Britain is being forced to call on France and other Nato allies to defend British waters against Russian spying operations, it has emerged.
The number of foreign maritime patrol aircraft stationed in the UK has risen by 76 per cent in a year according to Ministry of Defence records.
Nato allies were stationed at RAF Lossiemouth 37 times last year to guard against foreign ships and submarines and carry out training exercises, a significant increase on the previous year when extra forces were deployed to the base 21 times.
The British armed forces do not have patrol aircraft of their own after Nimrod was scrapped in 2010 and Russian attempts to spy on the UK’s nuclear deterrent have increased, military experts and Labour’s shadow defence secretary have warned.
The RAF has invested £3billion in nine new P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft which will be ready in 2020 but in the meantime the Government has to rely on allies in Nato to patrol British waters when a threat is raised.
Sir Gerald Howarth, the defence minister at the time when Nimrod was scrapped, said: “I made no secret of the fact it was a very dangerous decision that left us exposed.”
In 2016, 20 American aircraft were deployed to the UK, along with eight from Canadian forces, five French, three German and one from Norway.
In the previous year it was just 11 American, three Canadian, five French and two German, a difference of 76 per cent year on year.
The MoD says 20 per cent of the foreign aircraft stationed in Scotland carry out operations over British waters, with the remaining 80 per cent involved in exercises and training which include readying British pilots for the arrival of the new P8 aeroplanes.
It is understood that American, Canadian and French aircraft patrolled offshore following reports of suspicious vessels in British waters.
Senior military figures have warned that the continued gap in capability is leaving the UK at risk because Russia has stepped up its efforts to map out British military secrets, including Trident’s acoustic signature.
Admiral Lord West told The Telegraph: “There has been an increase in the amount of Russian interference in our waters and that interference generally is in our ballistic missile submarine, Trident.
“I find that extremely worrying. They are trying to obtain Trident’s fingerprint, its acoustic signature.”
He said that the reliance on Nato forces was “part of a wider picture of the hollowing out of our defence”, adding: “Its all very well saying we’ve got the P8 coming and we will be building ships in the future – but that’s only three – we need far more than that.”
Nia Griffith, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said: “These figures highlight the extent to which we are now reliant on the goodwill of others to keep Britain safe. We are thankful for our allies’ support but this level of dependence is simply unacceptable.” [must keep]
But defence minister Earl Howe claimed the fault lies with Jeremy Corbyn’s party for mishandling the Nimrod replacement, adding that 80 per cent of aircraft stationed at Lossiemouth from abroad were used in training exercises. [must keep]
He said: “Labour created this capability gap by retiring Nimrod early and utterly mismanaging its replacement to the point of negligence.
“Labour’s replacement was £800million over budget, nine years over due and a risk for our service personnel to fly.
“The hypocrisy of Labour complaining that the UK has relied on allies to help provide maritime patrol when we fix the mess they created is as breathtaking as it is irresponsible.”
Ms Griffith added: “As an island nation, the ability to patrol our own shores and protect our key military assets is absolutely essential. As Labour said at the time, the Tories’ decision in 2010 to cut up our Nimrod aircraft and sell them for scrap was a serious mistake. It now looks downright reckless.”
Source: The Daily Telegraph.