Royal Navy Woes Come at the Worst Possible Time

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The decline of the Royal Navy in ship numbers, and capabilities since the end of the Cold War has been well documented. British participation in the Global War on Terrorism was funded in large part by the systematic cutting of RN assets as a cost cutting measure to ensure the troops on the ground were funded. Promises were made regularly about the cuts being rectified one day when the money was available. Unfortunately, that day has yet to come.

Now Great Britain finds itself facing a maritime crisis in the Persian Gulf. Iranian gunboats attempted to intercept a British oil tanker and had to be driven off by a Royal Navy frigate that had been shadowing the tanker. Following the incident, the Ministry of Defense announced that a second warship, the destroyer HMS Duncan will be heading to the Persian Gulf to reinforce the frigate HMS Montrose, and the mine countermeasures vessels currently on station.

As far as major deployments go, this one is anything but. Moving a single British warship from the Mediterranean to the Gulf should not be considered anything but routine, and standard. Unfortunately, given the current condition of the RN, redeploying a single warship is about the extent of what the once mighty Royal Navy can accomplish at the moment.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Royal Navy presence in the Persian Gulf was consistent with the Armilla patrols. British warships patrolled the Gulf waters regularly in response to the increased danger to British shipping and interests in the region. At least one warship, and one Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship were present in the Gulf at any time. During times of high tension, the force was bolstered by an aircraft carrier or task group. Today, such a reinforcement is almost impossible. Britain only has one aircraft carrier at the moment and it has yet to reach initial operational capacity. Therefore, any fixed wing support for the Royal Navy will have to come from the US Navy aircraft carrier operating in the area.

With British shipping in the Persian Gulf now facing threats from Iran, additional RN warships are desperately needed. Unfortunately, it will be quite some time before enough are available and deployed to the Gulf to make a difference.

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