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The UK Royal Navy‘s Merlin Mk2 helicopter has landed on HMS Sutherland for the first time in 18 months as part of the vessels’ operational sea training in the South West Exercise Area off Plymouth.

The helicopter from 03 Flight, 829 Naval Air Squadron will now work with the navy’s Type 23 Duke-class frigate for the next few weeks.

Merlin Flight commander lieutenant commander Ben Kerley said: "A Merlin Mk2 and a Type 23 frigate are a potent combination and Operational Sea Training provides the ideal training package to hone our capabilities at sea.

"Not only are our core anti-submarine warfare skills fully tested, but we also train for a wide range of eventualities."

Having entered service in 2014, the navy’s Merlin Mk2 helicopters feature cockpits with improved night-vision capability for pilots and a modernised combat system with touchscreen display.

It is responsible for the UK’s maritime force protection and airborne ASW capability.

The ongoing operational sea training of HMS Sutherland is aimed to test the capability of the warship for deployment.

"Operational Sea Training provides the ideal training package to hone our capabilities at sea."

Commenting on the arrival of Merlin, Sutherland commanding officer commander Stephen Anderson said: "It turns us into the most up to date and capable frigate in the Type 23 flotilla after our £24m upgrade.

"Having our own Merlin ensures that we are able to demonstrate a world-beating ability to conduct anti-submarine warfare operations, as well as increased ability and flexibility in all environments."

In September, the Royal Navy re-christened HMS Sutherland after completing an 18-month overhaul programme.

The Devonport-based warship completed an extensive mid-life overhaul that included installation of the latest weapons and sensors, DNA (2) command system and the advanced radar target indication situational awareness and navigation (Artisan) 3D radar type 997.

Image: Royal Navy’s Merlin helicopter and HMS Sutherland will perform ‘pre-season training’ over the next two months. Photo: courtesy of Royal Navy.