Key point: The number of times London has had to send warships to watch Russian naval activity has drastically increased.
British warships last year sortied to intercept Russian vessels sailing near U.K. waters at a rate twice what it was in 2013, U.K. Defense Journal reported.
Royal Navy ships on 31 occasions in 2018 intercepted Russian ships, up from 12 occasions in 2013.
The period of heightened Russian naval activity roughly coincided with Russia’s annexation of Ukraine in 2014, the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 and escalating tensions between Russia and NATO along the North Atlantic alliance’s eastern flank.
U.K. Defense Journal published its full tally of British-Russian naval encounters, based on data the journal obtained from the Ministry of Defense. There were 11 encounters in 2014, 14 in 2015, 20 in 2016, 33 in 2017 and 31 in 2018.
The sharp increase in Russian activity through 2018 occurred as the Royal Navy struggled to maintain a viable fleet.
Periodic cuts since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 have shrunk the British military roughly by half. The most recent rounds of cuts starting in 2010 eliminated, among other forces, two aircraft carriers, two amphibious ships and four frigates, plus the Royal Air Force’s maritime patrol planes and carrier-compatible Harrier jump jets. Uniformed manpower dropped by 30,000.
As recently as late 2017, there were rumors that the United Kingdom might try to offset the cost of the country's exit from the European Union by further cutting the military. Amphibious ships appeared to be particularly vulnerable.
Fortunately for U.K. forces, funding stabilized at around $55 billion annually. In 2017 and 2018, the government allocated the armed forces an extra $2 billion, combined, above planned spending levels, enough to employ 196,000 active and reserve sailors, soldiers, airmen and civilian personnel.