Scores of ships and aircraft from 13 countries will take part in war games, in an unprecedented show of military strength.
The Nato exercises off Scotland involve at least 55 warships, 70 aircraft and 13,000 sailors and will include submarine hunts, amphibious landings and ship against ship attacks.
They take place against a background of rising concern about Russian expansionism but the Ministry of Defence said the Exercise Joint Warrior war games are a twice-yearly exercise rather than a response to any specific threat.
However, the Joint Warrior exercises are the biggest yet held by Nato and are intended to act as a show of strength while honing the ability of member nations to co-operate in the event of an attack.
Training for submarine hunts is regarded as particularly important in waters north of the UK as they are the most obvious route into the wider Atlantic Ocean for Russian vessels.
Russian submarines are also suspected of operating close to the UK shoreline. In March a fishing vessel 10 miles off the Isle of Lewis snagged an object suspected of being a submarine – none from Nato were said to be operating in the area at the time – while in November dozens of aircraft and ships took part in a major search after a sighting was reported.
Among the Royal Navy vessels taking part in Joint Warrior over the next two weeks will be HMS Ambush, one of the new Astute class hunter killer submarines.
HMS Ocean, which in June will become the Navy’s Fleet Flagship, has just completed a refit and is expected to join the exercise.
Warships from the US, including guided-missile vessels USS Porter and USS Anzio, will join the Royal Navy for the exercises along with ships from Poland, Estonia, Lativa, France, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania, and Belgium.
The exercises begin shortly after an announcement from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and Iceland that they are to work more closely on defence and intelligence.
The move comes amid their unease at Russia’s conduct which they described as posing “the gravest challenge to European security” .
Ministers from the five countries wrote in a joint declaration published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftonposten: “The security situation in the Nordic countries’ surrounding area has noticeably deteriorated over the past year. We must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents...We have to relate to Russia’s actions, not the Kremlin’s rhetoric.”
Independent News Service