The opening of a United Kingdom Naval Support Facility (NSF) in Bahrain is the latest in a series of moves that continues to see a stronger UK defence presence with countries in the Gulf. In pursuing a policy of returning to facilities “East of the Suez,” the UK is reversing the country’s 1971 decision to withdraw from the region.
The British facility, located adjacent to the US Naval Support Activity Bahrain, can host over 300 British military personnel and civilians, and can accommodate up to nearly 550 people for short periods, according to the Royal Navy. Up to six Royal Navy vessels will be permanently based at the NSF whose depth and berthing space can accommodate Queen Elizabeth class carriers.
At the opening ceremony, Commodore Steve Dainton, United Kingdom Maritime Component Commander based in Bahrain, said the NSF will allow for longer term deployments in the Gulf and the wider region, becoming a hub for naval operations across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
The construction of the NSF is a significant step in reassuring allies and deterring would be aggressors in the Gulf, a clear signal of the UK’s growing engagement since the Bahrain Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed in November 2012.
In addition to Bahrain, the UK also recently closed negotiations to access other complementary naval facilities in Oman. In August 2017, the UK Defence Secretary signed an agreement securing access to the port of Duqm, located on the southeast coast. Plans to establish a Joint Logistics Support Base at the location were also reiterated. The MoD particularly set its sights on Duqm to utilize the port’s dry docks to support the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, the largest ship in the British navy.
Bottom Line – The UK shows no signs of curtailing its commitment to strengthen military ties with states in the Gulf.