First for Forth
As the first of the new Batch 2 River-class OPVs leaves the BAE construction hall at Govan, the vessel’s operational picture is coming increasingly into focus.
It is clear now for example that HMS Forth and her sister ship, either in construction or planned, will replace the older Batch 1 when they come into service. Five of the new vessels will be built and put into service, three likely as primarily fisheries patrol around the UK (and possibly playing a bit more with the UK Border Force), while another one has been earmarked for the Falkland Islands.
This leaves one going spare, that is to say, available for overseas deployment.
What about the options then? Well sure, you can start throwing darts at a map probably hit a patch of blue that could probably do with an OPV bearing a white ensign. However, these are not warships, but rather capable security cutters.
Adding a patrol boat to the deployment east of Suez won’t make a bit of difference to the strategic makeup of coalition/allied forces there. Indeed the near-twin but vastly more capable Khareef’s or other GCC capabilities, were they able to be brought into the CMF structure, are better options.
It’s unlikely that such small vessels would be able to be deployed farther east either and again would only represent a diplomatic token, although as we earlier stated, this is no bad thing in itself.
Leaving two possible locations: Gibraltar or the north Atlantic patrol.
Basing a River (B2) in the Mediterranean does connect most of the dots but not for the tub thumping reasons one might think. The Rock’s sovereignty aside, this souped-up coast guard cutter would play its part in monitoring and countering illegal migration from Libya, but then again with the impending consequences of Brexit does this matter to the UK Government?
As a non-EU state, it might be difficult to integrate Her Majesty’s Ships into EUNAVFORMED unless it operated on an associate level. How much intelligence and operational planning it would be party to would be up in the air.
The north Atlantic patrol is a standing task for the RN but one that has been a variety of vessels used to fulfil it, from frigates, to OPVs, destroyers to RFA’s.