Russia has been freely spying on Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines since the UK slashed its defence budget.
That’s the damning verdict of five retired RAF officers who claim the Kremlin is likely to have gathered “valuable intelligence” on Britain’s nuclear deterrent because of gaps left by the decision to axe the Nimrod fleet of spy planes.
The senior officers claim Russian submarines are monitoring the seas off the west coast of Scotland from which British subs emerge from their base on the Clyde.
A joint letter from the men states it is now “widely recognised” that Britain urgently needs new maritime patrol aircraft.
It continues: “With so few naval escorts available, this will be vital if future aircraft carriers are not to be put severely at risk.
“We know that Russian submarines are monitoring the area from which our nuclear missile submarines emerge from the Clyde.
“Without maritime patrol aircraft surveillance, opportunities for intelligence-gathering by such ‘intruders’ can only prejudice the security and effectiveness of our strategic deterrent.
“Indeed, it would be surprising if valuable intelligence had not already been acquired by the Russian Navy since the Nimrod force was grounded.”
The letter is signed by Air Marshal Sir John Harris, Air-Vice Marshal George Chesworth, Air-Vice Marshal David Emmerson, Air-Vice Marshal Andrew Roberts and Air Commodore Andrew Neal.
The Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, as ministers attempted to fill a
£38 billion black hole in the Ministry of Defence budget.
The project, designed to replace the Nimrod MR2, was already years late and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget.
In March, the Commons Defence Committee said the lack of a maritime patrol aircraft had opened up a “crucial gap” in UK defences.
The committee warned that more aircraft, warships, tanks and missiles were needed to provide a convincing deterrent to further aggression by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
SNP Westminster Defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara said: “These deeply worrying reports highlight once again the embarrassing capability gap the UK Government has allowed to develop.”
In recent months there have been a string of approaches to Britain by Russian planes and ships.