Let’s assume the super, soaraway, Scottish Sun on Sunday got it right

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By Sean Adams

It’s Monday, 20th October, 2014 and the people of Scotland have voted for Independence empowering the Scottish Government to enter into negotiations with Westminster regarding Scotland’s secession from the Union.

A substantial aspect of these negotiations will concern what share of our collective defence assets an independent Scotland will take control of.

There are those that believe an unarmed Scotland is a reasonable option – presenting a threat to no-one and thereby inviting attack from no-one. I see the logic in the argument but just don’t agree with it; for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we need to carry the majority of Scots with us on our journey and into the polling booths.  The majority will not vote for an undefended Scotland.

Secondly, the world is an uncertain place and Scotland should, as a minimum, be able to defend its own airspace, coasts and landmass.

Finally, we have enormous offshore energy assets – both those currently exploited and those yet to be – that certainly need protection.

So, what can we reasonably expect from the negotiations?

In The Air

In terms of fighter aircraft, the current workhorses of the RAF are the Panavia Tornado and the Eurofighter Typhoon – both aircraft built by consortia of European manufacturers.

The Tornado comes in two different versions.  The GR4 is primarily a Ground Attack Strike Aircraft and the upgraded GR4A can also undertake reconnaissance missions.  Although these are currently slated to be replaced by US made Lockheed Martin F-35s around 2020, the RAF still fly 136 of these aircraft.

In preparation for the changeover to the F-35, the UK has begun a programme of cannibalising spare parts from existing Tornadoes to ensure as many as possible remain operational until 2025 which is seen as a realistic ‘use-by’ date.

It is reasonable to expect an independent Scottish Defence Force to take responsibility for twelve Tornadoes – perhaps ten operational aircraft with the remaining two to be used for spare parts.

The Typhoon has greater longevity – indeed 74 of the UK’s total order of 160 have yet to be delivered.  It is also a more adaptable aircraft than the Tornado being suitable for not only ground attack missions but also for air defence and air-to-air combat roles which would be more appropriate to the likely defensive ‘posture’ of an independent Scotland.

Fourteen aircraft seems to be a fair allocation to Scotland – seven from those currently with the RAF, and a further seven to follow from those yet to be delivered. That would give an independent Scotland twenty-four operational fighters.

My personal view is that this would adequately serve Scottish needs; much less than Norway’s fifty-seven F-16 Fighting Falcons but small countries with large oil funds can afford such luxuries.  A new Scottish Government would have to look at fairly rapid replacement of any Tornado fleet it inherited – like the UK and a number of other countries, Norway have opted for the F-35, currently available at a fly-away cost of about £125 million each.  The Eurofighter Typhoon is similarly priced.

So any procurement decision would be based on operational evaluation.  The aircraft, by all accounts, are equally effective with their own particular strengths.  The deciding factor might be that Scotland would already have ground crews with a number of years of maintenance experience on the Typhoon.

The Scottish Democratic Alliance believes that an independent Scotland would eventually require thirty-two multi-role fast jets of this type.  This is not an unreasonable suggestion but would cost an extra £1 billion.  In either scenario, within ten years, the Scottish government would face a bill of between £1.25 and £2.25 billion to replace the ageing Tornado fleet.

Even more important than the fighters, in the view of many, are the UK’s seven Boeing Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft (AEWCs) which provide all-weather surveillance, command, control and communication functions.

This is one area where Scotland might negotiate for a greater than pro-rata share of UK assets.  It could convincingly be argued that these aircraft were largely purchased and deployed to monitor the northern and eastern approaches to Britain both in Cold War scenarios and in terms of North Sea asset and fishing fleet protection.  After Lord Fraser of Carmyllie’s helpful flagging up of English concerns about being forced to bomb Scottish airports in the event of a northern invasion of these islands, it could be in everyone’s interests if Scotland assumed responsibility of two Boeing Sentry AEWCs.

It would be negligent of an independent Scottish state to put the rest of the UK in the invidious position of having to bomb a friendly neighbour.  We should thank the noble Lord for pointing out this alarming scenario.  AEWCs, along with good intelligence, would be the tools of choice for ensuring future Westminster parliaments have no need to endure such distressing deliberations.

The SDA position is that we should eventually deploy three AEWCs. I concur with the sentiment, giving us – as it would – additional resources in monitoring the vitally strategic airspace and naval routes around our coasts; thereby making a considerable contribution to NATO should a future Scottish administration decide to retain membership of that organisation.  It may be ‘pushing our luck’ to try and force three AEWCs from the Whitehall mandarins, so to reach the SDA position might require further investment of around £200 million. Unless that could be achieved, again I would plump for the lower cost option.

Assuming we Scots, as an outward-looking people, see our future armed services contributing to humanitarian relief operations and to properly-considered peacekeeping missions, we will require transport aircraft.  It is always an option to charter civilian aircraft for troop movements, of course, but the extra baggage charges at Ryanair would soon mount up if we asked them to transport Armoured Personnel Carriers to a civil war in sub-Saharan Africa. Some military transports are, then, a necessity.

In July this year, the RAF will take delivery of the last of their eight Boeing C-17A Globemasters – an effective, well-tested large strategic military transport.  One of these should be allocated to Scotland.

The UK also currently has a total of thirty-one Lockheed Hercules tactical transports in various versions which are due to be replaced around 2015 with the Airbus Atlas.  The original order of twenty-five Atlas aircraft has been reduced to twenty-two and Scotland might hope to take delivery of two of these.  Presumably at least some of the cost of this procurement has yet to be settled and, rather than assume that cost, the Scottish Defence Force could take delivery of the most serviceable elements of the existing Hercules fleet.

At the moment, eight Lockheed TriStars and nine Vickers VC10s provide the UK with its refuelling fleet – also seeing service as alternative tactical transports.  These are currently being replaced by fourteen Airbus Voyagers under a leasing agreement.

The Scottish Democratic Alliance postulate that we could enter into an agreement with Westminster to contract these services from them. This may be a creative solution in an area where Scotland is likely to have a very limited requirement though I am unconvinced it is a requirement we will need at all.  Air refuelling is a capability that is normally only required when a nation attempts to project its air power at long-range.  It is difficult to envisage an independent Scotland wishing its military aircraft to operate away from our own shores.

Should an international crisis emerge that, for example, required Scottish air defence squadrons to fly extended patrols over the North Sea and North Atlantic, one can only assume it would be a crisis of such magnitude that more nations than Scotland were involved.  In that scenario, in-flight refuelling could be arranged on an ad-hoc basis and would have been explored with friendly nations (rUK, Scandinavian countries) during joint exercises.

In terms of Royal Air Force helicopter strength, Scotland would be entitled to five heavy-lift Boeing Chinooks and three medium-lift Westland Pumas.

The Agusta-Westland Merlins, due for imminent transfer to the Fleet Air Arm and our two inherited Westland Sea-Kings for search and rescue operations (which one would hope are significantly added to by a future Scottish Government in tandem with better coastguard provision than that currently offered by the UK authorities) are better examined in our review of a future SDF naval capability.

In addition, a training squadron utilising thirteen Hawker Siddeley Hawks, eight Short Tucanos and eight Grob Tutors in terms of fixed-wing aircraft; and three Eurocopter Squirrel and one Bell Griffin helicopters; would be commensurate with a pro-rata share of current RAF assets.

Finally, Scotland could negotiate for one of the eight fixed-wing aircraft and three helicopters currently held by No.32 Squadron of the RAF – commonly referred to as the Royal Squadron – which are used for VIP transport.  One of the six BAe 125s should suffice to shuttle Alex and his successors on foreign visits. To London, for example.

The matter of bases and their impact on local areas is always a difficult issue.  Personally, I would argue that RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss should both be retained and augmented by the reactivation of the base at RAF Machrahanish – an area which would benefit greatly from the increase in economic activity.

© Sean Adams 2012