Romania will buy two Sandown-class Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMV) from the Royal Navy, the HMS Blyth and HMS Pembroke, it was announced on 28 September by the UK Government’s Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) body.
The move is in concert with Nato’s efforts to bolster its naval presence among littoral states in the Black Sea, a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the presence of drifting mines has emerged as a pressing concern, posing a direct threat to both the Black Sea states and the crucial sea lines of communication.
Romania, a crucial Nato ally, is set to make a substantial impact on the maritime security of the region through the upcoming sale, which holds the potential to empower Romania with a direct and positive role in safeguarding the waters.
The Sandown-Class MCMVs use high-definition sonar technology, and dedicated clearance diver teams to survey the seabed in search of mines and lost explosives. Once detected, the mines are neutralised, either by clearance diving teams or by the advanced ATLAS Seafox mine disposal system. The vessels also aide in the security of the maritime lines of communication, which are essential to international shipping and the world economy.
Romania still operates a mix of Eastern Bloc-era Cold War equipment with its modern Nato -standard western equipment, and efforts are ongoing to modernise its stock, but while it spends a significant proportion of its overall GDP on defence, in real terms this does not afford the country major procurements of large vehicle fleets, according to GlobalData’s ‘Romania Defencse Market 2023-2028’ report, and many Romanian acquisitions are of a small scale, with a trend towards second-hand systems instead, like the purchase of the Sandown-Class vessels announced this month.
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The HMS Blyth was transferred to the Romanian Navy during September, while the HMS Pembroke, which was decommissioned in 2021, is expected to be delivered next Spring. Work to refurbish the vessels has been conducted by the Ships Support Team and Babcock.
Sandown-Class ships are 52.4m long, and weigh 485 tonnes, with a range of 4600km without refuelling. The Royal Navy will replace the ships with autonomous mine-hunting systems operated from a mothership, the RFA Stirling Castle, recently bought from a Norwegian company as a commercial vessel.
DESA has recently concluded several noteworthy minehunter sales recently, with Lithuania acquiring the HMS Quorn, Dulverton, and Cottesmore, and Estonia buying the first-in-class HMS Sandown, and the HMS Inverness and Bridport. Greece procured HMS Berkeley and Bicester, while maritime contractor Harland & Wolff has obtained HMS Atherstone. These sales mark a significant development for the UK naval force posture, as it divests itself of a long-standing maritime approach to security in favour of autonomous systems. DE&S still has two former Royal Navy minehunters available for purchase, the HMS Penzane and HMS Bangor.