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A Russian sub collided with a UK warship’s sonar in 2020, reports say

Russian submarine snags towed sonar from HMS Northumberland
Royal Navy file photo of HMS Northumberland

A Russian submarine is said to have collided with the towed sonar of a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate during a cat and mouse chase in the north Atlantic in late 2020, reports from Thursday revealed.

While the accident happened a little over a year ago, it came to light in the UK just now as a documentary on the life onboard warships at sea is being broadcast on television. The crew of the documentary, which is called Warship: Life at Sea, was onboard the frigate at the time of the incident.

According to the reports in British media that have emerged ahead of the release of the episode that will feature the encounter, HMS Northumberland was scrambled to track and escort a Russian sub that was operating around 200 miles north of Scotland.

The reports said the frigate deployed its towed array sonar to more efficiently locate the submarine but had to abort its mission following the encounter and return to port for an assessment of damages. The sonar is said to have been “dragged over the submarine’s hull,” and “so badly badly chewed up that it was unusable.”

“In late 2020 a Russian submarine being tracked by HMS Northumberland came into contact with her towed array sonar,” the reports quoted a British defense ministry spokesperson as saying.

It was also pointed put that this may well have been the first collision between Russian and Royal Navy vessels since the end of the Cold War. One interesting encounter from the past is an incident from 1982, which slightly resembles the one from 2020.

In 1982, British submarine HMS Conqueror tracked a Soviet sonar system deployed onboard a Polish intelligence vessel in the Barents Sea, with the aim of stealing the system, which was a novelty back then. While the 2020 collision has been widely described as an accident, the operation Barmaid was deliberate, in that the British submarine was outfitted with a pair of remote-controlled steel cutting tools and cameras. That mission is believed to have been unsuccessful, with the Soviet sonar eventually having been transferred to the US for examination.