Britain Deploys Ships to NATO Naval Groups Once More
The British government has announced that is deploying five warships to join NATO's standing maritime forces in the North Atlantic, North Sea, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, as part of a counterweight to a growing Russian presence.
The assets deployed will include a destroyer, the frigate Iron Duke and three minesweepers. They will be the nation's first naval contribution to NATO standing forces in six years.
Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon described the mission as “a strong message to our enemies.”
“2016 will see a particular focus on the Baltic region with our ships sent there as part of the Maritime Group, the Mine Counter Measure Group and the Baltops exercise,” he said.
The Royal Navy's flagship vessel, the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean, will also participate in the NATO Baltops exercise later in the year, and two British frigates will join in a NATO anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise.
Russian naval forces – especially submarines – have become a concern to NATO defense officials in recent months. Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, Commander of NATO's Maritime Command, said that his servicemembers were reporting "more activity from Russian submarines than we've seen since the days of the Cold War . . . [with] a level of Russian capability that we haven't seen before.”
Britain has recently had to call in airborne ASW assistance from Canada and from France in the North Atlantic following reported sightings of Russian submarines. Additionally, a Russian naval group transited close to Britain in November and again in December.
News of the British NATO deployment comes as American and European forces conduct a series of drills and exercises as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The U.S. Department of Defense describes the ongoing operation as a “demonstration of our continued commitment to the collective security of NATO . . . in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine specifically.”
In addition to exercises in Poland, Latvia, Romania and other eastern European nations, the DoD has deployed the so-called European Activity Set, war materiel comprising some 12,000 pieces of military equipment, which will be stored in Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
The Obama administration has proposed to increase American spending on European military activities by a factor of four in 2017, to $3.4 billion, and to send an additional 3,000 troops to bases in Europe.