Military use of the Solent is of substantial economic importance to the region and centres primarily on the naval base at Portsmouth Harbour and Marchwood Military Port.
Portsmouth Harbour is the traditional home of the Royal Navy, is the base port for the majority of the Navy's surface warships and is also the major naval stores distribution centre in the UK. Military activity is well established around the harbour and includes; the maintenance and building of ships in the Naval Base, helicopter maintenance at Fleetlands, fuelling operations at Clarence Yard and ordnance storage and distribution at the Gosport Armament Depot. The Defence Diving School is on Horsea Island, there is a firing range at Tipner and a training establishment on Whale Island which also accommodates the Fleet Headquarters.
Portsmouth is Britain’s premier Naval Base and home to the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the largest ships ever commission in to the Royal Navy. A busy Defence asset, approximately 8,000 people work at the base. Recent investment includes the dredging of a deeper channel to Portsmouth, dredging of the main channel inside the harbour, and refurbishment of several of the base’s jetties.
The Queen's Harbour Master, Portsmouth (QHM) has a significant role as the harbour authority for The Dockyard Port of Portsmouth which covers approximately 55 square miles of the central and Eastern Solent. The post of QHM dates back to 1808 when the first King’s Harbour Master in Portsmouth was appointed. The naval base is of significant heritage interest, both in terms of the historic dockyard and buildings. The most famous and historically important ships in the harbour are the Mary Rose, Victory and Warrior. A number of operational sites are of importance for wildlife, whilst others have a large impact on the landscape. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) operates several sites within the Solent area, where research and development on defence technology is undertaken.
The QHM makes a significant contribution to the management of the Solent as the harbour authority for Portsmouth Harbour and the Eastern Solent, is a driving force behind other stakeholder's involvement in the area and is a co-sponsor of the Solfire Plan for marine emergencies.
Marchwood Military Port, on the western shore of Southampton Water, is home to the 17 Port and Maritime Regiment but is also used by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Facilities include three jetties, the largest of which is 169 metres long. Solent Gateway, a civilian company partly owned by the Scottish government, took over the running of the port, also known as the Sea Mounting Centre, in 2016. The MoD has leased the 225-acre base to the operator for 35 years.
The recent national trend within the defence sector has been a progressive series of budget reductions, although the concentration of effort towards front-line forces has led to the consolidation of the position of Portsmouth Naval Base. The long-term assessment is that naval activity within Portsmouth Harbour will remain stable at around the present level.
Despite this long-term prediction, there are some sites around the harbour which are now surplus to MoD requirements and are due for release. The future use of these sites is in the process of being determined, and each has its own set of issues to be considered. Cumulatively, the land being released is significant given its scale and urban location, so agreeing and implementing the best possible developments is of great importance to the future of Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham.
Security requirements impose limits on the integration of the MoD's activities on their operational land with other interests. There is interest from local authorities in working with the MoD on nature, landscape and heritage conservation and, where possible, public use.