The possibility of Scotland voting for independence has thrown up some intriguing topics for discussion recently. Key among these is the question of what would happen with any re-allocation of defence equipment currently located north of the border.
Royal Air Force bases at Leuchars and Lossiemouth play respective host to squadrons equipped with Eurofighter Typhoon fighters and Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, although the controversial cancellation of the service’s BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 brought an end to maritime patrol operations from Kinloss.
In all, 80 military fixed-wing aircraft and five helicopters (principally search and rescue-roled Westland Sea Kings) are based in Scotland, along with 11 of the Royal Navy’s surface ships and five submarines.
With the SNP committed to a staunchly anti-nuclear weapons policy, there would be little argument about the Trident missile-armed submarines heading back to the “auld enemy”, beyond the dire impact that this would have on local employment around Faslane.
But what about combat aircraft?
Clearly this isn’t the same position as the chaos caused during the collapse of the Soviet Union, when part of Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber fleet and large numbers of Mikoyan and Sukhoi fighters ended up in Ukrainian hands.
Scotland’s population level, which totals a little over 5 million people, is comparable to that of Slovakia, and roughly half that of the Czech Republic. Two decades on after those nations split, their air forces now have combat fleets of 12 MiG-29 and 12 Saab Gripen C fighters, respectively, with tasked with performing air policing duties.
Could an independent Scotland make do with a single unit of Typhoons? That’s what it has today after all, in the guise of Leuchars-based 6 Sqn, now delivering quick reaction alert cover for the northern UK. If so, perhaps a deal could be done to help the RAF transition to an all Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 fleet by Edinburgh accepting aircraft optimised for air defence applications only?
Losing many squadrons of combat aircraft and seeing the next-generation Lockheed Martin F-35C arrive at English bases only would represent a massive upheaval for the Scottish economy. But if independence is the way to go, would its liberated population really be willing to dig any deeper for an all-new “Tartan Army”?