HMS Portland has been involved in tracking the movements of two Russian attack submarines heading from the Arctic to the Baltic Sea.
In an unusually detailed press release, the RN said HMS Portland was involved in tracking RFS Severodvinsk and RFS Vepr underwater as they passed south along the Norwegian coast from the Arctic. The frigate continued to watch the submarines as they obligingly surfaced separately in the North Sea, northwest of Bergen, Norway, on July 16 and 19. Other NATO forces later took over monitoring duties as duties as they passed into the Baltic, They are believed to be heading to St Petersburg to participate in the Russian Navy Day celebrations scheduled for July 31.
During the operation, Portland and her embarked Merlin Mk2 helicopter worked with P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft based at RAF Lossiemouth. Portland has been assigned as the duty Towed Array Patrol Ship (TAPS) and recently took part in NATO ASW exercise Dynamic Mongoose, held off Iceland between 3rd and 24th June.
Commissioned in 2013, the Severodvinsk is the first of the Yassen class SSGNs – the best attack submarines in the Russian navy with stealth and quietening features almost on a par with their RN and NATO adversaries. The Yassen build programme has been even more glacial than the RN Astutes, but the fourth vessel of the class, RFS Krasnoyarsk began sea trials in early July.
The implication in the press release is that Severodvinsk was detected while submerged is interesting, implying that NATO can still find the best boats the Russians can field. A mix of intelligence from satellites and other sources, underwater acoustic arrays, submarines, surface ships and MPAs combine to make it difficult for Russian boats to break out undetected when they leave their bases in the Barents Sea. The Vepr is an older but still potent, Akula-II class SSN commissioned in 1995. Although this mission appears to have been a relatively benign transit between bases, both boats are a threat, well-armed, fast and deep-diving so watching their movements is of importance for NATO at all times.