After a hiatus of over five years for repairs, HMS Iron Duke has returned to the open waters.

The Babcock team, in collaboration with the Royal Navy, has dedicated a staggering 1.7 million hours of labour towards the largest overhaul of Duke-class ships ever undertaken in the life extension programme. This extensive refurbishment includes significant structural work, twice the amount of any previous overhaul.

In a release from Babcock on 19 May, Commander Charles Wheen, the Commanding Officer of HMS Iron Duke, announced that the vessel is fully prepared to start on an ‘intensive’ trials and training programme. “She is in great shape following the refit, with some exciting new capabilities, and our challenge now is to sharpen those capabilities and to restore the ship to front-line operations in the shortest time possible.”

Numerous upgrades have been implemented for warfare, communication, navigation, and the functioning of other systems, to ensure that the vessel remains at the forefront of naval operations. Onboard IT systems have undergone a major overhaul to keep pace with technological advancements, while living spaces have been modernised to cater to the needs of modern sailors.

This refit means that the vessel, designed across the 1970s and early 80s and originally intended to serve for 20 years, will now be able to continue undertaking front-line duties. This has been made possible due to the recent work carried out on the vessel.

The warship, the third incarnation of Iron Duke, commissioned in 1993, follows her eponymous predecessors of 1655 and 1912. The successors of her class, the Type 26 and 31 frigates, are expected to enter service later this decade.

Supported by Babcock engineers who have been working closely with the ship’s crew, the vessel was made seaworthy at Babcock’s Devonport facility, before the Type 23 frigate embarked on its voyage from Plymouth.

The retirement of other Type 23 frigates, has had a significant impact on the timeline for the replacement Type 31 frigates. The first-in-class HMS Venturer is expected to enter service in 2027, but by that time, the fleet may be further reduced due to the retirement of Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster in 2024.