Britain had to rely on the US, Canada, France and Germany aircraft to protect its territorial waters more than 20 times last year, with the Royal Navy’s reliance on its Nato allies far greater than previously thought.
The Royal Navy no longer possess maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) designed to track suspected submarines off British waters and the Ministry of Defence has regularly been forced to call in Nato aircraft in the last two years.
During one search as many as four allied patrol planes flew to Scotland and operated out of RAF Lossiemouth, amid fears that Russian submarines were attempting to track Britain’s nuclear deterrent by locating the Trident-carrying Vanguard submarines.
Defence experts say Russian submarine activity off Britain is returning toward Cold War levels. The revelation that Britain has had to repeatedly seek Nato assistant will embarrass Ministry of Defence officials, after they controversially scrapped Britain’s Nimrod patrol aircraft in 2010 as a cost-saving measure.
Emily Thornberry, shadow secretary of state for defence, who obtained the information, told the Independent that the Government’s decision to “cut up Nimrod for scrap” had left Britain reliant on support from its Nato allies.
She said: “They will not be replaced for at least another three years, during which time we will be forced to continue to rely on our allies for this vital capability.”
The MoD has previously insisted the UK was able protect Britain’s nuclear deterrent with other military assets, but in November it was announced by Downing Street, in an embarrassing U-Turn, that Britain would purchase a new fleet of Boeing P-8 Poseidon to fill the gap. However these new aircraft will not enter service until 2020 and defence experts have been quick to point out that they are not compatible with RAF mid-air refuelling aircraft, drastically reducing their range.
UK news in pictures
UK news in pictures
1/18 23 June 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses a news conference at the EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 23, 2017
2/18 22 June 2017
Cosplay fans (L-R) George Massingham, Abbey Forbes and Karolina Goralik travel by tube dressed in Harry Potter themed costumes, after a visit to one the literary franchise's movie filming locations at Leadenhall Market in London, Britain
3/18 22 June 2017
Racegoers cheer on their horse on Ladies Day at the Royal Ascot horse racing meet, in Ascot, west of London
4/18 21 June 2017
A reveller walks among the tipi tents at the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts on Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in Somerset, South West England
5/18 20 June 2017
A police officer lays some flowers passed over by a member of the public, close to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, after one man died and eight people were taken to hospital and a person arrested after a rental van struck pedestrian
The Borough Market bell is seen in Borough Market in central London following its re-opening after the June 3 terror attack
Two women embrace in Borough Market, which officially re-opens today following the recent attack, in central London
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan attends the re-opening of Borough market in central London following the June 3 terror attack
People walk through Borough Market in central London following its re-opening after the June 3 terror attack
News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, with one of his daughters, visit Borough Market, which officially re-opened today following the recent attack
A woman reacts in front of a wall of messages in Borough Market, which officially re-opened today following the recent attack, in central London
Vivenne Westwood walks the runway at the Vivenne Westwood show during the London Fashion Week Men's June 2017 collections
Millwall fan and London Bridge hero Roy Larner on 'Good Morning Britain'
Richard Arnold, Roy Larner, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on 'Good Morning Britain'
15/18 11 June 2017
England players celebrate after defeating Venezuela 1-0 to win the final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea 2017 at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, South Korea
16/18 11 June 2017
England players celebrate with the trophy after the final match of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2017 between Venezuela and England at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, South Korea
17/18 11 June 2017
Great Britain's Alistair Brownlee celebrates winning the Elite Men Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Leeds
Danny Lawson/PA Wire
18/18 11 June 2017
Two men drink beer outside the Southwark Tavern which reopened for business today next to an entrance to Borough Market which remains closed in London
Brendan O’Hara MP, SNP defence spokesman, said: “For an island nation not to have a fleet of Maritime Patrol Aircraft is totally ludicrous, not least because of the on-going security situation in the world and concerns over submarine incursions into our waters.”
The scale of the assistance offered to the Royal Navy by Britain’s Nato allies has surprised some defence analysts. The US deployed 11 maritime patrol aircraft in 2015, while other NATO allies, including Canada, France and Germany, had deployed 10 aircraft between them.
Lord Sir Alan West, a former First Sea Lord and former Labour security minister, said it was a “national disgrace” that Britain did not have its own maritime patrol fleet and that is was clear that Russia was becoming increasingly assertive and would “love” to be able to track one of Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear deterrent submarines.
He added that pre-planned anti-submarine exercises would contribute to some of the total, but the “extra deployments” come at a time of increased Russian “submarine activity” off western Scotland.
Peter Roberts, a senior research fellow in sea power at the Royal United Services Institute, said the figures followed a “resurgence of Russian submarine activity” off British coasts. He said: “It serves to underscore the need to fast-track the arrival of the UK¹s own MPA, announced in the SDSR, so that as a nation we do not have to be dependent on others.”
He also warned that as Nato carries out plans to re-open a Cold War anti-submarine base in Iceland and contribute to policing the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, there “may be less support available to the UK” to cover the gap until the arrival of the RAF’s fleet of P8 aircraft.
An MOD spokesperson said: “The Nimrod programme was scrapped because it was 11 years late, £800m over budget, and no planes had been delivered. We are buying planes that work and are providing maritime surveillance by working closely with our allies until they arrive. The future of Defence in Scotland is bright; by 2020 Scotland will be home to all of the Royal Navy’s submarines, one of the Army’s engagement and resilience Infantry Brigades, one of three RAF fast jet main operating bases and the new P8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol aircraft.”Reuse content