New UK naval base comes online
The UK officially opened its new naval support facility in Manama, Bahrain, on 5 March, the latest in a series of moves to boost its existing and future maritime support capabilities in the region.
In a release, the MoD stated that the facility will play a central role in the country’s ability to operate in the region and act as a hub for the Royal Navy’s operations in the Gulf, Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
The base, described as ‘self-sufficient’, will be considered home to over 300 military personnel and civilian support, surging to 550 persons for short periods of time. The MoD added that the site will also be a key strategic base east of Suez for the UK, its allies and coalition partners.
Construction of the facility – named HMS Juffair – began in 2015 and was financed at least in part by Bahrain. Philip Hammond, the then UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, said at the time that it marked ‘a watershed moment’ in the UK’s commitment to the region.
The previous HMS Juffair is now Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain, the base of operations for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
It is thought that the new facility is located inside or next to the US Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain – home of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command. The former base of operations for Britain’s naval presence in the region – the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) – was itself housed inside the perimeter of NSA Bahrain.
Speaking at Mina Salman, Gen Chris Deverell, commander Joint Forces Command said, ‘Bahrain is [a] longstanding British ally and both countries work closely across diplomatic, economic and security matters.
‘What happens in the Gulf region has a direct impact on the national security of the United Kingdom, our prosperity and the safety of our citizens. It is vital that we work with close allies like Bahrain to tackle regional threats such as that posed by Daesh.’
In an interview with Shephard in 2017, a senior officer onboard HMS Penzance, one of the four MCM vessels based out of Bahrain, said that the new facilities would provide ‘increased logistical support and increased headquarters’ as well as other accommodation required by the service.
The Gulf region could be considered to be witnessing a more permanent return by UK forces east of Suez. In addition to HMS Juffair, the UK has seen investment into neighbouring Oman with the creation of a naval logistics centre in Duqm, operated as a joint venture between Babock and Oman Drydock Company.
This facility – Duqm Naval Dockyard – has already performed maintenance programmes to US naval support vessels operating in the region and hosted visits by UK warships and survey vessels.
And, while the UK’s new Bahrain facility was mentioned as being able to accommodate the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, the surrounding waters are too shallow to permit dockside mooring.
Any maintenance work could however be carried out at the large drydocks that DND has access to, which would in theory allow for a semi-permanent UK carrier capability in the region.
The UK, meanwhile, will also lease areas of land near Duqm as storage sites for the upcoming Saif Sareea exercises, which could be transitioned to a permanent inland training facility.
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