HMS Lancaster, which was recently fitted with heavy machine guns to fend off fast-attack craft, has been conducting firepower tests off the coast of the Isle of Wight.

The Type 23 Frigate drew the attention of locals in Ventnor on Sunday when the intimidating warship came in close to the shore, far closer than one usually expects.

It has now been revealed that the Portsmouth-based Frigate has been testing her new .50 calibre guns for the first time in the seas to the South of the Island.

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The .50 calibre gun has long been a favourite of the Royal Marines and aircrew – it’s fitted to the Fleet Air Arm’s Wildcat and Merlin helicopters when they are providing air cover or hunting down smugglers. But for close-protection ships either rely on the lighter general purpose machine gun (GPMG), sometimes the Minigun (a manually-operated Gatling gun) and, as a last resort, standard-issue SA80 rifles.

As the name suggests the .50 heavy machine-gun – generally known as the ’50 cal’ or HMG (heavy machine gun) – spews out half inch/12.7mm diameter shells at 500-600 rounds per minute. Effective at ranges up to about 2,000 metres, its bullets can penetrate light armour and will tear through plastics such as RIB speed boats.

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During trials, multiple rounds were fired at various angles and in various directions from the bridge wing mountings to ensure the weapon was safe and the gunnery team can handle it – and can use it in anger if necessary.

Further shoots to hone accuracy and test efficacy are lined up, including against the Royal Navy’s ‘killer tomato’ large inflatable target, allowing comparisons with Lancaster’s existing machine and Miniguns.

As well as gunnery, HMS Lancaster’s trials this week include working with Wildcats from Yeovilton by day and night to ensure they can operate the helicopter safely in all conditions, and testing her engines. Islanders may see military activity in the area over the coming days as a result.

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Island Echo