On September 20th 2021, MAR had the opportunity to visit the Romanian Navy Type 22 Frigate “Regina Maria” (F 222) whilst on a short port call at the Grand Harbour, Malta. The ship was part of a NATO task group patrolling in the Central Mediterranean as part of NATO’s maritime security operation, Operation Sea Guardian (OSG).

NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian remains one of the most important tools for NATO to increase cooperation and interoperability in the Mediterranean Sea with Allies and Partner nations and to enhance capacity building in the frame of maritime security. These focused patrols contribute to maintain maritime situational awareness, to deter terrorism and mitigate the risk of other threats to security in the Mediterranean Sea.

MAR would like to thank the Romanian Navy for this opportunity, Lt. Cdr. Nicoleta Burlacu, Commanding Officer Captain Adrian Gobjilă, Commander of Grupul 256 Bogdan-Eugen Curcă and all the crew who welcomed us onboard with open hands and who patiently answered all our questions.

Frigate Type 22 “Regina Maria” (F 222).

Former British frigate HMS “London”, “Regina Maria” is a Type 22 second generation frigate. The building of the ship began on February 23, 1982 and it was launched at sea on October 27, 1984. The commissioning operation took place in 1987, and the ship was named “Bloodhound” and it was given the number F95. On the request of the mayor of the British capital city, in memory of the destroyer belonging to the County class, the ship took the name of HMS “London”, the same name as the city of London, a very popular tradition in the British Royal Navy.

In 1988, the ship was deployed in the Baltic Sea, being given the assignment to test underwater detection equipment on Russian ships. In 1991, it was deployed as a commanding ship in the Royal Navy in the Persian Gulf, and in 1993, it took an active part in the Gulf War. In, 1995, it participated in the Bosnian War. In November 1998, it carried out drills in the Black Sea with military ships of Romania and Ukraine, and between November 21-24, it visited the port of Constanta.

The ship left the Royal Navy in 1999 and in 2004 a frigate regeneration program commenced ensuring the serviceability and upgrading of the on-board equipment whilst also integrating new armament systems and more modern equipment. The ship was sold to the Romanian Navy on 14 January 2003, being commissioned as “Regina Maria” on 21st April 2005 after Queen Marie of Romania, wife of King Ferdinand I of Romania.

The Queen Maria frigate is capable of operating in all three environments: surface, air and underwater. The main missions it can perform are: command ship of a naval group, participation in joint or collective operations, surveillance of the naval situation and control of maritime traffic in the territorial sea, contiguous area and exclusive economic zone, protection of transport and maritime communications, supporting specialized forces in combating maritime water pollution, smuggling and illicit arms and drug transport, participating in national and international search and rescue operations at sea or humanitarian aid and naval training at sea. On August 3rd, 2009 the first landings took place on the “Regina Maria” deck at night with the IAR 330 Puma NAVAL helicopter of the Grupul 256 Elicoptere ‘Black Sea Knights’. The ship participated in numerous national and international drills, operations and missions, including: NATO Operation “Active Endeavor” (2006, 2009, 2011, 2013); NIRIIS (2007); “Breeze” (2014, 2016, 2020); Sea Breeze (2016, 2020); NATO Operation “Sea Guardian” (2020, 2021); Permanent Naval groups of NATO SNMG 2 (2016, 2020, 2021).

Grupul 256 Elicoptere and the IAR 330 Puma

Romania’s Navy initially operated a number of flying boats and floatplanes of Romanian, Italian and German origin up until 1965. Romanian Naval aviation was re-introduced following the acquisition of two Type 22 Broadsword-class frigates from the British Royal Navy in early 2003, the “Regina Maria” and “Regele Ferdinand”. In 2005, a program was initiated to acquire three helicopters that would operate from the two frigates. Instead of buying an already existing naval helicopter, the Romanian Navy decided to develop a maritime version of the IAR-330 Puma. The air force’s positive experience with regard to maintenance and a large stock of spare parts in Romania contributed to the decision to develop the Naval Puma.

The first IAR.330 Puma Naval serial ‘140’ made its first flight at Ghimbav, Brasov on 30 January 2007. The IAR.330 Puma Naval underwent testing from February until June 2007, including sea trials and ship compatibility tests. On the 13th of July 2007 in the Military Port of Constanţa, the commissioning ceremony of the first IAR 330 Puma NAVAL helicopter serial ‘140’ took place in the presence of the Chief of General Staff, Admiral Dr. Gheorghe MARIN.

The ‘Black Sea Knights’ squadron was formally re-established after forty-seven years of absence with the introduction into service of the first IAR.330 Puma Naval assigned to the Type 22 Frigate “Regele Ferdinand”. The second IAR.330 Puma Naval serial ‘141’ was delivered in January 2008. After the delivery of the third IAR.330 Puma Naval serial ‘142’ in 2009, the squadron relocated to Tuzla from Mihail Kogălniceanu air base.

The main modifications to the Puma Naval, compared to the standard IAR.330L variant, are the cockpit layout, Rafael Toplite eletro-optical ball senor in the nose (EOP), laser and radar warning receivers, blade antennas under the tail boom and on top of the main rotor fairing, chaff and flare dispensers under the main gear. For naval operations a number of changes were made to the basic IAR.330L airframe which include foldable main rotor blades, inflatable flotation gear, door-mounted winch on the starboard side, anti-crash seats, harpoon for deck landing in rough weather conditions, crash position indicator on the port side of the tail boom, two searchlights under the fuselage and a bubble- type observation window on the sliding doors. The helicopter can also be armed with a Dillon Aero 7.62mm calibre M134 rotary machine gun or DSKM 12.7mm heavy machine gun and BAE systems Stingray torpedoes.

The crew of the Puma Naval typically consist of a pilot, co- pilot and a mechanic, who is also operating the winch in case of SAR missions. A sniper can also be part of the crew if required for certain missions. For Anti-surface warfare (ASuW) missions two operators are added to the crew who are responsible for operating the sonar buoys, Stingray torpedo console and LINK-11, used to exchange data between the helicopter and the ASuW operators onboard the Frigates. The tactical consoles can be added rapidly and can deliver a valuable Recognized Maritime Picture (RMP) to the fleet.