As the Royal Navy prepares to help the NHS and other government departments deal with the response to the coronavirus outbreak, nine British ships have been shadowing seven Russian vessels in waters around the UK. The Navy has completed a concentrated operation to shadow the Russian warships after unusually high levels of activity in the English Channel and North Sea. Type 23 frigates HMS Kent, HMS Sutherland, HMS Argyll and HMS Richmond joined Offshore Patrol Vessels HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey along with RFA Tideforce, RFA Tidespring and HMS Echo for the large-scale operation with support from NATO allies.
As the Navy’s logistics specialists and military planners work with the wider Armed Forces to help the coronavirus response effort, Royal Navy sailors and aircrew were monitoring every movement of the Russian ships using state-of-the-art radar, surveillance cameras and sensors, allowing them to track their course and speed as they passed the British Isles. They were supported by Merlin and Wildcat helicopters of 814 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons.
Portsmouth-based HMS Tyne spent more than a week working in the English Channel, in often challenging seas, keeping a close eye on the Russian vessels as they pass the south coast. Three Steregushchiy-class corvettes, two Ropucha-class landing ships and two Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates were observed during the operations, plus their supporting auxiliary ships and tugs. HMS Sutherland, fresh from a demanding period of Arctic training on Exercise Cold Response, watched over the Russian presence as part of her duties with NATO’s Standing NATO Maritime Group One.
The Devonport-based frigate’s Merlin helicopter carried out a number of intelligence-gathering sorties over the Russian ships as they passed through the Channel. HMS Sutherland’s Operations Officer, Lieutenant Hannah Lee, said: “Our successful integration into the maritime group proves our ability to adapt to task group operations at short notice. HMS Sutherland, working alongside French, Norwegian, German and Danish ships, then carried out surface and air defence exercises as well as carrying out joint gunnery training.