Assault ship HMS Albion is to join HMS Sutherland, with HMS Argyll due in the region later in the year.
In the coming months HMS Albion, alongside HMS Sutherland, will be contributing to the international efforts to monitor prohibited trading at sea by the DPRK, which provides a major source of funding for its illegal nuclear programme.
While in the region, both vessels will visit several ports and take part in joint training with allies and partners, including the US, the Republic of Korea and Japan.
HMS Argyll will arrive in the region later in the year, when she will participate in a Five Power Defence Arrangements exercise with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore before also travelling to North East Asia for further joint training and exercises.
The deployment of these three ships will mean that the Royal Navy will have a vessel in the strategically critical Asia-Pacific region for the first time since 2013 and will have an almost unbroken presence there this year.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced today that HMS Albion has deployed to North East Asia to ‘safeguard free trade, partake in joint training and exercises, and support UN sanctions’ against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
“Our Armed Forces are at the forefront of Global Britain, and the deployment of HMS Albion, Sutherland and Argyll demonstrates our unwavering commitment to our international responsibilities and to maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region.
Until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions, the UK will continue working closely with partners and allies to keep up pressure and strictly enforce existing sanctions, ensuring not only regional security but that of the UK as well.”
In the words of her operators, the Royal Navy, the role of the HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, is to ‘deliver the punch of the Royal Marines ashore by air and by sea, with boats from the landing dock in the belly of the ship and by assault helicopter from the two-spot flight deck’.
The LPDs can carry 256 troops, with their vehicles and combat supplies, and this can be swollen up to 405 troops.
The ships act as the afloat command platform for the Royal Navy’s Amphibious Task Force and Landing Force Commanders when embarked.
UK forces would be needed to evacuate UK citizens in the region in the event of hostilities, but a report released this morning states that there would be almost insuperable challenges for any evacuation to succeed if the UK further reduced its amphibious capability. The Defence Committee recently called on the government to give a categorical assurance that, as part of its Modernising Defence Programme, it has fully understood the essential role of amphibious capability in conducting civilian evacuations, as well as inserting troops from the sea.
The report points out that the UK currently has very few forces in the region, with no permanent military bases in place. Earl Howe told the Defence Committee that a single frigate, HMS Sutherland, was currently on course to visit the region, with another to follow later in the year. The nearest British Army presence is a battalion of Gurkhas stationed in Brunei and there are no Royal Air Force units stationed in the area. It would also take time to deploy significant UK forces, particularly if they were already committed elsewhere. Earl Howe told the committee that:
“At present, as of today, it is clearly difficult for me to give you facts and figures as to what we could send, because we are committed in a number of parts of the world, but given adequate notice, yes, I am sure we could deploy forces.”
Sir Jeremy Blackham went into more detail on how long force deployment would take:
“We need to be clear that were we to try to move significant forces to that part of the world, we are talking in terms of weeks, not days. We are also talking about reducing our commitment to a number of other current commitments and asking ourselves whether we actually have the resources to deploy a significant number of forces—I am now talking about not just the hardware but the manpower, arsenals, maintenance and support for a
significant period of time.”
The MoD have confirmed that the UK has plans in place to deploy forces to the region if necessary. Earl Howe told the committee that the plans cover different scenarios but he provided no further detail for operational security reasons. The Minister did confirm that these plans include consideration of how long forces could be sustained and what forces could be deployed given the UK’s existing commitments across the world. For Britain, the largest rescue operation since the retreat from Dunkirk in 1940 was in 2006 in Lebanon with more than 22,000 British and dual nationals being moved out. Sixty were flown by RAF Chinook helicopters (pictured above) to Cyprus and others boarded Royal Navy vessels.