SeaWaves Magazine reports on a visit by Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel Tamar to the Island of Diego Garcia, an important US and Allied base in the Indian Ocean.
“Crew of the patrol ship concentrated on safeguarding the environment in the British Indian Ocean Territory, ensuring the remote island chain’s rare wildlife was not disturbed by the illegal actions of humanity.
“They found its shores littered with tonnes of rubbish and fishermen flouting international law, trawling the territory’s expansive, protected waters – roughly the size of Texas – for its rich stocks of rare fish.”
I would note two things, first this visit is much too rare and second that while HMS Tamar has a flight deck, it virtually never has an embarked helicopter or capable UAS.
The UK has a vast overseas EEZ. They have never had a large number of OPVs. Generally, they have kept one ship in the Western North Atlantic/Bermuda/Caribbean and one ship in the South Atlantic/Falklands/New Georgia regions, not always an OPV. Their overseas territories in the Indian, Pacific, and Mid Atlantic Oceans seldom, if ever, see a patrol vessel. It does seem the British are starting to recognize the utility of these little ships, but I don’t expect them to build any more.
When operating in these overseas EEZs, patrol vessels are generally not supported by land based maritime patrol aircraft.
The River class Batch 2 are large enough to support a helicopter but have no hangar. A helicopter can help search over the horizon, but they are not as helpful as might be thought, because it is difficult to get more than four hours a day search time (two, two hour sorites). While on WHEC-726 I once calculated the embarked helicopter was increasing our effective area searched by about 40%.
Though it would lack some of the operational flexibility of an embarked helicopter, a robust UAS detachment could provide an even better search capability at a relatively low cost.
I find these deployments embarrassing. OPV’s from a second rate navy playing at being a cruiser.