LONDON – Hopes of Britain selling Typhoon combat jets and other defense and security equipment to Bahrain have been buoyed by a deal between the two countries to extend Royal Navy facilities at the Mina Salman naval base in the Arabian Gulf, industry executives and analysts said.
"The mood music created by the naval base agreement can only be of benefit to defense industrial relations between the two sides. This closer strategic tie between the two governments provides a great opportunity for defense collaboration, including possible defense equipment sales," said Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).
One industry executive said fighter jets, maritime security, cyber protection and border protection are among the export sectors that could benefit from growing ties between the two countries.
"The potential relationship could provide lots of opportunities for partnership which are not just confined to Typhoon and not just confined to defense exports," the executive said. "There is the possibility of a much wider engagement and there have been lots of discussions going on between the two armed forces."
Britain has been in discussions over a possible government-to-government sale of 12 to 14 Typhoons to Bahrain for several years.
Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa has said on a number of occasions he would like to buy the Eurofighter-built jet. Some senior officials in Bahrain, however, have been pushing for some form of evaluation of rival jets.
The executive said the "Bahrainis want to be seen doing a professional job on this purchase. It's possible there will be a clear indication of the way ahead by the time of their air show in [January] 2016."
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's closest ally, already operates the Typhoon.
Hopes of increasing defense collaboration have been signaled by the signing of a deal by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, to extend the Royal Navy presence with a permanent base at Mina Salman.
British Ambassador Ian Lindsay, speaking to a business forum in Manama on Dec. 10, said Britain is the "strategic partner of choice" for Bahrain after a period in 2011 when relations were difficult — a reference to the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by the Bahrani government, which still continues.
He said the naval base deal is "arguably the most important since Bahrain's independence" from Britain in 1971.
Lindsay warned, though, that the big unknown for Bahrain is the impact that falling oil prices might have on the economy — 86 percent of government revenues comes from oil and gas.
That won't affect the naval base construction, though. By the time the work is complete, around the end of 2015, the new facility will represent Britain's first permanent base in the region since it exited the Arabian Gulf in 1971 as part of its withdrawal from bases east of the Suez.
The Royal Navy has four minehunters permanently based in Bahrain, but its destroyers and frigates in the gulf and adjacent waters are also supported from there.
Now the £15 million (US $23.5 million) expansion will allow warships as large as the new 65,000-ton aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth to berth and be supported at the British facility at Mina Salman.
"This new base is a permanent expansion of the Royal Navy's footprint and will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the gulf," British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said.
Bahrain is meeting the capital costs of the expansion, but Britain is paying the operational costs of running the base, an MoD spokesman said.
Work on the Royal Navy facilities, including building a new UK Maritime Component Command headquarters, a support facility and accommodation, got underway this year
Hammond told reporters at the Manama Dialogue, an annual security conference organized by IISS, that the UK's raised profile in the gulf is in part driven by the US pivot toward the Asia-Pacific.
Britain and its European partners would be expected to take an increasing share of the burden in the gulf as the US focuses more on Asia, he said.
The increase of British presence in the gulf is good news for the US 5th Fleet, according to its commander, Vice Adm. John Miller.
"This is very good news and we are very close partners with the UK, so the increase in their presence is good news for all of us," Miller told Defense News in Manama. ■
Awad Mustafa in Dubai contributed to this report.