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By Christopher Woody,Business Insider

  • Russian warships and subs reportedly tracked a British submarine in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in the days before the latest strikes in Syria.
  • Russian and NATO submarines have come into increasing contact in the waters around Europe in recent years.

A British Astute-class attack submarine was closely pursued by Russian subs and warships in the days leading up to the latest US-led strikes in Syria, according to The Times of London, citing military sources.

The days-long encounter reportedly played out during the second week of April, as Prime Minister Theresa May was deciding whether to join the strikes on targets in Syria. May reportedly orderedBritish subs to move within missile range of Syria in preparation for those strikes.

A UK Astute-class sub in the area was hunted by at least one but possibly two Russian submarines nicknamed "the Black Hole," The Times said, referring to the Russian navy's Improved Kilo-classdiesel-electric subs.

The Astute class "are the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy," according to the UK Ministry of Defense. The British sub in question was maneuvering to get within range of targets in Syria, The Times reports.

HMS Astute sailing to Faslane Naval Base in Scotland.Flickr/UK Ministry of Defence

Two Russian frigates and an anti-submarine aircraft are also believed to have joined the search for the British sub, which reportedly spent several days trying to elude its pursuers. The British sub was protected by US Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, an anti-submarine-warfare platform.

British and Russian navies have come into increasing contact in the waters around Europe, but this is believed to be the first time such an encounter has taken place in the lead-up to strikes. The British sub in question did not take part in those strikes, however.

In June 2017, when the UK's newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, went through sea trials, a Russian sub was spying on it. A Russian sub also shadowed US-UK naval drills off the coast of Scotland in August.

In mid-2017, US and NATO ships closely tracked the Krasnodar, one of Russia's newest Improved Kilo-class subs, as it traveled around Europe to its home port with Russia's Black Sea fleet.

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Improved Kilo-class subs are a mainstay in Russia's undersea fleet, the product of Moscow's renewed focus on submarine warfare in the years after the Cold War. Improved Kilo subs are especially quiet and skilled at operating near the seafloor in shallow waters.

Russian Black Sea Fleet's Krasnodar Improved Kilo-class submarine.Russian MoD

Near the end of its journey, the Krasnodar launched cruise-missile strikes at targets in Syria, and in the days that followed US ships in the Mediterranean embarked on one of their first efforts to track a Russian sub under combat conditions since the Cold War.

Sailors and airmen aboard the USS George H. W. Bush, an aircraft carrier that had sailed into the Mediterranean a few weeks before, were tasked with hunting the sub and learning all they could about how it operated, including tactics and techniques. For many of them, it was their first real-world encounter with the complicated and dangerous art of anti-submarine warfare.

"It is an indication of the changing dynamic in the world that a skill set, maybe we didn't spend a lot of time on in the last 15 years, is coming back," Capt. Jim McCall, commander of the air wing on the USS Bush, told The Wall Street Journal at the time.

SEE ALSO:China's growing submarine force is 'armed to the teeth' — and the rest of the Pacific is racing to keep up

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