial to who you are and what you do."
Which isn’t entirely different from the broadcast made when Royal Navy ships come through OST…