Britain’s RAF increases activity off Ireland ahead of Russian naval drills

Russia’s ambassador to Ireland accepts invite to appear before Oireachtas committee

British anti-submarine aircraft have been operating off the west coast of Ireland with increased frequency ahead of Russian live-fire naval exercises planned for later this week.

On Monday at least three P-8 Poseidon were deployed by Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) in operations along Irish shores. Much of the aircraft activity took place within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This area is considered international waters but under the control of Ireland for economic and environmental purposes.

The RAF said the aircraft were deployed on routine training. Military sources said Poseidon aircraft have been deployed in the Irish EEZ before but rarely to the extent seen on Monday.


At the weekend the Russian Federation announced it would move its planned naval exercises to an area outside the Irish EEZ following calls from the Government and fishing organisations, who were concerned about the impact on marine life.

Military experts believe the drills will now take place in an area in the Atlantic just outside the Irish EEZ but still in the vicinity of vital subsea communications cables which link Europe to North America.

Some of the ships expected to take part in the exercises, including the large missile cruiser the Marshal Ustinov, completed drills in the Norwegian Sea over the weekend, the Russian military announced on Monday.

The ships simulated a submarine hunting exercise in the area. "The crews of the missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov and the frigate Fleet Admiral Kasatonov hunted down the notional enemy's submarines with the help of an anti-submarine warfare helicopter," the Russian navy's Northern Fleet spokesman said.

The location of both ships is currently unknown, but a Russian navy fuel ship, The Vyazma, which had previously been travelling with them, was observed entering the North Sea to the northwest of Britain on Monday. RAF P-8 Poseidon aircraft also operated in this area on Monday.

Sonar buoys

British aircraft are expected to drop sonar buoys in the areas where it is believed Russian ships are going to operate. These devices, dropped into the water from above, use active sonar capable of picking up submarine activity. They have also been shown to be damaging to marine life such as dolphins and whales.

The RAF operated the Poseidon flights out of the Lossiemouth base in Scotland. The flights covered areas off the south and northwest coasts of Ireland and areas of the North Sea.

“RAF P-8 Poseidon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth were completing routine training in international airspace off the coast of Ireland today,” an RAF spokesman said.

Britain purchased nine Poseidon aircraft several years ago, with the last one being delivered earlier this month.

As well as conducting surveillance exercises and dropping sonar buoys, the US-made aircraft is capable of deploying torpedoes and other anti-ship weapons.

Separately, Russia's ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, has accepted an invite to appear before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the naval exercises.

Charlie Flanagan, chairman of the committee, confirmed that Mr Filatov would appear on Wednesday, February 2nd, at 5.30pm.

An invitation was extended to Mr Filatov last week when the naval exercises were still due to take place within the Irish EEZ.

The situation in Ukraine is also set to be discussed at the committee, while Mr Flanagan has also indicated that he wants to discuss the circumstances surrounding a picture of Mr Filatov with the Defence Forces chief-of-staff, Lieut Gen Seán Clancy, at McKee Barracks this month.

The photo was published on Russian embassy social media channels, leading to backlash and controversy when Minister for Defence Simon Coveney criticised the use of the image and the circumstances it was taken in at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party last week.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times