Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Analysis paper on Scottish Independence and Defence


The MOD has published its assessment of the implications for Scotland were it to become an independent country and create its own armed forces. This 88 page paper is a fascinating read, as it exposes the real challenges faced in creating a military from scratch.https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-scotland-analysis-paper-on-defence
Humphrey has written before about the difficulties facing a newly independent Scottish Defence Force, and many of the concerns raised then have been echoed in this paper (http://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/bagpipes-bayonets-bluster-and-bugger.html). The paper nicely highlights the reality that you cannot slice up defence assets and turn them into a coherent military force – ORBATs may look impressive, but dividing them into something more meaningful is particularly difficult.
Additionally the paper highlights the issue of how one takes a world class military, optimised for power projection abroad, and then carves off a smaller chunk of it to focus on missions for which it was not designed. For instance, the idea that Scotland would keep running a modern air force built around Typhoon seems interesting, but where does the pilot training pipeline come from, how is this affordable and what happens when the Eurofighter nations move to upgrade their aircraft? Is it truly feasible to imagine a relatively small Scottish Defence Force being able to shoulder the burden of paying the costs of sustaining an increasingly obsolescent Typhoon fleet, which is no longer at the same standard as its multi-national peers?
The problem facing a newly independent Scotland seems to be that the UK military assets are simply not appropriate for what will be a low level defence force in a relatively small country. Stripped of the recruiting, support and logistical contracts and pipeline that have sustained the equipment, one can imagine a future Scottish Defence Force burdened down with legacy equipment which requires expensive training and support to run properly, and which is too expensive to meet what will be a very small budget.
One could almost argue that rather than take much UK military equipment, it would be more sensible for Scotland to instead take a large cash payment and procure a low level defence force (with UK forces providing sovereignty assurance in the interim) which better meets their specific needs. So, procurement of low level OPVs, simple vehicles and so on – in other words start from scratch with something that is feasible, and not take on equipment that is designed for a very different role.
The other key issue emerging from the paper is the reality that a newly independent Scotland will have no shipbuilding industry orders, and that it highlights the reality that what matters to military shipbuilding is not the yard, but the design capability. The UK ability to design complex warships is arguably far more important than the ability to build them in home territory. The Scottish situation would be one of having good yards, but no design capability, and competing in a fiercely competitive market against yards able to offer much cheaper hulls. One cannot see the Scottish yards surviving for long without a design capability to back them up – but this would not come without yards to build the designs. The chapter on the industrial and manufacturing implications is well worth reading to realise just how interdependent the defence industry is now.

So, the paper is well worth a read, and it will be extremely interesting to read the Scottish Governments own paper when it is published (which Humphrey will also link to as well). 

26 comments:

  1. The main sticking part is the "no to Trident/nuclear weapons" part in the Scottish plan. Sure that's enticing for the Scots. But overall, this time the MOD/government wins. It is hard to envision how practical Scottish Defence Force can be if there is an overwhelming Yes vote.

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  2. I suppose it all boils down to how you define "independence."

    Whatever happens there will be a deal done behind closed doors.

    Somehow I doubt that the security/military have much to worry about.

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    1. Definitely tit won't be independent in terms of financial and economic policy.

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  3. You could write as book............. but why not consider the "Danish Model" for starters. Scotland has no need to consider an expeditionary doctrine, which automatically drastically cuts the necessary kit and personnel required. Coastal, Fisheries and Civil Defence, plus specialist support to the "Alllies" if the Scottish Parliament deems it necessary.

    Denmark (and Holland, Norway etc) have manged just fine thank you very much by procuring "Military Off The Shelf" kit from bigger neighbours; but having an indigenous capability for requirements unique to their needs. In the case of Denmark, they bought Merlin helicopters, then took us to the cleaners by flogging them back to the RAF when MoD proved incapable of buying ours in the same timescale. And their procurement staff made utter fools of ours in negotiations. The Dutch are past masters at this.

    The trouble with London is that at the moment it thinks too BIG, and that is then used as the benchmark when they consider Scotland. Scale that thinking down to realistic levels, then consider Scotland for what it is - a tenth of the population and completely disinterested in many London-centric policies.

    And then move a land-based nuclear deterrent to Cameron's backyard, in deepest pampered Oxfordshire, and see how they feel!

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    1. Actually they are in Cameron's back yard. You may have failed to notice that the biggest collection of nuclear weapons in the UK will be found at AWE Aldermaston and ROF Burghfield, both in Berkshire and not far from Cameron's constituency. The whinging Scots seem to feel they are uniquely hard done by when it comes to nuclear weapons, but in fact they are not. I also seem to remember that the Royal Navy wanted to base Polaris at Falmouth back in 1963 and it was strong lobbying by the Scots who wanted the jobs that led to a change to Faslane. In the event of independence I look forward to the relocation costs of Trident and expense of building a new naval base to be offset against the £9bn of military equipment that Mr Salmond thinks he is going to inherit.

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    2. I was in the periphery of the Danish merlin deal. The issue wasnt buying helos in the timescale, it was that they take too long to build from scratch. There was a unique opportunity to get 6 airframes in a hurry, as opposed to waiting for several years for them to arrive. As with all UOR purchases (for this is in essence what they were), compromises were made, but if you look on it as a short term solution then it was quite a good result.
      Its also worth noting that the phrase 'off the shelf' is often misused - OTS only applies when you buy kit with zero modifications - the moment changes are made, it becomes bespoke and more complex!
      The issue for Scotland as I see it is as much that the force structure it could inherit is simply not designed to work at the lower level of home defence. Any future Scottish force would find itself with some very expensive equipment, not ideally suited to its needs, but which it would be unlikely to be able to sell on to other nations. The end result an SDF broken before it was founded. Far better to take a cheque and buy something which fits the aspirations of the nation from the outset.

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    3. I seem to recall from a book I read about Scotland and nuclear weapons that Faslane was always considered the best option when the RN was looking at where to base the R boats. Devonport was the second choice but there were issues with safety considerations. I don't ever recall there being any lobbying by Scots.

      To be honest while discussion of a possible SDF is very interesting I think it's somewhat academic. Every poll (apart from one commissioned by the SNP) has suggested that those of us North of the Border don't have any interest in independence/separation. However to take the discussion onwards far from the SSKs that Salmond seemed last year to be suggesting that that the naval part of the SDF would need IMVHO all we would need would be fishery protection vessels and patrol vessels like the Irish Naval Service.
      Indeed the fisheries side is already covered by Marine Compliance Scotland (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/marine/Compliance/resources/Vessels). Stick a small cannon and a few MGs on them and they become armed patrol craft. All Scotland would need other than the three Marine Protection Vessels would be one, or two purpose built patrol vessels.

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    4. From what I recall of the original discussions on SSBN basing, and from what is in the public domain, the discussions revolved around Falmouth, Pembroke Dock and the Clyde.

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    5. Labour Scots MPs were very keen in 1963-1964 that Scotland should get the jobs and the contracts to build a complex for the SSBN. Tory MPs (of which there were quite a few north of the border at that time) also wanted the work. I can remember (being that sort of age) that the arguments used were that the Clydeside shipbuilding industry could provide support for repairs, etc and that with the rundown in Rosyth and closure of the Scapa anchorage in 1957 Scotland 'deserved' Polaris. The fact that the USN was deploying to Holy Loch was another factor.

      Many in the RN preferred Falmouth because of the easy access to the Western Approaches and Atlantic deep water, as well as the Shackleton MR airbase at St Mawgan and Devonport complex for support, but the decision was made as a result of much political pressure to go for Scotland.

      I would imagine that even if the No vote wins in September 2015 the MOD will now rightly be reluctant to invest any additional infrastructure funds in Scotland. We may therefore see a gradual relocation of key facilities such as Beith and Glen Douglas south of the border. If a future government were to cancel the Trident successor and announce that Faslane were to close you can bet the sound of Scottish bleating would be heard as far south as London as they complained about the job losses and economic impact.

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    6. Oops, I meant September 2014, not 2015. All the the years seem the same as I get older.

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    7. A no vote, unless it's very close, will settle the issue for at least a generation, if not for the forseeable future. So I'd doubt that it would be an issue for the MOD past 2014.

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    8. Sorry, I think you are quite wrong in the implications of what you write here. First of all a generation is only 20-25 years, which is very short term in the context of defence planning. MOD will not wish to invest heavily unless they can see 50-60 years return.

      Secondly, if you listen to the SNP and its partisans it is quite clear that their aim in the event of failure is to have another go at an independence referendum within 10-20 years. A 2014 failure will not be seen as a long term settlement and while the Scottish parliament exists as a focal point for discontent the campaign will continue. There are plenty of historical parallels.

      Their belief (probably correct) is that the UK will come out of recession slowly and that the resulting changes in UK society will be considered widely undesirable outside the Westminster and City bubble. The SNP will play on the resulting social discontent with those bast*rds in London. It is possible that we might be looking at another referendum in the 2020s, perhaps even before the SSBN successor enters service. Their strategy is essentially Maoist - treat defeats as tactical setbacks and concentrate on the strategic victory. Do not expect Mr Salmond to resign after the probable 2014 defeat; he will keep on campaigning as long as he can. As the new SSBNs undergo construction from around 2020 there could well be a major orchestrated campaign against them in Scotland with the theme of 'Independence now to stop the new Trident'.

      It is optimistic to think that next year will solve the problem of Scottish independence. Only major constitutional change or destruction of the SNP's credibility will accomplish this.

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  4. Not sure what you mean Anon. UK will never re-pursue a land-based deterrent. If Scotland somehow becomes Independent, the SSBNs and the Astute SSNs planned to be based in Scotland will have to shift to the remaining RN bases. Conversely, Scottish sailors serving in the 4 Trident subs may also face a dilemma--will their "new" government order them not to serve in the nuclear weapons-capable RN?

    On the conventional front, an independent Scotland would be a security challenge or disaster for both the rest of the UK and Scotland. Russia might exploit the situation by flying more Bear and Backfires, since it is doubtful how many Typhoons Scotland can buy/keep.

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  5. It is a moot point as to why there is, today, so much shipbuilding capacity in Scotland. The SNP likes to argue that this is because of the skills base but I think it is more likely for other, historic, reasons to do with maintaining the Scottish vote in key Westminster constituencies. If this need goes, then so go the shipyards; the rest of the UK still has capacity in Portsmouth and Barrow for surface ships and, potentially, Appledore.

    I could imagine that the North East, too, would welcome back shipbuilding; anything has to be better than a local economy propped up by the public sector. The issue of intertwined economies is a consequence of being part of the same country, the UK, and the issue of untangling them is significant but necessary if the SNP wins its case and takes Scotland away from the UK. The UK should have no political imperative to look after Scotland if the SNP (not the other parties) seeks to remove Scotland from the Union.

    Which leaves the thorny issue of Trident. But, come what may, this issue must be resolved sensibly, not least because no Scottish referendum will comprise all the people - only those who are willing enough to vote.

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    1. I don't doubt that Tyneside or Merseyside could be persuaded to welcome back shipbuilding and a new Naval Base...and another Northern City could get the Border Fence Contract (essential, because Scotland will almost certainly have to sign up for Schengen to get into the EU...and will probably end up with the illegals currently camped out in and around Calais...

      aka GNB

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  6. ipe...

    That bit was clearly tongue in cheek, given it was a swipe at the land-locked Oxfordshire NIMBYs like Cameron!

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    1. oh...heh. Or an independent Scotland would force the UK to think about the reduction in SSBNs.

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  7. I strongly suspect that the real SNP "Policy" on defence is to talk up an undeliverable solution - and then if they win the Referendum blame English "intransigence" for it's not being delivered - and then provide themselves with a few more armed Police Officers and a low-tech Maritime Patrol Agency (to cover the Oilfields and Fisheries). and give up any idea of an SDF.

    They will do so confident in the knowledge that they can free-load on UK defence in perpetuity because nobody can get at them without going through us, and we can only cover our own needs by also covering theirs...

    On Faslane, they will let us keep it if we bribe them enough and make use of it the keep on stoking up anti-English feeling whenever convenient...

    Much the same probably applies to monetary "policy"...in fact the only immutable POLICY is Salmond becoming a real PM of a real Country, and his Cabinet Ministers likewise...

    aka GNB

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  8. If scotland were to gain independence, as well as portsmouth and barrow. Would there still be capability at harland and wolf in belfast? Although, difficult politically as its a non bae asset

    Sellers

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  9. I think the MOD has already planned this well: If you look at Army 2020 for example, no Challenger 2 units are Scottish, and 1 SCOTS haha is posted to the Irish Brigade. Should there be independence, the SDF can't draw upon much.

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    1. I doubt any SDF would need Chally 2s, or any sort of MBT. CVR(T) type vehicles would be more suitable.
      I do have my doubts that a lot of soldiers currently in the SCOTS DG, SCOTS, Highland Gunners etc would want to transfer to an SDF which would be unlikely to deploy anywhere.

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  10. Lord Boyce seems to have rather put the cat among the pigeons with his quote about the Royal Navy - which makes the Scottish problem irrelevant.

    "Britain would be better prepared to confront the Spanish over Gibraltar if the Government had not reduced the Royal Navy's power to anorexic levels"

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    1. Nonsense read Sir H's earlier post. This is not the 1920s of gunboat diplomacy. Did you notice the RFTG docked in a Spanish Naval base?

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    2. I wasn't a Navy man, but I assume that when someone makes a statement in the House of Lords they are speaking the truth, especially when they were a high ranking Navy man, or was he being economical with the truth?

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    3. truth? they had their chance to work with defence policies and budgets. Now they can criticise as they want but they are not hitting the right heads. If you want gunboat diplomacy, go back to the 1920s.

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  11. It's quite cute the way the QE will be floated out of Rosyth a few weeks before the referendum, a nice way to make people in Edinburgh think about the future of Scottish shipbuilding...

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