By a Newsnet reporter
UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has defended the lack of Royal Navy ships stationed in Scotland and claimed that such a presence is unnecessary due to “good intelligence”.
The Tory MP was responding to questions after a second incursion into Scottish waters by a Russian vessel led to criticisms of the lack of maritime support in Scotland.
Questioned by the SNP’s Defence Spokesman Angus Robertson on the failure of the Royal Navy to provide adequate ‘fleet ready’ protection in Scottish waters, Mr Hammond said:
“We do not need a frigate stationed in Scottish waters; We need good intelligence about the intentions of vessels approaching the UK’s area of interest, and we have that good intelligence.”
However the UK Minister also admitted that UK authorities had been alerted to the imminent arrival of the Kuznetsov by postings on social media after the Russians posted their plans online.
Asked whether the UK had received advance notice of the recent deployment of Russian naval ships to the north of Scotland? The defence Minister replied that: “The carrier task group had openly declared its planned deployment on social media sites.”
He added: “Once it became apparent that the task group was indeed likely to enter the UK’s area of interest, HMS Defender, as the fleet ready escort ship, was ordered to sail from Portsmouth to meet and escort the group through the UK’s area of interest.”
The admission that social media had played a significant role in alerting UK intelligence to the arrival of the Kuznetsov, was welcomed by Mr Hammond’s party colleague Sir Gerald Howarth who said: “I am sure that all Members are immensely grateful for the part played by social media in providing the United Kingdom with intelligence in advance of the Kuznetsov’s arrival in the UK’s area of interest.”
Edited clip of exchanges – View full video here
The Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, strayed into waters near the Moray Firth just before Christmas. The Royal Navy was left red faced and vulnerable when its only option was to despatch a vessel from 600 miles away in Portsmouth to shadow the Russian ship, taking 24 hours to arrive.
It was the second such incident near Scottish waters in recent years. In December 2011, the 65,000 tonne Kuznetsov became the first vessel of its size to be deployed so close to UK water for 20 years. The SNP has been highly critical of the scrapping of the Nimrod fleet, which has left the UK without a dedicated maritime patrol aircraft.
In addition, in May 2007 two Russian aircraft were identified watching a Royal Navy exercise over the Western Isles and the UK was forced to scramble Tornado F3 jets to intercept and escort them. The incidents have raised serious concerns over the UK’s ability to adequately protect the region of the UK that houses its nuclear weapons.