HMS Montrose at sea
Sea vessels

What Is The True Extent Of Britain's Naval Deployment In The Gulf?

The Ministry of Defence recently announced more ships would be sent to the Gulf but how much military power does the UK have in the region?

HMS Montrose at sea

The MOD said HMS Montrose drove off three Iran ships in the Gulf last week (Picture: MOD).

The Gulf, once again, is the focus for governments and militaries around the world.

There’s a steady, almost daily, increase in tension between the West and the government in Tehran.

Drones shot down, tankers seized, tankers bombed. The Royal Navy, in the shape of HMS Montrose, deterring aggression against a UK tanker.

Where it will end depends a lot on Washington and the leaders of Iran. Will hawks in both camps push the sides towards armed conflict or will diplomacy shine through?

In the interim, there’s increasing interest in which nations have what in the Gulf region, in terms of military hardware.

News of "pre-planned" Royal Navy deployments has stoked the notion that Britain is ramping up its presence. That’s not the case, because quite frankly, its already happened.

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

First, there’s the new naval facility in Bahrain. It’s actually 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. This means 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 is that HMS Montrose will 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.”

Therefore, pre-dating the current tension, the Royal Navy had significantly planned to increase its Middle East presence.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has stressed recent deployments are not in response to increased tensions with Iran. 

What Royal Navy ships are in the Gulf?

The Ministry of Defence says there are seven Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ships in the region.

However, that figure fluctuates as ships come in and out of the region.

For example, Type 45 Destroyer HMS Duncan is filling in for HMS Montrose during the ship's maintenance, so the pair only count as one.

They are all part of the long-standing Operation Kipion.

Indeed, the UK has maintained a continuous Royal Navy presence in the Gulf since 1980.

Here’s the current strength:

  • One Type 45, HMS Duncan, sailing to the region to ensure a “continuous maritime security presence while HMS Montrose comes off-task”
  • One Type 23, HMS Montrose
  • Four Mine Counter Measures Vessels: HMS Ledbury, HMS Blyth, HMS Brocklesby, HMS Shoreham.
  • One Landing Ship Dock, RFA Cardigan Bay

Joining all the above soon will be two additional vessels, HMS Kent, which will take-over from HMS Duncan, and RFA Wave Knight.

Type 23 frigate HMS Kent will set sail in September (Picture: MOD).
Type 23 frigate HMS Kent will takeover from HMS Duncan in the Guf (Picture: MOD).

What Is The Type 23 Frigate?

HMS Montrose and HMS Kent are both Type 23 frigates - 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 ships boast an impressive range of 7,500 nautical miles with a top speed in excess of 28 knots.

They pack 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.

Meanwhile, embarked helicopters and sea-boats complete the picture.

In short, they have 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. 

RFA Wave Knight has a different purpose - a fast fleet tanker providing vital fuel and food to Royal Navy ships.

Tanker RFA Wave Knight will also deploy to the Gulf (Picture: MOD).
Tanker RFA Wave Knight will also deploy to the Gulf (Picture: MOD).

The recent Exercise Dynamic Mongoose saw her tested - RFA Wave Knight replenished (or 'RASed') HMS Sutherland and HMS Westminster simultaneously.

Within a couple of hours, she had pumped 245,000 gallons of fuel for the ships - that’s enough to fill up 22,000 Kia Cee'ds.

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.

They have a small but sustainable force populated with efficient ships and experienced sailors.