It comes after a warning from MI6 that Moscow wants to establish how the UK’s naval forces have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Only last week, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg referred to Russia as he warned: “We need to fight Covid-19 but also address the other threats and challenges we are facing.”
Moscow has deployed its top secret super-sub the 430ft Kazan, which is capable of carrying 40 Kalibr cruise missiles.
The Kazan, Russia’s most advanced ballistic submarine, entered service in 2018 and underwent extensive trials last year before finally being deployed a month ago.
It sailed from the Northern Fleet naval base at Murmansk, and is currently in the North Atlantic, escorted by up to five Akula-class submarines.
To counter the threat, the Navy has deployed its latest Astute-class subs, backed up by Trafalgar hunter-killer boats. Sources say they have been tasked to find and shadow the Kremlin’s vessels. “In effect, both Russia and Nato are putting each other to the test,” said a senior Royal Navy intelligence source.
“Moscow wants to monitor Western military capability during the coronavirus crisis while testing their new boat’s ability to remain undetected.”
At least 13,000 members of the Armed Forces are now in isolation after they or their ‘We must locate and monitor it’ relatives displayed Covid-19 symptoms. While six weeks ago, submariners were boarding boats after cursory symptom checks, it is understood that strict week-long isolation measures are now in place. The insider confirmed that activity in the North Atlantic has ramped up since the outbreak.
“The increased number of spy ships is a classic tactic indicating Russian subs are in the area.The usual configuration is to deploy two decoys with the Kazan to make sure she is not found but we understand as many as five have deployed on what appears to be a major surveillance operation.
“From Nato’s point of view, the objective is to locate the Kazan and visibly monitor it – to show there is no chink in our maritime armour.”
Two nuclear-powered Trafalgar hunter-killers and two Astutes slipped out of Faslane naval base, in south-west Scotland, two weeks ago. They are now working with at least one US Los Angeles-class attack submarine.
The Astute subs set a new standard for stealth and have never been detected by their Russian counterparts. They also boast a world-leading sonar array which will be put to the test against the Kazan.
Last week, the fourth Astute – Audacious – was delivered to the Navy joining Astute, Ambush and Artful.
Last night it emerged that Britain’s super-carrier Queen Elizabeth will continue to sail on a training exercise this month, despite both France and the US reporting huge numbers of Covid-19 infections on their aircraft carriers.