The UK government has directed a Royal Navy (RN) task group to deploy to the Eastern Mediterranean, following the outbreak of conflict in the region.
In a press release put out on 13 October, the UK government said “a Royal Navy task group will be moved to the Eastern Mediterranean next week as a contingency measure to support humanitarian efforts.”
The task group deployment is part of wider UK military moves – which include sending Royal Air Force Poseidon P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and other surveillance assets – intended to reinforce regional stability, prevent escalation, and help mitigate humanitarian crisis, the press release said.
The RN task group consists of two auxiliary assets – the Bay-class landing ship dock (LSD) auxiliary vessel RFA Lyme Bay, and the primary casualty receiving ship RFA Argus – plus three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines Commandos. The commando capability is reported to be based around 40 Commando Royal Marines.
Earlier this week, the US government moved the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group was moved to Eastern Mediterranean.
The deployment demonstrates the flexibility of maritime assets in responding to emerging and changing requirements. The two ships were already preparing for a long-standing, pre-planned deployment to the Indo-Pacific as the RN’s Littoral Response Group South (LRG-S), conducting the LRG-S 2023 operation.
As the move to the Eastern Mediterranean was announced, Lyme Bay was at sea, Argus was in Gibraltar, and personnel and equipment were embarked for the LRG-S deployment. Gibraltar is a routine logistics and wider support hub for RN ships and operations.
The two ships bring capability and capacity that fits the operational requirement for the deployment to the Eastern Mediterranean, especially to support humanitarian relief activities. They are large, flexible vessels, with capacity to deploy small boats and helicopters, deliver equipment and stores ashore (for example, such as humanitarian aid), and extract people. They also have spare accommodation spaces and medical facilities that are larger than those onboard most warships.
The uncertain nature of the current crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean means it cannot be known how long the RN task group may remain on station there, or when they may recommence the planned LRG-S deployment.
In the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) 2021 Defence Command Paper (DCP), the MoD announced that – as part of growing the UK’s Indo-Pacific footprint at the politico-strategic level – one of the UK’s two LRGs would be deployed to the region in 2023. The UK has established an LRG North (LRG-N) to contribute to regional presence in the Euro-Atlantic theatre. LRG-S covers the Indo-Pacific.
The 2023 DCP, published in July, stated that the LRG-S “[would] be ready to periodically deploy to the Indo-Pacific from later this year”.
Argus currently is the primary platform in the LRG-S construct.
The RN’s capacity to re-direct its task group east, rather than south, underlines the flexibility that naval and maritime forces can bring in providing rapid response to changing operational circumstances. The DCP is the MoD’s operational and capability blueprint for delivering on the strategic intent set out in the government’s ‘Integrated Review’ (IR) of defence, foreign, and security policy. It is published in tandem with the IR.
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