UK’s “bad defence decisions” leave Scotland “exposed”

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has made a scathing submission to the Future Maritime Surveillance inquiry by the Commons Defence Select Committee which examines the UK Government’s approach to this vital aspect of defence.

In a detailed submission, SNP Westminster Leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP points out that MoD cuts leave the nations of the UK as the only maritime state in Europe not to have long range surveillance and search and rescue capabilities.

Mr Robertson points out that the decision to scrap Nimrod has left the UK without any marine patrol aircraft – creating massive military and search and rescue capability gaps.  This leaves the Irish Republic better provided with search and rescue capabilities than the UK.

The current combination of assets leaves a huge capability gap for the various nations of the UK. The ability to project power, conduct real time Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) and maritime Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) operations, screen for undersea threats and conduct long range Search and Rescue (SAR) have all been drastically cut or no longer exist in a credible form.

Capability gaps leave the UK unable to meet its treaty obligations in Search and Rescue.  The UK is now reliant on others to perform military tasks.

The shortcomings of Scotland’s defence within the UK were highlighted last year when ships of the Russian Baltic fleet moored in international waters just 30 miles offshore in the Moray Firth in December 2011.  The ships were thought to be en route to the Mediterranean, and had entered the Moray Firth to seek refuge from storms.  The Russian fleet, including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, was accused of tipping potentially dangerous waster into the waters off the Scottish coast, a short distance from the RAF base at Kinloss.

However as there are so few Royal Navy ships based in Scotland, the MoD was forced to send a frigate from Portsmouth in the south of England to shadow the Russian fleet.  Although there was no military threat from the Russian ships, the lack of UK defence provision in Scotland led to a delay of over 24 hours before British ships arrived in the area.

Apart from two small patrol vessels, the entire Royal Navy fleet in Scotland is based in the Firth of Clyde in connection with the Trident missiles and nuclear submarine system.

Mr Robertson says that the situation underlines the importance of defence co-operation with other nations – underlining the opportunities for an independent Scotland.

Commenting, Mr Robertson said:

“As a maritime nation it is unbelievable that the UK Government has left us with much diminished surveillance capabilities.  It is a decision that leaves huge military and civilian capability gaps and has the potential to put lives at risk.

“No example better illustrates the bad decisions that the MoD is making than the decision to scrap the Nimrod fleet.  After spending billions on their renewal, the destruction of these state-of-the-art aircraft was an act of gross vandalism and a scandalous waste of public money.

“Whether its national events like the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games to everyday missions such as maritime reconnaissance and rescues there is now a mammoth capability gap.

“Only recently, when the Russian aircraft carrier group moored just miles offshore from RAF Kinloss, we witnessed the unedifying and panicked response of the MoD as it dispatched a lone Frigate steaming North from the South East Coast.  It would not have been lost on the Russian Navy that there were no Nimrods to conduct basic and vital monitoring of the Russian carrier as it dumped rubbish into the Moray Firth.

“The UK is now the only country not to have such capabilities amongst our near neighbours and is now reliant on others to perform basic military tasks such as it had to in Libya.

“The principle of countries working together on military issues is good.  Indeed, this sort of cooperation is not unusual or new amongst many other countries.  France and Germany and the Scandinavian countries have a long history of working together successfully.

“Cooperation is not a substitute for capabilities however, and this agreement does not do is fill the capability gap which has been created by the decisions in the strategic defence review to scrap Nimrod, and which has left the UK without its vital maritime reconnaissance fleet.

“The UK is making really bad defence decisions for Scotland exposed.  We should make better defence decisions ourselves in Scotland – we only need to look to our northern European neighbours of comparable size all of whom maintain appropriate military capabilities including fast jets, ocean going vessels and highly trained personnel.”