The NATO operation – codenamed Dynamic Mongoose – is being staged close to the old Cold War zone of confrontation in the Greenland Iceland UK (GIUK) Gap. One of three operational hunter-killer subs in the Royal Navy, Trenchant, is participating alongside submarines from the USA, France, Norway and Germany, in addition to surface warships and aircraft.
The British presence in this major NATO anti-submarine exercise is the most significant in years
Iain Ballantyne, editor of Warships International Fleet Review, told Express.co.uk: “The British presence in this major NATO anti-submarine exercise is the most significant in years – with two ASW frigates, a hunter-killer submarine and also a new P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft – and is a welcome sign that the UK is raising its profile and its game in a key part of the world close to home where, for too long, it had a low profile.”
The exercise comes at a time when Russia has stepped up its activity in the Arctic region, pressing ahead with military manouevres in contrast to many nations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Russian submarine activity has increased dramatically in recent months, with many new boats joining the Northern Fleet, described by Mr Ballantye as “the foremost striking arm of the Russian armed forces”.
Dynamic Mongoose is a clear signal to Vladimir Putin, said Mr Ballantyne
HMS Kent and HMS Westminster join allies for Dynamic Mongoose
He added: “It comes as Russia is expanding submarine forces and also its own ASW units and on the heels of a joint US Navy-Royal Navy surface warship task group deployment into the Russian Bear’s front yard – the Barents Sea – which sailed close to the main bases of the mighty Northern Fleet, the Kremlin’s foremost striking force.
“The message the UK and its NATO allies are sending to Putin is that for the first time in decades the Alliance is prepared to project conventional naval power into the Arctic in a meaningful way, to keep an eye on the development of new Russian attack and ballistic missile submarines.”
The 14-day exercise will consist of a “traditional game of cat and mouse between hunter and hunted”, the Royal Navy said.
HMS Trenchant pictured during a 2017 exercise
At its height, both ships and submarines will maintain maximum silence to prevent giving away their locations, with everything battened down tightly to prevent doors and hatches banging or tools falling from racks.
Only sailors required on duty will be at their posts, moving around the ship in socks to keep noise to a minimum – shipmates will be keep to their bunks until needed.
As well as the core anti-submarine element of Dynamic Mongoose, staged every other year off the coast of Iceland, there are other more general tests and manoeuvres, including choreographing submarines and warships in close proximity on the surface and simulation of swarm attacks by fast surface craft.
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HMS Kent and HMS Westminster during the exercise
HMS Kent conducts Photex during Dynamic Mongoose
A NATO spokesman said: “Due to COVID-19 threat, measures taken by both Icelandic authorities and the force contributing nations will be strictly followed by all sides during the port visits and training.”
Participating submarines are: HNoMS Utsira (Norwegian); FGS U36 (German); USS Indiana (US); HMS Trenchant (UK) and Casabianca (France).
Utsira and U36 are conventional boats (SSKs), while Indiana, Trenchant and Casabianca are nuclear-powered (SSNs).
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Surface warships involved are from: The UK – HMS Westminster and HMS Kent (both ASW-configured Type 23 frigates); USA – USS Roosevelt (Arleigh Burke Class destroyer); Canada – HMCS Fredericton (Halifax Class frigate); Norway – HNoMS Otto Sverdrup (Nansen Class frigate). When it comes to MPAs, France has sent a pair of Atlantique II aircraft, with the USA committing two P-8 Poseidons and the UK a single Poseidon.
All Royal Navy submarines are nuclear-powered, giving them virtually unlimited range and the ability to stay submerged for as long as the crew’s food supply holds out.
HMS Trenchant has a total displacement of 5,300 tonnes, measures 85 metres in length and is capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin
The sub is equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of destroying a target from a distance of up to 1,000 miles.
The threat posed by Russia was outlined by Mr Ballantyne last year, when he warned Russia was constantly probing UK defences in search of gaps and weaknesses.
He told Express.co.uk: “There has been a yawning hole in UK defences since the catastrophic coalition defence review of 2010, which discarded key military capabilities including scrapping the RAF’s entire Nimrod long-range Maritime Patrol Aircraft force.
“This meant when Russians subsequently came snooping around British waters – including trying to detect and trail Trident missile submarines – the UK Government had to call on allies such as the USA, France, Canada and Norway to help try and find those intruders.”