The Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) was thought to be a bold move by Nato in response to Moscow deploying Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave on the continent, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Black Sea.
But the Army has backtracked on its decision and removed all mention of the GMLRs from a press release published on its website last week which announced their deployment.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) that the launch was now on hold and “yet to be confirmed”.
Colonel Bob Stewart blasted the decision as a sign of weakness.
The MP for Beckenham, said: “This certainly sends a signal of indecision or possibly incompetence.”
They would have been the first overseas deployment of the rockets since Afghanistan
A former United Nations commander in Bosnia, he added: “Trump’s election is a wake-up call for Nato.
“He will tell them they must spend two per cent of GDP on defence but they are moving at the speed of a striking slug to achieve that.”
This certainly sends a signal of indecision or possibly incompetence
A defence source confirmed “politics” had played a part in the decision to delay their deployment, and concerns over Russia’s possible aggression towards any ground missiles may have been a factor.
Aerial confrontations, coupled with president-elect Donald Trump’s frosty attitude towards Nato, are also thought to have influenced the decision to pause sending the GMLRs.
A defence source confirmed “politics” had played a part in the decision
A defence source said the rockets had not been removed from the press release “as a result of third party pressure”, and the final deployment date would be announced “at the appropriate time”.
The U-turn comes as it was recently revealed Russian fighter jets have been intercepting British spy planes over the black sea.
Both country’s planes regularly confront each other, in particular the Russian Sukhoi- SU-27 planes which fly alongside the RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint eavesdropping on them.
RAF sources claim that despite the provocative behaviour Russian jets behave less aggressively towards them than with their American counterparts.
Colonel Bob Stewart blasted the decision as a sign of weakness
The source said: “Our American colleagues have been buzzed pretty badly on missions over the Baltics, but the Russians are on their best behaviour when we are around.”
Britain is in the midst of preparations to send 800 troops to Estonia, as part of a Nato force to bolster protection around the eastern members.
The GMLRs were due to accompany this ground force as part of “artillery support”, according to the now removed press release.
They would have been the first overseas deployment of the rockets, which have a 45 miles range, since Afghanistan.
Nato chiefs have growing concerns that Russia could launch a strike to take back Estonia, the most northern Baltic state, sending in an invading force before Nato was able to muster a response.