Royal Navy deploys warship to the Arctic Circle as quest to bar Russia from dominating 'high north' intensifies
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In a fresh display of force, the Royal Navy has sailed into the icy region of the globe for the second time in as many months.
The latest trip saw Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Lancaster spend three days operating in the sub-zero conditions.
The deployment comes just weeks after the navy led a multi-national task group there as part of a renewed focus by defence chiefs to provide security in the globe’s northern reaches.
Senior military figures, including First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin – who is tipped to be a front-runner in becoming Britain’s next armed forces boss – are worried superpowers like Russia and China will look to ‘exploit’ the region as climate change opens up new shipping routes there.
Armed forces minister James Heappey today insisted it was critical the UK deployed to the Arctic Circle to defend future shipping lanes, which could soon be worth trillions of pounds to the global economy.
He said: ‘The high north and Arctic region is vitally important to our security of the UK, as well as some of our closest allies in Scandinavia, the Baltic region and northern Europe.
‘Deployments such as this, as well as our active engagement in the northern group and leadership of the joint expeditionary force, demonstrate to our allies and adversaries alike that the UK will be forward-leaning in supporting the security and stability of the region.’
Over the past year, the Royal Navy has seen a surge in the number of incidents with Russian warships operating around the UK, with the latest taking place last week.
In the summer the navy monitored nine Russian warships during ‘heightened activity’ off UK waters.
And in March, the Senior Service shadowed seven Russian vessels around the UK.
Meanwhile there are growing concerns about China’s ever-expanding navy and the threats it could pose in the future – in particular to trade routes in the South China Sea.
HMS Lancaster’s brief stint in the Arctic Circle saw the ship sailing above Scandinavian countries into the North Cape.
The Type 23 warship linked up with a Norwegian Navy warship to carry out joint training drills.
Commander William Blackett, the Lancaster’s captain, said: ‘For HMS Lancaster, this short operation was a great way to close out a challenging year of trials and training. The “Queen’s Frigate” and her fine company have come a long way since emerging from refit – we are back where we belong on the front line and ready for the next task.’
The navy insisted the operation was ‘entirely conducted in international waters and in a responsible manner’, and that the force was exercising its right to freedom of navigation.
The UK is currently leading a high-readiness force of northern European nations capable of countering any threats in the region.
Last month Admiral Radakin declared the UK had a critical role to play in policing the ‘gateway’ to new maritime trade lines in the Arctic ‘opened up by climate change’.
Speaking during an event on HMS Prince of Wales, the First Sea Lord said: ‘These routes are bigger than just the UK, bigger than Europe. They are part of an £8tn global maritime trade network, the veins and arteries along which the lifeblood of the world’s economy flows.’