U.S., French, U.K. Nuclear Submarines Rendezvous In Scotland

The U.K. Royal Navy’s main submarine base in Scotland appears to currently be hosting something of a small multinational submarine meet. Yesterday, U.S. Navy’s Virginia class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Indiana was spotted heading in the direction of Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. That came a day after one of the French Navy’s Rubis class submarines, another nuclear-powered attack type, the specific identity of which is unknown, was seen arriving in the area.

None of the navies involved appear to have said anything specifically about the convergence of these submarines at Clyde. The base is home to the bulk of the Royal Navy’s submarine force, including its Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines and Astute class attack submarines, both of which are also nuclear powered.

The USS Indiana‘s stop there is to “strengthen cooperation between the United States and United Kingdom” and “demonstrate US capability, flexibility, and continuing commitment to NATO allies,” the Navy said, according to a report yesterday from U.K. Defence Journal. Indiana had left its homeport at Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut for what the Navy described simply as “routine operations” in January.

Virginia class submarines, among other American types, regularly make stops in Clyde, which is one of a limited number of allied ports in Europe with the ability to handle visiting nuclear-powered submarines. French Rubis class submarines have called at the Royal Navy base before, including one spotted there in October 2021, but their presence is a much rarer occurrence. There were reports that the French boat that visited in October had its towed sonar array removed at the Royal Navy base for some reason.

The back-to-back arrival of American and French submarines at Cylde could very well be just a coincidence. At the same time, the activities of submarine forces worldwide are typically relatively secretive affairs, so unusual public movements, such as American, French, and almost certainly British nuclear submarines all now being present at Clyde, often draw attention and are assumed to be some form of signaling. In Europe in recent years, American submarines have often made appearances at notable locations, including the Royal Navy’s submarine hub in Scotland and its base in Gibraltar, as well as off the coast of Norway, when tensions have spiked with Russia.

This gathering has certainly come at a time of extremely high tensions in the region as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began at the end of February. In the lead up to the conflict, submarines had been part of U.S. and NATO signaling aimed at Moscow, including the Navy’s deliberate publicizing of the presence of USS Georgia, one of its four Ohio class guide missile submarines, an extremely capable multi-purpose platform that you can read about more here, in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus.

The Ohio class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia off the coast of Cyprus in January 2022. USN

There are indications that more discreet underwater posturing between NATO, to include the United States and the United Kingdom, and Russia has been happening since the fighting broke out. A number of Russian nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines reportedly headed out into the North Atlantic after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he had put his country’s strategic forces on special alert on February 27, according to a story from The Times newspaper in Britain that was published in March.

“Tracked by western militaries four weeks ago, the decision to send the submarines closer to European shores was seen by British navy chiefs as ‘posturing’ and a warning, rather than an actual threat,” The Times reported. “They returned towards Russia shortly afterwards and normal levels of activity resumed. Since then western intelligence agencies have kept a closer eye on the Kremlin’s nuclear arsenal.”

Increased Russian submarine activity in the Atlantic has already caught the attention of U.S. and other NATO navies in recent years. The U.S. Navy went so far as to activate an entirely new command, U.S. 2nd Fleet, in response to the increased threat environment in 2018 and has been working to step up its anti-submarine capabilities on both sides of the pond since then.

Whatever the exact reasons that led an American Virginia class submarine to join a French Rubis class boat at the Royal Navy’s submarine base at Clyde, it is certainly a notable display of NATO undersea warfare capabilities and their ability to operate from shared facilities at a time when Europe is experiencing its most significant security crisis in decades.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com

Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.