Thursday, 5 September 2013

A quietly solidifying Gulf Presence

In a week when news seemed focused on whether the UK is, or is not, a serious player on the world stage, or if it is retreating away from the global limelight, an interesting little story emerged on the Navy News website which perhaps speaks volumes. In itself it’s a bit of a non-story, the RN creating a new ‘squadron’ but it actually is quite an important signal. The story can be found here -

The story is very simple – the Royal Navy has decided that the vessels assigned to Bahrain, which comprise four MCMVs and a ‘mother ship’ (in this class a Bay class LSDA) will from now on wear the badge of the 9th MCMV squadron. This small gesture is important for it was the squadron previously based in the Gulf until 1971 when the UK temporarily withdrew from the region.
Although the UK has spent many years in these waters, the clear signal has been that it was always on a deployment, not an enduring basis. Since the middle of the last decade there has been a steadily growing ‘permanent’ presence in the form of MCMVs, RFAs, a Lynx Flight and a 1* Battlestaff to oversee this, all based in Bahrain.

The news that the RN will now assign a permanent squadron title to vessels in the region helps reinforce a message that the UK sees itself as being in the region for the long haul. Remember this is an area where small gestures count for a lot, and people hold onto memories for a long time. There is a genuine affection for the UK among the ruling elites of many of these nations, and they have long sought a permanent UK return to the region (not just a deployment).

The gesture of the 9th MCMV squadron standing up is a clear signal that the UK is prepared to formally administer its presence for the long haul – although in many ways an  honorific title (it comes with no uplift in staff or posts), it does help remind Gulf rulers that the UK is back in town. Coming on the back of a huge increase in tempo of exercises, such as near permanent RAF deployments to Minhad Air Base with Tornado and Typhoon aircraft, plus the increasing opportunities of deploying British Army troops to exercise with partner nations, there is arguably more UK defence engagement with the region now than there has been for many decades.

While you shouldn't read too much into this particular news, it does help serve as a reminder that the UK is quietly solidifying its ‘East of Suez’ laydown as we move away from HERRICK and into the post HERRICK world. Although nothing has materially changed, the message it will send to our friends and allies in the region is simple – the UK intends to be here for the long haul.

Given time, when Humphrey returns from his honeymoon, a more detailed look at what the UK is doing in the region will hopefully follow!


  1. SAILS.....SALES.

  2. A few minehunters is not much a of a "presence" in the Gulf. Gulf states (let alone the U.S.) aren't likely to be impressed by this token force.

    The fact that Parliament rejected use of force for Syria is a FAR more important issue (and one you should be devoting a couple posts to IMHO). That is what the Middle East, and the UK's allies and enemies are going to remember.

    1. Apologize for the typos.

    2. "...should do.."

      This is SirHs personal blog. He can write about what he damn well pleases, hopefully ignoring ingrates like yourself.


    3. RobT

      Rumor has it that the Americans were far more concerned about a potential cut to our mine-hunter force in the SDSR than they were over anything else.

      The RN is bringing to the party a world-leading and persistent capability in a volatile region. Add an SSN permanently East of Suez, a scattering of auxiliaries, a survey ship, a couple of high-end frigates/destroyers plus the near continuous RAF training deployments that Sir H also mentioned and it's far from a token force.

      With respect I don't think you really know what you are talking about.

      The RN will be showing their faces in the Gulf on a day in day out basis long after the Syria vote gets forgotten about.

    4. RobT - Actually, the US Navy has the greatest respect for the UK's MCM capability and has long acknowledged its superiority. Not for nothing did Vice Admiral Stan Arthur, Commander US 7th Fleet and head of allied naval forces during the 1991 Gulf War, describe the RN's MCM capability as his 'Jewel in the Crown', a phrase often reiterated, most recently by the Commander in Chief Fleet following the performance of our minehunters off Libya in 2011.

    5. Rob

      The MCMV commitment is seen as a major capability enhancer out there. I've been lucky enough to spend time with 9th MCMV squadron, and speaking to the crews and more broadly, its clear that our partners in the region place enormous value on what the RN can do and the capabilities the Sqn has.
      Also, its worth noting that its not so much the size of the force, but the symoblism thats important here. Sending a message to the gulf of re-establishing old links shows them that we see ourselves there on a permanent basis, rather than fleetingly. Reassurance that the 1971 situation will not be repeated it key.

    6. Tom: To quote one of my favorite movies: "Lighten up, Francis."

      Challenger: YOU may forget about the Syria vote. But people and governments all over the world will not. If you think otherwise, then you really don't understand much about foreign policy or how the world really works.

      Also, "rumor has it" does not give you much credibility. Neither does referring to "Americans" as some single entity that speaks with one voice. The U.S. has alot of doubts over the SDSR. I would place the cuts to the Army and RAF over the mine-hunter force.

      Sir H: Fair point. I have no doubt as to the capabilities of the MCMV squadron. But yes, I agree it's more of a symbol than a force with real power. Hey, you guys do what you must with the limited forces that you have.

      Also, it seems your fears about the USN carrier were misplaced. USS Nimitz is transiting the Red Sea with no problems and will probably play a part in any strike on Syria.

    7. RobT: It's far from clear whether any action will take place over Syria or quite what the aims are or what the outcome may be if a limited strike does occur.

      France didn't want to get involved in Iraq but does in Syria, the UK gave Vietnam a wide berth but has participated in every other major U.S lead action since 1945. I just think it's swings and roundabouts, sure the UK voting against action will have an effect, but I think the UK's standing in the world and in particular it's relationship with the U.S are more resilient than some people claim.

      When I said rumor I didn't mean something I heard down the pub! I meant an opinion based on a lot of knowledgeable analysis and comment at the time of the SDSR supported up by a lot of praise for the RN MCMV capability from senior USN sources. Their is a lot to be said for a persistent commitment that brings a sought after and highly specialist capability to the table.

      I just feel that on the one hand to suggest a no vote over Syria spells the end of the UK's world standing and on the other that the forces deployed East of Suez represent mere tokenism are both rather simplistic points of view.

    8. Rob,

      Minehunters aren't a "force" and they don't project power; they're a means to keep shipping moving through Hormuz in the event of things getting lively. The US is amply supplied with the means of killing people and breaking stuff, but they've always had a blind spot when it comes to mine warfare.

    9. Rob

      The phrase 'rumour has it' is a good way to conceal sourcing. Its fair to say that a lot of commentators here are very well informed and know exactly of what they speak, but cannot source directly for good reasons. I'd be less cynical about this sort of comment as sometimes vague language hides a very accurate source of information indeed.

    10. A little off topic but info I have from credible sources:

      In the last three years there have been over 400 ships visits and usage of the RN's logisitic depot in Singapore:

      Financial Year No of Ships (including UK Ships)
      2010/11 127 (0)
      2011/12 151 (2)
      2012/13 138 (0)”

      So beyond MCM work in the ME, the UK does work much (really) "east of Suez".

    11. Jason: The men and women of the Avenger-class MCM's and the U.S. Navy's air assets (i.e. CH-53's, which can flood the waters with mines) would beg to differ.

      Sir H: Sorry, but saying "rumor has it" does not give you some magical credibility. Again, speaking about "Americans" as some single monolithic entity shows a stunning lack of understanding of U.S. foreign and defense policy, not to mention the country.

      I'm always amazed how sensitive and thin-skinned the UK is to ANY criticism of their military from the U.S. Saw it play it out in Basra personally to disastrous effects.

  3. ... and forget about geo-politics and blogging for a while! Enjoy your honeymoon.

    1. Hear, hear..............and leave the bloody phone at home!!

  4. The RAF presence is slightly larger than Sir H alludes, indeed we are building up a good decent sized presence that when all combined, equals the French.

    1. Indeed Mike - although our philosophy for the region and deployments is different to the way the French are approaching it. That said, when you look at the totality of the laydown, and all the engagement across many strands, it is most impressive!

  5. The Russian diplomat was right: "Britain is just a small island … no one pays any attention to them”

    "RobT" is right about our "presence in the Gulf"

    Since losing our empire we have struggled to find a role to play on the worlds stage.
    We seem to be reduced to borrowing large sums of money at high interest rates then giving this money away to countries that don't really like us, or need the money.

    "Showing the flag" has become an embarrassing event.

    It is quite remarkable how much life has changed since the end of the Second World War - and not all for the best.

    1. Are you another of those fantasy lovers of war, war and more war? Why dont you serve first?

    2. Actually I did - lol - and for a very long time - in various parts of the world.
      But I was a Tom not a Fishhead :)
      One day I may ask you to draw up a sandbag and I'll tell you tales of derring-do :)

    3. I completely disagree with your comments laneon! your naive comments do not give the UK justice at all. the facts are we are the 4th biggest economy in the world, with the 5th largest defence budget in the world, we are the 6th largest manufacturing economy in the world the list go's on. if these positions makes us irrelevant then the rest of the world is to by your logic. I don't understand why you have such a downer on the UK and its capability? as for the Russians? well the list of their problems is huge and ever growing so I don't think we need a lesson from them.

    4. kieranlock - we may be all those things that you mention ( and more ) but our armed forces are grossly underfunded and understaffed. Our politicians, and dare I say it, our civil servants, live in a world of make believe.
      If you want the military to be the "worlds policeman" then you must give them the means to do the job.

    5. Now i do not disagree with you on most of your points. I to want defence to be slightly higher up the agenda. I just think we bash ourselves little to much and dismiss ourselves as irrelevant to quickly

  6. I prefer the RN to re-engage with Asia-Pacific partners. MCM are good.

    BTW, Bay-Class as a mother ship? Bay-Class LSDs are for transport.

    1. Four years old but still valid w.r.t. the MCM command, control and support aspects of the in-theatre Bay Class:

      "...However, the modest resourcing appropriated to ‘Aintree’ saw the ships’ availability and readiness profiles follow a progressively downward curve. It became clear that, to enable an expeditionary force to be truly tested in the environment, increased resources would be necessary to task and support operational force elements at the level of readiness demanded by the Permanent Joint Headquarters.

      As a result, the UK has taken steps over the last nine months to bolster its expeditionary MCM capability by establishing an MCM battlestaff in Bahrain, deploying enhanced forward support to the dockside and, most recently, re-roling the landing ship dock (auxiliary) – LSD[A] – vessel RFA Lyme Bay to serve as an afloat forward staging base (AFSB). Collectively, these individual threads have now been wound together to fashion an autonomous, deployable and logistically self-sustaining UK MCM Force (UKMCMFOR) the like of which the RN has not assembled since the opening phases of Operation ‘Telic’ in 2003...

      “What we’ve done over the last few months is to create a forward-deployed expeditionary infrastructure for UK MCM forces deployed into the Joint Operations Area [JOA],” says Cdr Merewether. “The four mine-countermeasures platforms are of course at the sharp end, but they are in effect the apex of a triangle below which are the supporting components of a deployed mine warfare battle-staff [located adjacent to the UK Maritime Component Command in Bahrain]: the Forward Support Unit on the dockside; the Fleet Diving Unit [which is on call to deploy and has equipment pre-positioned in theatre]; and Lyme Bay as an afloat support platform.

      This, in aggregate, delivers that appropriately trained, supported and tasked expeditionary capability we now generally refer to as the UKMCMFOR...”

    2. Bays have been used as command ships for some time - they are an excellent platform in the MCMV support role.