Scotland’s sovereign people do not want Trident nor are they too keen about Afghanistan so in an independent Scotland just what would our defence force look like?
The prime question is what will an Independent Scotland need to be defended against?
To take the view – nothing – is naive. Scotland has a lot of resources that others would wish to hold as their own and would be easily economically disadvantaged by small scale attacks let alone overwhelming force.
To trigger development of this debate I am going to outline what I see as the primary threats to Scotland’s sovereignty, economy and indicate the sort of defence requirement I suggest we need -ignoring any international commitments such as NATO or the UN. The obvious course of action is to look north to Norway and Iceland and look at where their priorities lie and the answer is – their maritime interest.
Many of Scotland’s current and future economic resources are or have a major maritime element – oil and gas, fisheries, renewable power or HDVC power lines.
So how will an independent Scotland ensure the security of these resources and what could the Scottish Defence Force look like?
I would base a Scottish Defence Force on the Canadian Defence Force’s ‘all arms’ structure with a common uniform, common insignia, common central command, common logistics combined with the ability for the serving personnel, with the compatible skills, to mix across the three elements of maritime, air and land - if they wish.
The Maritime section would, in my opinion, need to be the largest element because policing of our Scottish Seas requires the presence of ships in the water. Ships are high cost defence units, if you go for deep ocean capability, but I would argue for Scotland’s needs the ships do not have to have deep ocean capability. I would foresee a maritime section made up mainly of ships like the current Jura ‘fishery / oil rig protection’ class with a hanger and helicopter capability but hopefully of a more stable design. They could be kitted out with a close air defence system, such as Phalanx or its successors, which can also be used in a surface role and carry a section of ‘marines’ for boarding fishing vessels or other surface craft. These vessels could also be fitted for but not necessarily with long range anti ship or air missiles. Its ‘long range’ offensive capability would essentially be delivered by its helicopter, using state of the art air to surface weapons or anti-submarine torpedoes. Using modern integrated command systems these Jura’s, plus their helicopters and the PC3 Orions, could be combined to be a quite potent force - if that was ever necessary – even with out being fitted with anti ship missiles. More importantly they would be very effective in doing what we need them for - oil field, coastguard and fishery protection duties. The number of ships (20) is to enable seven ships to be at sea all the time with another seven on their way to or from patrol areas and assumes six in port for routine or extended maintenance. In peacetime they could be run with a crew of sixteen officers and sailors plus a section of marines. It might make sense two split these ships into two squadrons one based in Aberdeen, Dundee or Rosyth and the other at Stornoway, Machrihanish or the Clyde. The decision then is essentially do you use two traditional Naval base ports or do you invest in new port facilities that reduce the time taken to reach patrol areas. For maintenance considerations Rosyth makes a lot of sense as there is a core workforce used to working on naval craft.
The Air section would clearly need a helicopter wing in support of the maritime section which would be best served by multirole helicopters like the Merlin which can also be used in a rescue role in support of the Coast Guard, anti submarine role and troop transport. To help patrol Scotland’s seas a small number of long range multi role patrol craft would be required similar to Norway’s PC3 Orion squadron.
The question of whether Scotland actually needs a fixed wing strike and interceptor aircraft is debateable (it is dependent on whether you see Russia re-emerging as a threat or not) but if it was decided that we need this capability to ensure a balanced force capability I would suggest the maritime version of the Lockheed JSF F35. The basic maritime variant of the F35 is superior in every way to the Typhoon, far more flexible, better stealth characteristics, cheaper to purchase and run, easily updateable plus, if it was ever deployed in conjunction with NATO, it would be compatible with the Royal Navy’s new carrier class as well as US and French Carriers. We would need around 40 of these aircraft to enable to keep 30 in the air. If we inherit any Tornadoes they could be converted into ‘tankers’ for the F35’s. The question is do you then concentrate all the SDF aircraft on one airbase such as Lossiemouth or do you spread the deployment around: F35’s at Leuchars, PC3 Orions and Tornado tankers at Lossiemouth and helicopters at Prestwick that will be a political decision shaped as a force decision.
Then we turn to the thorny problem of land forces, why would an independent Scotland need them and how would they be structured?
If you follow my argument so far it is clear that at least one of the four historic cadres that make up ‘The Royal Regiment of Scotland’ would need to be full time to support our needs for oil rig protection and support of the ‘Jura Class’ offshore protection vessels. Clearly one of the famous names would need to convert to a Marine / Special Forces Regiment but what of the other three?
Does Scotland really need all the bits and pieces of a standing army such as an armoured and artillery regiment, for example, as we only have one land border and the risk is negligible?
Again it would depend to what extent an Independent Scotland wished to be involved in panoply and paraphernalia of NATO or the proposed European Standing Army. But for logistical purposes I would see each of the SDF regiments as self contained multi role, armoured style brigades on the German model. I am not proposing that we invest in Leopards or Challenger Mk2 tanks but armoured vehicles that would support any deployment of the SDF in a peace keeping role so we are talking Armoured Personnel Vehicles with a varied light weapon fit from 0.5 calibre machine guns via ‘chain guns’ to surface to air / anti tank missile systems in keeping with the concept of the land force as a defence force. It makes sense that only one of these more traditional army regiments was full time. I would see the other two run as territorial or reserve regiments with a professional core of officers and senior NCOs.
What we get as a defence force will be a function of how much an Independent Scotland would wish to spend of its GDP on this force, balanced against our politically defined needs and commitments.
As to cost, overall defence costs are usually stated as percentage of GDP and I would see an SDF with around 10,000 regulars and between 7,000 and 10,000 territorial style reserves. These sorts of numbers relate more to Eire than Norway so the lowest cost to run the SDF would be in the region of £600+ million annual cost based on Eire’s defence spending in 2009-10. Given I am also including F35’s and just over twice the number of patrol ships a more realistic figure would be in the region of £1 billion based on current defence costs of which around 60% is in pay and pensions. To run a defence force of the size of Norway’s is in the region of £5 billion for 2010/11 which has been assessed at 4.8% of the Norwegian Government’s budget (not the countries GDP) so if we assume the current pocket money given to Scotland as the basis for the future independent Scottish Government budget, defence spending on the SDF will be in the region of 1% on the same basis.
Let the debate begin and the fingers start pointing, I confess I am a ‘fishhead’ who cross decked with the ‘booties’ given the institutional bias of which I am guilty let the debate continue.