HMS Montrose at sea
UK

What Military Capability Does Britain Have Deployed In The Gulf?

A look at how much military power the United Kingdom has in the region.

HMS Montrose at sea

The Gulf is often the focus for governments and militaries around the world, with increased tensions between western powers and the government in Tehran.

On Friday 3 January, US President Donald Trump authorised an air strike on a top Iranian military officer.

The killing of General Qassem Soleimani came at a time of already hightened tensions between the United States and Iran.

Following the Iranian general's death, British ships and helicopters in the region were put on "standby to assist" in the Middle East, with the Defence Secretary confirming the UK was "changing the readiness" of its forces in the region.

A support team was also sent to Iraq to help the British military contingency plan, prior to the attack on bases in Iraq containing UK and US forces.

The Royal Navy has said it will protect British ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz amid tensions near the Strait of Hormuz.

However, the UK's presence in the region is nothing new, as Britain has maintained a permanent maritime presence in the Gulf since 1980.

The big change for the Royal Navy in the Gulf is two-fold and inter-related.

First, there is the new naval facility in Bahrain, called the United Kingdom Naval Support Facility, or HMS Jufair.

It is stationed on the site of an old base, which the Royal Navy ran until 1971.

The facility enables ships to undergo maintenance in the Gulf rather than at a base in the UK, meaning ships can be semi-permanently based there.

HMS Montrose arrives in Bahrain
HMS Montrose docked at the UK Naval Support Facility (Picture: Royal Navy).

The second big change, which was confirmed last year, is that HMS Montrose is set to stay in the Gulf until 2022.

Speaking in April 2019, Commodore Steve Dainton, the UK Maritime Component Commander in the Middle East, said: "HMS Montrose will fulfill a vital role.

"It is clear we will have significantly enhanced the scope and capability of our operations in the region."

Pre-dating the current tensions, the Royal Navy had significantly planned to increase its Middle East presence.

What Royal Navy ships are in the Gulf?

The Ministry of Defence says there are six Royal Navy ships and one Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessel in the region, as part of the long-standing Operation Kipion.

There is typically one Royal Navy vessel, with Royal Marines embarked, deployed on maritime security patrol supported by a tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

At present there are two Royal Navy vessels deployed in the region in response to threats against international shipping - Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender and Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose.

Type 23 frigate HMS Kent returned to the UK in December 2019, after a four-month deployment.

As a result of the Iran-Iraq War, there is a large number of mines present in and around the Persian Gulf. For this reason, there is also a British permanent mine countermeasures squadron deployed. 

The Mine Countermeasures Squadron consists of two Hunt-class vessels (HMS Ledbury and HMS Brocklesby), two Sandown-class minehunters (HMS Shoreham and HMS Blyth), as well as RFA Cardigan Bay.

Type 23 frigate HMS Kent will set sail in September (Picture: MOD).
Type 23 frigate HMS Kent returned to the UK from the Gulf last month (Picture: MOD).

What Is The Type 23 Frigate?

HMS Montrose is a Type 23 frigate - the workhorse of the Royal Navy.

With a crew of 185, the 436-foot frigate was originally designed for anti-submarine warfare in the North Atlantic. 

The ship boasts an impressive range of 7,500 nautical miles with a top speed in excess of 28 knots.

She packs a punch with sea wolf anti-air missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, along with the obligatory 4.5-inch naval gun, mini-guns and general-purpose machine guns.

In short, HMS Montrose has a weapon system to deal with any conceivable threat in the region.

What Does The RFA Do? 

Think of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as a vital mobile stores department.

They provide and deliver the fuel, food, spares and consumables needed to keep a ship at sea, but not every RFA ship is the same.

RFA Cardigan Bay is an amphibious warfare ship with a dock that can house things like landing craft and amphibious vehicles, as well as tanks and trucks.

Aerial view of RFA Cardigan Bay in the Gulf on Exercise Artemis Trident.
RFA Cardigan Bay is deployed to the Gulf (Picture: MOD).

All RFA ships are crewed and commanded by members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary - UK merchant sailors in the uniformed civilian branch of the Royal Navy.

Whatever happens with Iran, the Royal Navy will continue to patrol the region, as the MOD says it is focused on keeping the shipping lanes open for vital civilian traffic.

What presence does the British Army have in the Gulf?

Around 400 British Army personnel are deployed in Iraq, across three bases.

The role of these soldiers is to provide training and advice for Iraqi security forces, to prepare them for operations against Islamic State - although the training role carried out by coalition forces in Iraq including the UK has been suspended.

These British ground troops form part of Operation Shader - the UK's contribution to the US-led mission against so-called Islamic State.

The Royal Air Force is also part of Op Shader through launching air strikes over Iraq and Syria, although these are flown from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, and by Reaper aircraft operated remotely from RAF Waddington and Nevada in the United States.

Cover image: HMS Montrose (Picture: MOD).