A UK Defence Minister has admitted that the scrapping of Nimrod aircraft and closure of their base at RAF Kinloss left a “capability gap” – but refused to say if or when that gap would be filled.
Following insideMoray’s story that US Navy P-3C aircraft had arrived at RAF Lossiemouth this month to patrol UK waters, pressure has again increased on the Ministry of Defence to reveal what plans they have, if any, to restore a maritime air defence capability.
Nimrod was scrapped as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2010 – leaving the UK to depend on NATO allies to provide cover in UK waters.
At least twice in recent months NATO maritime patrol aircraft have operated from RAF Lossiemouth and have been understood to be reacting to a specific threat amid reports of submarine activity around UK waters.
Defence chiefs have remained tight-lipped over the reason for the increased activity – now Angus Robertson MP has followed up reports by insideMoray that two US Navy aircraft have been flying daily missions from Moray.
The Moray MP and SNP spokesman on Defence issues clashed in the House of Commons this week with Defence Minister Philip Dunne.
Mr Robertson said: “In recent weeks maritime patrol aircraft have been seen in the skies above Moray, operating from RAF Lossiemouth and plugging a capability gap, because the RAF has precisely no maritime patrol aircraft.
“All of our neighbours have them – the Irish air corps, Royal Danish air force and the Royal Norwegian air force.
“When can we expect to have maritime patrol aircraft?”
However, Mr Dunne insisted that there was nothing unusual about the gap in UK defence being filled by NATO allies, telling the House of Commons: “As the honourable gentleman knows full well, there was a recognised capability gap when maritime aircraft were taken out of service in SDSR2010.
“The government, as with previous governments, operate in conjunction with our allies around the world. We provide aircraft to Baltic patrol and transport lift aircraft to the French. On occasion our allies provide us with maritime aircraft.”