MPs on the Commons Defence Committee have woken up to the huge mistake of scrapping Nimrod, the UK’s excellent Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system.
As China and Russia develop their underwater technologies to try to track foreign submarines, including Britain’s with the Trident nuclear deterrent on board, Britain has taken a different approach and slashed not only troop numbers but vitally important aircraft far in advance of their successors being in service, The Times reports.
Only last month, a security alert was triggered when a Russian submarine was believed to have been in waters close to the Scottish naval base at Faslane after a periscope was sighted. The Nimrod MR2 used by the RAF was primarily a fixed wing aerial platform designed for submarine warfare operations, although its secondary roles included maritime surveillance and would have been used in this situation prior to March 2010.
But since they were scrapped there has only been the Sentinel in use in Afghanistan although in the 2010 SDSR the government announced its intention to “withdraw the Sentinel airborne ground surveillance aircraft once it is no longer required to support operations in Afghanistan.” However, this decision was reversed by David Cameron in 2014 who said it will remain in RAF service until at least 2018.
AEW systems are airborne radar or other monitoring systems designed to detect aircraft, ships and other objects at long ranges and perform command and control of the battle space or search area. Like ground based radar it can be detected by opposing forces but because of its ability to change position is much harder to attack.
The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review made a number of controversial decisions, including scrapping Harrier jets mid £500million upgrade and selling them to the US for only £16million to be stripped for parts.
MPs have criticised the government’s decision to can Nimrod, pointing out it leaves a gap in the capability to monitor the UK’s waters for potentially hostile forces as well as work on civilian operations such as missing or crashed commercial aircraft and shipping.
The upgraded Nimrod MRA4’s were scrapped, despite the £4billion spent on developing them.
The cross party group of MPs spoke out to reverse the trend in AEW&C equipment, with Madeline Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend saying “It has been an outstanding disaster for the past four years. Our basic nuclear deterrent protection policy has been two crossed fingers. It has left us with no long-range security for our submarines or offshore gas and oil fields.”
“The obvious threat is Russia, but there is ultimately a threat from the Chinese too. As the ice melts, the northern route from China is becoming increasingly open and leaving us vulnerable in Scotland in particular.”
Conservative MP Julian Lewis pointed out the research the Russian Navy were undertaking, saying they were “developing the most advanced underwater technologies, and are procuring new, more stealthy submarines such as hunter-killer subs that provide a severe threat to our deterrent. The Chinese are also developing top technologies.”
Sir Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, said the Russians were “prodding” the UK to see what our reaction was. He opined that the defence cuts that led to the cancellation of Nimrod could have other detrimental impacts on national defence.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Tough decisions had to be taken in order to rebalance the defence budget, which included removing the Nimrod MR2 from service. However, maritime surveillance is provided through a combination of layered capabilities, including surface ships, submarines and air assets. The UK continues to work closely with its Nato allies.”
A former government MoD official told Breitbart London: “There is no substitute for sophisticated AEW aircraft. To leave gaps in such cover prevents us from having the capability to defend our sea areas as well as preventing us from carrying out search and rescue capabilities in support of military and civil operations. Other Government budgets were available for pruning that have far less of an impact to our safety and security.”