The most serious maritime issue currently facing the UK is the need for greater anti-submarine warfare capacity, according to a report.
The Defence Secretary has described how Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic has increased tenfold in recent years.
The outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, says the report, has recognised the threat this poses to the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic and to vital undersea communication cables. The UK lies close to the main transit routes that the Russian submarine force can use to project power into the Atlantic from its bases in the Arctic and High North, a region that is seeing increasing military activity.
Hostile submarine operations also have the potential to endanger the security of the nuclear deterrent. ASW is a complex and resource-intensive exercise, and the world-leading capability which the UK maintained in the Cold War has been substantially reduced. Many of those who submitted written evidence argued that the Royal Navy’s numbers of attack submarines and ASW frigates were far too low. This problem has been compounded by the late arrival into service and low availability of the highly capable Astute class, which has caused a temporary reduction in the number of attack submarines.
The committee say that particular concern was expressed about the probability that the forthcoming class of Type 31e frigates may have only minimal ASW capability. As the Royal Navy is currently finding in mine clearance capability, the use of unmanned systems or manned-unmanned teaming may be the future of ASW.