HMS Ledbury will be in the front line in a war with Iraq, the MoD has confirmed.

The minesweeper will form part of a powerful Royal Navy flotilla, announced by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The 16-ship deployment includes the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. More details of the operation are expected to be announced from her decks in Portsmouth today (Friday).

The minesweeper's crew has strong links with the town with regular visits exchanged, the most recent being an on-board visit by a Ledbury delegation last autumn.

Ledbury rector Dr Colin Beevers says he will pray every day for the safe return of the crew, but had strong concerns about the looming conflict.

Dr Beevers said: "Obviously the crew of HMS Ledbury go with our prayers. All the people concerned are very much in our daily prayers, including the people of Iraq.

"The sending of a task force doesn't have democratic support from Parliament at present and the weapons inspectors haven't reported yet. All the churches are extremely concerned.

"I have to say, a war in the Middle East without the support of the United Nations would be a huge mistake and cause a catastrophe of human misery."

However, Dr Beevers also spoke of his pride in the links between ship and town, and the fact that a flag flown by the vessel at the last Gulf War is kept at the parish church.

HMS Ledbury, which is named after the local foxhunt and not the town, will take on minesweeping duties alongside HMS Grimsby. Other ships will include HMS Ocean, Liverpool, Edinburgh, York, Marlborough, and the landing vessels Sir Galahad, Sir Tristram and Sir Percival. A submarine, still to be named, will also deploy. Fleet Auxiliary supply ships will include Fort Victoria, Rosaile, Argus and Austin.

All the captains, including Lieutenant-Commander Peter Olive on HMS Ledbury, were under MoD instructions not to make public statements until today.

Ledbury mayor Noel Roberts said: "Of course, we wish the lads well and we're proud of them, although I'm concerned about this business in Iraq. It hasn't been ascertained yet by weapons inspectors what's going on and I don't see why we should go headlong into a war without knowing why."

Former mayor Spencer Lane stressed the close links between ship and town, with the crew having attended special occasions including the Civic Service, Ledbury Carnival and a number of Remembrance Day parades.

He said: "Because Ledbury is a small ship, the connections with the town are that much more personable. They have a dangerous job to do and I look forward to the crew's return."