Saturday, August 28, 2010

British Indian Ocean Fleet

Diego Garcia
With the end of the cold war the focus of British Military Forces has moved from Europe and the North Atlantic to the Middle East and South Asia. The coming power struggles of the 21st century are likely to be between the mega powers of India and China as well as other large Asian countries such as Indonesia. Any future power struggle is likely to revolve around the middle east and whats left of the world's oil supply. If the United Kingdom is to continue a leading role in the 21st Century it will have to become more involved in the Indian Ocean again.

The current Somali Pirate situation has highlighted the lack of ability of western navies to deploy and maintain a fleet in the Indian Ocean. The combined forces of NATO, Russia, China, Japan and others have been able to deploy a total of 27 warships of Somalia. Even this relativley large fleet has been unable to deter pirate attacks. With most western navy ships required to deploy from Europe or the USA to theatre it is become difficult to maintain a substantial presence in the area.

The rise of terrorism has made it much more difficult to base naval units in the Indian Ocean. Attacks such as the USS Cole have spooked navies to stay out of port in all but the most benign Islamic countries. Ships transiting to the Indian Ocean must also use the Suez canal. However with the increasing islamisation of countries like Egypt this route may not always be available.

All these factors are only going to get worse across the 21st century. To be ahead of the game I feel it is time to look at basing a Royal Navy fleet in the Indian Ocean once again.

Ships based in the Indian Ocean will be able to respond much quicker to emergencies and give the UK a massively increased diplomatic recognition from countries like India, Indonesia, China and Australia.

Fleet Base

Other countries such as the USA and France have established bases in the Gulf. However this is less than ideal location for situating a large naval base. The main problem is the threat from Iran. With little difficulty Iran could block the Straits of Hormuz. Aircraft attacks would also pose a threat and the potential for changes in local governments might see bases having to be closed.

A substantial fleet base needs to be well outside of any potential adversaries range of attack. I would say the British Indian Ocean Territories provides the best solution. The joint US UK base at Diego Garcia already has a large runway and substantial anchorage. The US UK agreement on use of Diego Garcia expires in 2016. I would allow the US to stay however with more of the base area turned over to UK forces. Dry dock facilities would have to be installed but other than that almost everything we would need is already there.


Arial View of Diego Garcia

Defences

As we would be operating a large military base we would have too defend it. I would like to see a squadron of typhoons based a Diego Garcia  12 aircraft in total.

As most of the Russian submarine threat has dried up in the North Atlantic I would also move some of the MRA4's from Scotland to Diego Garcia perhaps rotating 3 through the airfield at all times. The ability of these aircraft to launch Storm Shadow would give the UK a small strategic bomber capability in the Indian Ocean as well. We would also have to base tanker planes for support.

Total AWACS coverage over the area would be expensive however a radar contained on a BLIMP would allow for wide coverage at a much cheaper cost. We would possibly base a single AWACS aircraft to support extended operations.

We would also have to maintain at least a battalion of soldiers on the base.

Naval Forces

Operating a substantial Naval Force including carriers and amphibious ships would likely be expensive. Instead I would opt to permanently deploy.

  • 3 SSK's
  • 2 SSN's
  • 18 Venator C3 escort Frigates
  • 3 Type 45 batch 2 destroyers
While ships would be based in Diego Garcia they would rotate back the UK for maintenance. Crews would also rotate by aircraft in the way they do to the Falklands to operate HMS Clyde.The naval base would have the ability to change the modular aspects of the C3 patrol frigates such as different guns, Sensors and Multi Mission Containers.

In addition the Indian Ocean fleet would be supplemented by either a carrier strike force or amphibious ready group unless it was required some where else.

Areas of Operation

These vessels would operate from Australia and the South China Sea to the Gulf and Red Sea.

Paying for it

Basing ships closer to their area of operation would reduce the need for transit saving fuel and time. We could probably close the Plymouth Naval Base and 1 RAF base in the Moray firth.

Personnel would need an area for rest and recreation. The Maldives are only an hour away so personnel could spend time their on shore leave.

The base should be affordable with in the current budget.

Diplomatic Issue's

India has never been happy about Diego Garcia. It see's the base as operating in its territory. Forming a military alliance and conducting joint training exercises should help to alleviate India's concerns. China would not like it however hampering China's ability to operate in the Indian Ocean would be the main aim of the base.

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