Departing from Portsmouth Naval Base on 7 September, HMS Spey and HMS Tamar are, following a short stopover in Falmouth, sailing west to the Pacific Ocean via the Caribbean and the Panama Canal. The two ships – both adorned in an eye-catching Dazzle camouflage scheme – are expected to remain in the region for at least five years as part of the UK government’s post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ strategy.
Originally built to bridge gaps in industrial loading at BAE Systems’ shipbuilding operation on the Clyde, the five B2RC offshore patrol vessels – HM Ships Forth, Medway, Trent, Tamar and Spey – now find themselves in the vanguard of the Royal Navy’s efforts to re-establish a forward presence in the world’s most important maritime regions. Forward presence requires that vessels are stationed in or adjacent to the theatre of operations for an extended period – rather than returning home to the UK after each deployment – with crews being rotated from the UK.
Adapted from a 90 metre OPV export design originally developed by what was VT, the B2RC vessels are intended to contribute to constabulary tasks worldwide, such as counter-narcotics, counter-piracy, fishery protection and humanitarian operations. The intention is that these vessels will offer a platform for persistent engagement and protection of UK interests, and at the same time free up frigates and destroyers from less-demanding tasks.
Forth, the first of the five B2RC vessels, has been deployed to the South Atlantic since January 2020 and serves as the permanent Falkland Islands guard ship. Trent is based in Gibraltar for operations in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Guinea, while Medway is supporting the Atlantic Patrol Task (North) in the Caribbean.
Prior to sailing, BAE Systems delivered mission-critical equipment and capability enhancements to Spey and Tamar, including upgrading the ships’ generator cooling systems for warm weather conditions. Under a contracting for availability arrangement, BAE Systems will manage whole ship support for both ships while deployed.
No permanent base port has been assigned to the two ships, whose patrol area embraces both the Indian and Pacific oceans, extending as far north as the Bering Sea and south to the foot of Tasmania and New Zealand. Instead, Spey and Tamar will make use of bases and ports in the Pacific region which best meets their needs and mission. Three Amazonas-class OPVs – built by BAE Systems to a largely similar design – are in service with the Brazilian Navy. Two more ships, HTMS Krabi and HTMS Prachuap Khiri Khan, have been built for the Royal Thai Navy by Bangkok Dock under a transfer of technology agreement with BAE Systems.