Is Scotland asking for the right fighter?

Our recent and admittedly parochial look at the Scottish National Party’s vision of what an independent Scottish air force might look like (I’m not sure that we’d do the same if Quebec launched a breakaway campaign) drew some interesting reader feedback in the latest issue of Flight International.

“Extreme political bias”, and “vitriolic and rather insulting editorial” aren’t phrases that we see that often in our mail, so this is clearly an emotive topic for some. Those refer to our comment article ‘Braveheart defence plan will never fly’, rather than my more neutral news report, mind you.

Describing the SNP’s military ambitions as “Little more than Ruritarian fantasy” was not my choice of words, but I strongly agree that they are “ambitious, to say the least”.

Our unhappy correspondent notes that Denmark and Norway have similar population sizes to Scotland, and yet are able to be NATO members and fly Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters and C-130(J) transports – and in the latter case P-3 maritime patrol aircraft too. I’m pretty certain that they both spend more than £2.5 billion ($4 billion) on defence per year, though.


In outlining their ambition to eventually operate 16 Eurofighter Typhoons (BAE Systems image, above), Scotland’s defence planners are taking the logical course of seeing what an independent government could request, from its share of previous equipment spending. What they haven’t considered in the process is that the type is massively over-specification for the national quick reaction alert duty they need it to perform – and just ask Austria how much its 15 Eurofighters cost to operate. But if that’s not an issue, then I’m sure the Royal Air Force will be able to spare some Tranche 1 jets if the time comes.

F-5s blog

Perhaps a single-engined type like the Saab Gripen would be a better fit for an independent Scottish air force, both in capability and cost terms? It seems to be doing the task just fine for small NATO nations the Czech Republic and Hungary, after all. On name grounds, of course, Alex Salmond’s government might also possibly be able to see the appeal of the Northrop F-5 “Freedom Fighter” (US Navy file image, above).


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6 Responses to Is Scotland asking for the right fighter?

  1. S O 12 December, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Gripen and Golden Eagles are obvious choices, but there’s no need to hurry.

    NATO is running the air policing for the Baltic countries with flights from members, and Scotland could get its air policing done similarly for a couple years. They would likely be member of either NATO or EU, after all. And even if not, Russia would be unusually dumb if it violated Scottish airspace needlessly and thus provoked them joining an alliance or setting up an air force.
    So there’s no real need for national air policing actually.

    Air policing is only semi-serious anyway. Time usually works against the air policing; you can maintain 15 minute alert flights in peacetime, but only a handful and 15 minutes is very much, especially if you add up to ten minutes delay until the air space controllers call for air policing.

    Also, let’s remember the air policing failures of 9/11 and the early overflight by KAL 007.

  2. ThomasL 12 December, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    The Gripen is a cool little plane, particularly the NG. It is pretty much ideal for circumstances like this.

    Not really sure what Scotland is smoking, but it must be strong.

  3. RSF 14 December, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    While I’m a fann of the Euroighter honestly it has a very rich price for a smal nation air force.

    As mentioned the Gripen would an excellent choice from an O&S perspective, and still a very capable A2A/A2G platform.

    However Scotland now has another option in the Textron Scorpion which could very likely fill most of the needs of a small air force with extremly affordable prices per aircraft and $3000 and hour flights costs.

  4. Richard S 18 December, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Why go for such high end fighters? All they need is an interceptor with supersonic dash capability, there’s no need for a gen 4.5/5 dog-fighting capability. What’s wrong with the IAI Kfir C.10? It’s readily available and relatively cheap, both to purchase and operate.

  5. El Sid 18 December, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    People are missing two things – the choice is between “free” Typhoons that can use existing facilities, versus spending multi-£m’s on new aircraft and a whole new logistics chain. The Typhoon option becomes a lot more attractive in the circumstances.

    Also how much of the Kfir/Gripen/Scorpion is built in Scotland? Salmond will be very aware that Selex is due to make some major investment decisions soon about the production of the Tiffy’s AESA radar – and Edinburgh is home to one of their main sites. It will be hard for Selex to stay in Scotland if Salmond abandons Typhoon.

    Something like the Kfir is all wrong for QRA over the Norwegian Sea, what you want is something along the lines of the Tornado F3 – lots of range and a large missile load. Some second-hand F-15C’s would probably be the closest match to the requirement. They’re not going to be expeditionary so they don’t really need A2G capability, although a maritime radar mode and some Spear3/Harpoon/Exocet/LRASM would be a nice option.

    The trouble is that the GIUK gap is just too important to NATO for its sea and air policing to be left to a second-rank military. Given Salmond’s budget plans, NATO will have to take over one or other domain. I suspect the Scots would take the emotional decision to have a good navy and let others do QRA for them, but personally I would rather save Selex than Govan.

  6. Peter Cairns 3 January, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    The Golden Eagle is probably the best operational choice. It is affordable at under £30m, less than half the cost of the Typhoon, although less capable that new build F-16′s the level of air real threat Scotland faces doesn’t require that capability, let alone the Typhoon or F-35.

    The argument for the Typhoon mirrors the Scottish Governments desire to make the transition as smooth as possible with business as usual for service personnel and communities in Scotland.

    It isn’t so much that the Typhoons are free as Scotland will be entitled to it’s share of assets and as it isn’t interested in Trident, Hunter Killers or Aircraft Carriers it will actually struggle to find enough assets it wants to match it’s asset share.

    Oddly about the only really high value asset that would have been attractive given Scotland’s needs were Nimrods and they would be scrapped.

    Another advantage of the Golden Eagle in operational terms is that it’s lower cost lets it be purchased in large enough numbers to make sending a contingent abroad as part of a multinational deployment.

    Less well suited operationally that the Golden Eagle would be a Hawk derivative with a Selex radar based on the AJT of the RAF. The attraction of this is continuity with the UK in terms of defence jobs and support.

    I suspect that BAe, Rolls Royce and Selex would be a lot happier with new orders.

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