Britain’s new fleet of sub-hunters will work alongside Norwegian forces as a deterrent to the Russian threat, the MoD has said.
Britain and Norway will combat the resurgent threat from Russian naval forces by sharing facilities for new Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA).
The “significant increase in Russian submarine activity” means Nato naval forces are at particular risk in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea.
The UK will take delivery next year of the first of nine P-8A aircraft, at a cost of £3 billion. Norway is buying five in a move that reflects the ‘changing security environment’ in the North Atlantic, according to a statement jointly signed by the UK, Norway and the United States.
The UK aircraft will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland with operational and logistic support extended to the Norwegian planes.
Crew members aboard a Russian submarine during the dress rehearsal of a parade marking the Day of the Russian Navy. July 26, 2018.
Crew members aboard a Russian submarine during the dress rehearsal of a parade marking the Day of the Russian Navy. July 26, 2018. Credit: Vitaly Nevar/TASS
The plan to share facilities comes in the wake of comments by Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, that increased Russian naval activity in the Atlantic “shows the increasing aggression [and] increasing assertiveness of Russia”.
He said the Royal Navy had responded 33 times to Russian warships approaching UK territorial waters in 2017 compared with just once in 2010.
The decision in 2010 to scrap Britain’s MPA capability was subsequently reviewed in light of Russia’s military actions in Georgia and the Ukraine, according to Nick Childs of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“The change of gear in the relationship with Russia meant filling the gap [in MPA capability] in the 2015 Defence Review was a significant priority,” he says.
Submarine hunting skills had been retained in the RAF by embedding personnel in the US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand armed forces. The decision was taken in 2015 to revive a sovereign British maritime patrol capability.
Submarines are the most potent part of the Russian navy, says Mr Childs. The fleet consists of about 60 to 70 vessels and only a handful could pose a headache for Nato naval forces. The decision to work closely with Norwegian forces is “a logical step when fielding exotic capabilities in small numbers”, he says.
The P-8 conducts anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and shipping interdiction, along with an electronic signals intelligence role. This involves carrying torpedoes, depth charges, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and other weapons.
The Poseidon’s search radar is optimised for detecting small objects on the surface of the sea, such as submarine periscopes, as well as larger surface contacts. Wing-mounted Harpoon anti-ship missiles can be carried to attack hostile surface contacts and anti-submarine torpedoes can be carried in the internal weapon bay. As well as protecting the UK’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent and its two new aircraft carriers, the British Poseidon’s will be able to deploy sonobuoys to help them detect submarines.
Crew members on board a US Navy P-8A Poseidon.
Crew members on board a US Navy P-8A Poseidon. Credit: MC2 Eric A. Pastor/US Navy
Plans for joint operations with Norway received a boost in May when Tone Skogen, State Secretary in Norway’s Ministry of Defence, was hosted at RAF Lossiemouth.
“Norway and the UK are natural partners given our shared values, as well as our history and geography,” she said.
“We can even further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation related to high-end capabilities such as the F-35 fighter and the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The UK will explore with Norway ways in which we together can leverage the maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities of the P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft to improve North Atlantic security, thereby enhancing NATO security”.