RAF Lossiemouth played host to a number of NATO maritime patrol aircraft, or ‘sub hunters’, during the closing days of November into early December following an alert to a possibly hostile submarine operating close to the Royal Navy’s key base at Faslane.
Although the Ministry of Defence has refused to elaborate on the reason for their presence at Lossiemouth, the recent tensions between NATO and its former Cold War opponent – fuelled by the Ukraine situation – all point in one direction.
Unconfirmed reports state that a fishing trawler operating to the west of Faslane spotted a submarine periscope and raised the alarm; safety concerns since the HMS Trenchant /trawler Antares tragedy in 1990 dictate that all RN subs passing through such areas should be surfaced to prevent accidents with surface craft .
Faslane is of course home to the UK’s four V-class submarines that carry the Trident ballistic missile system, the national nuclear deterrent. Russian submarines, since the days of their predecessors which carried Polaris missiles, have tried to catch the ‘bombers’ (as RN sailors refer to them) leaving on patrol in order to determine their Top Secret operating areas – essential intelligence especially in times of tension. In the past, when the RAF Nimrod maritime patrol force existed, our subs would be effectively ‘de-loused’ by the Nimrods to prevent enemy submarines from tagging along.
During the recent incident, insideMoray readers reported the patrol planes – including a French Navy Atlantique, up to three US Navy P-3C Orions and a single example of their Canadian equivalent, the CP-140 Aurora – were operating from Lossiemouth at all hours of the day and night for over a week, heading southwest. Industry and mainstream media outlets broke the story this week, now the operation has been concluded.
Alongside the NATO planes, a single RAF Sentinel R.1 jet was also used; the MOD recently indicated it was introducing new radar software to the aircraft to allow limited sea reconnaissance for what is essentially an over-land, battlefield surveillance plane. The move has been seen by many in military circles as ‘too little, too late’ to plug the gap since the withdrawal of the RAF’s Nimrod patrol fleet, based at Kinloss, and cancellation of the updated Nimrod MRA.4 in the 2010 defence review.
Talking to the Daily Telegraph, local MP and SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson described the situation as “…hugely embarrassing for the UK which is totally exposed without such critical maritime patrol assets. It is not the first time they have had to depend on the goodwill of allies to fill this massive capability gap.”
Dependent on what happens in next year’s UK general election and a subsequent defence review, it shall be interesting to see if the MOD will get the return of such capability with the purchase of a new sub hunter…insideMoray will keep you informed.