Donald Trump is pumping £63m into a Scottish airbase to help US spy planes hunt Russian submarines
The US Government has revealed the investment at Lossiemouth, with echoes of the 1990 spy thriller film The Hunt for Red October.
America has reported a huge rise in Russian sub activity in the seas around Scotland, amid growing tension between the West and Vladimir Putin’s regime as experts warn of a new Cold War.
American cash will go towards a refurbishment of the runway at the Moray base, including more hangars and accommodation for US navy personnel, to establish Lossiemouth as a major NATO base. Work has already started on an expansion to Lossiemouth to accommodate nine of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon submarine hunters ordered by the RAF.
Norway has bought the same US-built planes and all three nations will use Lossiemouth as a base for keeping track of Russian activity in the Atlantic and North Sea.
The investment marks a turnaround in fortunes for Lossiemouth, which was threatened with closure less than eight years ago.
Commodore Andrew Betton, commander of the UK’s aircraft carrier fleet, warned Russian subs have been their most active in the North Atlantic since the Cold War.
Earlier this month the Defence Select Committee concluded Britain’s Arctic capability to meet a challenge posed by President Putin was “on thin ice”.
There have been increased reports, the committee found, of Russian subs trying to record the sounds of subs carrying Trident missiles as they leave Faslane.
Russia analysts say the increased sub activity fits a pattern of military assertiveness by the Kremlin, seen with interventions in Georgia and Syria, and the increased investment in defence under Putin.
The incursions also serve as a sabre-rattling sign of Kremlin displeasure at political developments, experts claim.
Tim Ripley, defence analyst and author, said: “This means you will regularly see UK, US and Norwegian P-8 aircraft flying in and out of Lossiemouth, which is establishing itself as the European base for maritime aircraft patrols of the North Atlantic.
“The threat from Russia could not be any clearer now and this is part of the reaction.
“For the US, they are effectively creating a forward command base where they can have everything they need there without having to fly back and forth to the States. As the UK is buying its P-8s from the US, there will also be the advantage to the UK of having all the expertise of dealing with aircraft in the same base.”
Military consultant Stuart Crawford, a former SNP defence advisor, said Scotland was well placed to be at the forefront of efforts to counter threats from Russia.
He said: “This is great news for Moray and Scotland. Lossiemouth is in a perfect strategic location for the geo-political threat of our time and it is no surprise it is of interest to the US Navy which is looking to bolster areas where it was much stronger during the Cold War.
“In effect, you are getting a mini-base for the Americans, to give them the flexibility to resource up’ in Scotland if the threat requires it. With UK, Norway and US involvement, Lossiemouth is effectively becoming a NATO base.
“We’ve had decades of focus on the Middle East, primarily Afghanistan and Iraq, when Russia was not seen as a threat but that has changed.
“I think the US and the UK, after years of depleting the resources for the North Atlantic, were caught out a bit and this, along with the MoD investment at the base, redresses that balance.
“The increase in Russian activity in the seas around Scotland has been significant so the investment is needed and, who knows, although Kinloss is an army base now there could be the scope for re-opening its runway.
“One thing is for sure - it will be an economic boon for Moray.”
Earlier this year Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson cut the first turf on a £132m expansion of Lossiemouth for the UK’s new £3 billion fleet of sub-hunting aircraft.
The work has created 200 construction jobs, while the number of personnel employed at the RAF station will grow by 470 to 2,200 when work is complete.
Mr Williamson said at the time the Royal Navy had responded 33 times to Russian warships approaching UK territorial waters in 2017 compared with just once in 2010.
Critics have long argued the decision to axe the Nimrod surveillance fleet at RAF Kinloss was short-sighted and it was reversed in 2015 in the wake of Russia’s military actions in Georgia and Ukraine.
The P-8 planes coming to Moray can fire anti-ship missiles and launch torpedoes, but their primary role is to detect submarine activity with its radar, which is powerful enough to detect submarine periscopes.
The UK Government struck a “basing agreement” with the US to base its spy craft in Moray last year but this is the first detail on the size and scope of the deal.
The £63m investment by the US Navy will upgrade the runway, create additional aircraft parking and hangar space and accommodation.
It is not clear at this stage how many spaces for US-owned P-8 aircraft are being created.
In addition, the US Air Force is spending £83m on construction work at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire for a fleet of other reconnaissance planes.
The MoD was at pains to point out the investment at Lossiemouth was not the creation of a permanent American base in Moray.
Dylan Lee Lehrke, of defence analysts Jane’s, said: “The Greenland, Iceland, and the UK gap was an important strategic bottleneck during the Cold War and is equally important in the NATO-Russia strategic competition today.
“If Russia is able to project its forces through the gap into the North Atlantic, it can disrupt US reinforcement of its NATO allies in Europe.
“It is essential NATO control the gap to deny Russia the ability to enter and take action in the North Atlantic. This is why the increase in Russian naval activity and sub deployments is so concerning.”
The US infrastructure projects are intended to ensure the US military has the ability to project power to and throughout Europe. Some of these projects are intended to prevent Russia from acting to disrupt the flow of forces from the United States.”
Green MSP John Finnie last night criticised the US investment.
He said: “Why would the UK permit another nation, particularly one with such a jingoistic approach to world affairs, to play such a role within its boundaries?
“Like many, I rejoiced when US forces left the Holy Loch and I would envisage their direct or indirect presence in the north of Scotland would rightly be viewed as inflammatory. I suspect this may be about competition for the precious Arctic and one way to end all the manoeuvring around that would for it to be made a UN protectorate like the Antarctic.”
The MoD said: “We are investing £3bn in our nine-strong P-8 Poseidon fleet over the next decade.
“The contribution of $80m from the US to the home of our sub-hunters at RAF Lossiemouth will support our partnership with our closest ally and will help us be more efficient by sharing improved facilities, and will see us patrol the seas together to have more eyes and ears on any aggressors.”
The US Navy was unable to respond to a request for a comment in time for this article.