Following calls for the United Kingdom to expand its military presence ”˜East of Suez,’ the formerly British controlled strategic canal between continental Africa and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, the Royal Navy has launched a sizeable base in the Persian Gulf situated on the small island nation of Bahrain. This military facility is set to accommodate 300 British military personnel, and will become a key site for British military activities in the region. The base’s opening comes amid British pledges to deploy more of its military forces to the Asia-Pacific, deployment of warships near the Korean Peninsula and Royal Marines to Japan, and a guarantee issued by the country’s foreign minister to deploy aircraft carriers to the South China Sea. Indeed, the announcement of the opening comes as Britain sends its third warship, HMS Albion, to the Korean Peninsula to support the Western bloc’s effort to exert military pressure on Pyongyang. While Britain’s armed forces are more overstretched than ever, facing deep budget cuts which have left most of the Royal Navy out of service, the country has continued to stretch its military further and prioritise deployments to the far and Middle East to support initiatives undertaken by the wider Western bloc. Whether Britain will be able to see through its pledges to expand its eastern military presence significantly remains to be seen, but is extremely unlikely based on the current state of the country’s military and economy. Indeed, the country is likely to have to seriously cut down the ambitions of its Queen Elizabeth carrier program, the heart of British power projection in the 21st century, due to the high cost of acquiring carrier based fighter jets.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence stated regarding the country’s new facilities in Bahrain and the purpose they were set to serve: “Britain has cemented its enhanced and permanent presence in the Gulf with the opening of the United Kingdom Naval Support Facility at a ceremony at Mina Salman port in Bahrain today. The Naval Support Facility will play a central role in the UK’s ability to operate in the region, and will be the hub of the Royal Navy’s operations in the Gulf, Red Sea and Indian Ocean.” The base is set to accommodate and service British warships operating in the gulf region. The facility could also serve as an invaluable stopover for warships travelling to the Asia-Pacific.
Britain’s new base has been named HMS Jufair, a facility which hails back to 1935 when it was under the control of the British Empire. The facility was returned to Bahrain only in 1971, though the U.S. military has been leasing the facility since the 1950s which continued after sovereignty was restored to the small Arab kingdom. The facility was used extensively during the Second World War to support the British war effort, and was expanded by the U.S. military in 2003 to support the Iraq War. London announced its intention to return to and reopen the naval facility in 2014, with Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt confirming that the Navy's two aircraft carriers would be able to access facilities while at anchor in the vicinity of the Mina Salman port. With British carriers notably lacking in their ranges compared to more sophisticated nuclear powered platforms such as the French Charles De Gaulle and U.S. Nimitz Class warships, such a stopover point between Europe and the Pacific could be particularly invaluable. With tensions between Western aligned Arab Gulf States and Iran continuing to simmer, and with Saudi Arabia’s new Crown Prince predicting open war with Iran in the near future, a British Naval contingent could well prove an invaluable asset to support allied forces should such a conflict break out. The naval base will fulfil a complementary role to expanding British military facilities in Oman.