Britain is considering cutting in half the number of minehunters that it deploys to the Gulf, in a move that could drive a wedge between the country and America, and would be interpreted as another indication of the nation’s shrinking global ambitions.
According to a report in The Sunday Times, the Navy's top brass is thinking about slashing two of the forces’s four minehunters that are currently on permanent deployment in the Gulf.
“The Americans will not be happy,” one navy source told the newspaper. “The US relies on UK minehunting expertise in the Gulf — it’s important in order to counteract any Iranian attempts to shut off the Strait of Hormuz.
“It will be a capability gap for the US in the Middle East to lose half the British minehunting force.”
The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important choke point for oil supplies, with around 15 million barrels of crude oil passing through it on a typical day. A fifth of the world's oil supply travels through the Strait. Iran threatened to close the strait in 2011 in response to sanctions.
The navy has already lost two of its 15 minehunters — HMS Atherstone and HMS Quorn — earlier this year in cost-cutting measures.
“Minehunting by the Royal Navy has been long known as one of the niche capabilities Britain fields that is most valued by the American military,” Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute think tank told the newspaper. “A 50% cut in that capability in the Gulf as President Trump is ratcheting up tensions with Iran will certainly not be appreciated by the US military.”