A Royal Navy warship and a Russian submarine collided in the North Atlantic, Britain’s Ministry of Defence has confirmed.
HMS Northumberland had been sent to the icy waters 200 miles north of Scotland to track a Russian hunter-killer submarine amid fears it could tamper with undersea cables vital for the internet and communication.
In what is believed to be the first direct hit between the two nations’ navies since the Cold War, the submarine hit the array sonar which the vessel was trailing behind its hull.
The sonar — a cable featuring hydrophones — is used by the navy to pick up sounds from nearby submarines.
Navy experts suggest that a British warship detecting the submarine would be a “concern” for the Russian military who rely on stealth to access the North Atlantic.
“It would be a concern for them but it comes down to the circumstances and what was in the submarine commander's mind,” said Richard Scott, the naval expert at Jane's Defence Weekly told The National. “Was he being quite deliberate or was he caught completely unawares? Or did he have a level of spatial disorientation?”
The incident demonstrated that the “anti-submarine cat and mouse game that was very much part-and-parcel of the Cold War is clearly back with us,” he added.
It also demonstrated that despite being in service for 28 years, the Type 23 frigate was still highly capable. “They are still really good sub hunters,” Mr Scott said. “The towed sonar is excellent and these warships are very, very quiet so their noise hygiene means that they're still very highly regarded.”
The frigate was forced to abandon the 48-hour mission and head back to port to repair the device, which had been dragged across the submarine’s hull.
The collision, which the MoD said took place in “late 2020”, was caught on camera by a Channel 5 TV crew as part of the show Warship: Life At Sea.
After chasing the submarine through the night, a crew member says “we are closing the range on that” as he seeks to make their presence known to the Russians.
“We are very close [to the Russians,] we are probably parallel. If they were on the surface we would definitely see faces,” says Commander Thom Hobbs.
Suddenly, the ship is jolted and one person asks “what the [expletive] have I just hit?” as an alarm sounds in the background.
It is believed the Russian submarine crew were aware of the presence of the Navy in the waters but Navy sources said the collision was an accident.
The Russian hunter-killer submarine is likely to have been either an older Akula class or one of the two new Yasen hunter-killers that became operational in 2013.
A spokesman for the MoD confirmed the crash.
“In late 2020 a Russian submarine being tracked by HMS Northumberland came into contact with her towed array sonar,” he said.
“The Royal Navy regularly tracks foreign ships and submarines in order to ensure the defence of the United Kingdom.”
Earlier this week it emerged that the UK's Defence Academy had been hit by a sophisticated cyber attack — possibly by Russia or China.