Life on Royal Navy's Falklands-bound HMS Dauntless

Capt Will Warrender on the bridge of HMS Dauntless
Image caption Capt Will Warrender says there is no desire to ratchet up the tension with Argentina

It is one of the Royal Navy's most advanced and powerful warships, now on its way to the other side of the world; destination - the Falkland Islands.

HMS Dauntless is the largest destroyer ever built for the Royal Navy, made from nearly 3,000 tonnes of steel. Its wide hull helps to support its two massive radar.

This Type 45 destroyer is radically different in design from earlier warships. The sleek, angled lines means it appears no larger than a fishing boat on another ship's radar. It is the navy's first stealth warship.

This is also the first time that a Type 45 destroyer has been deployed to the Falklands and the first time the navy has invited a TV crew on board a Type 45 during a deployment.

Many of the 200-strong crew were not even born when a much larger task force left to liberate the islands exactly 30 years ago.

But there are still a few veterans of that conflict on board. Weapons engineer Steve Collins was just 18 when he was on HMS Antelope, sunk by the Argentine air force in San Carlos Sound, better known as Bomb Alley. That was his very first deployment. And this will be his last.

He says he is looking forward to seeing the islands once again and visiting the memorials. But he also insists the deployment is nothing out of the ordinary.

Gary Morris, another Falklands veteran serving on board, also dismisses talk that this deployment to the South Atlantic is an act of "provocation" towards Argentina.

It is, he says, routine to have a Royal Navy warship protecting a piece of sovereign British territory.

The ship's captain, Will Warrender, says he can "understand why there's been a spike in interest" with Dauntless heading south.

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Media captionThe BBC's Jonathan Beale takes a look around on board HMS Dauntless

But he adds that the Royal Navy has had a presence there for "many, many years". No-one on board seems to want to stoke any political fires.

'Awesome capability'

Nevertheless, the design of Dauntless was born out of the bitter lessons from 1982, when Britain lost half a dozen ships to low-flying Argentine jets and sea-skimming missiles.

The Type 45 destroyer is the most advanced air defence destroyer of its kind. In theory, at least, it could deal with any threat posed by the ageing Argentine air force.

Down in the ship's nerve centre, the operations room, dozens of computer screens stream data from the two large radar, which can see for up to 250 miles.

From 60 miles they can identify and engage multiple targets at the same time. They can even track an object the size of a cricket ball, travelling at more than Mach 2 - twice the speed of sound.

Lt Tom Rowley, one of Dauntless's air warfare officers, describes it as an "awesome capability".

Its main weapon is the Sea Viper missile. It can reach speeds of Mach 4 to Mach 5 in only two seconds and carry out flight manoeuvres three times more severe than a fighter pilot can withstand. Dauntless can carry 48 Sea Viper missiles.

If there were ever to be an "Armaggedon" scenario, it could fire them all in just two seconds. But at £1m each, Dauntless has only ever test-fired one.

Its other defences are machine-guns mounted around the vessel, a 4.5-inch gun on the bow, and a Lynx helicopter that can protect the ship from attack by submarine or other surface ships.

Crew conditions

But Capt Warrender says it is much more than just an air defence destroyer, providing "versatility and flexibility".

There is plenty of space on board to add other weapons systems, such as a compartment that could be fitted with Cruise missiles. There is also an extra cabin to carry a detachment of Royal Marines or special forces.

Image caption Two large radar feed information to computer screens in the destroyer's operations room

There is more room for the crew than other Royal Navy ships, with most accommodated in two-bunk cabins.

There are separate messes for officers, senior and junior ratings. But for a seven-month deployment like this it is hardly luxury living. Each crew member is fed for just £2.38 a day.

The Royal Navy too is having to eke out the most from this £1bn warship. Originally, Britain was planning to buy 12 Type 45 destroyers. But the navy is getting only six.

For Dauntless that means this voyage is about much more than just patrolling the Falklands. En route, off the west coast of Africa, the crew has been helping to train other nations in the region in how to combat maritime crime.

Teams from The Gambia, Senegal and Morocco have been put through their paces on Dauntless, carrying out boarding missions and learning how to tackle anything from piracy to illegal fishing and the illicit trade in drugs, weapons and people smuggling.

Capt Warrender says it shows that the Royal Navy is getting the best value for money for the taxpayer. Today's navy has a surface fleet of just 19 frigates and destroyers.

Long journey

But back home this mission is still likely to be seen as primarily about defending the Falklands - particularly at a time of rising tensions with Argentina.

Those tensions have already raised doubts as to where Dauntless may be able to stop on its return journey.

It is no secret that the government would like to show off its latest warship to the rising economic powers in the region, particularly Brazil.

Dauntless is not just flying the flag for the navy, but for British business too, and the main contractor BAE systems.

However, South American nations have already turned away other British warships - an act of solidarity in Argentina's dispute over the ownership of the islands.

Capt Warrender says he is not prepared to be drawn on where the ship may or may not go.

But he admits that the climate in South America "does make it a little more difficult" to stop off in the region. For the crew of Dauntless it might be a very long journey home.

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