One of the first things I read this morning was a facebook post from Vote NO to Scottish independence and protect the union (a pro-Union site, in case you were wondering) which outlined the fact that the UK are sending an RAF surveillance aircraft to Nigeria to help search for the 200 kidnapped schoolgirls and how an independent Scotland would be unable to undertake such work because its military would no longer be part of the ‘bigger whole’ of the UK’s armed forces.
What struck me is how this story contrasts significantly with one from a few weeks ago when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpuar on 8th March 2014 carrying 239 people on board and was never seen again. One of the key issues of this incident was the massive air-sea search & rescue operation that was put into effect immediately; 26 countries (including the UK) were involved in the search, contributing a total of nearly 60 ships and 50 aircraft. NONE of those SAR aircraft (or ships) were from the UK, though the small maritime nation of New Zealand (with a population less than that of Scotland) deployed several of its six P3 Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft to Perth, WA (some 3300 miles away). The reason the UK sent no MPAs to assist in the search is that since the scrapping of Nimrod in 2010 the much vaunted RAF has no MPAs at its disposal, despite the UK having the largest sea area of any EU country and Scotland being the gateway to the Atlantic. (Have a read what the Air Vice Marshall Andrew Roberts has to say about that in terms of NATO and defence of the realm.) I remember reading an article at the time pointing out that had MH370 been lost over the North Atlantic (even within waters considered ‘British’ i.e. east of Rockall), the UK would have had to rely on other countries such as Norway, Denmark, Canada and the USA to conduct the air search because we would be unable to take part to any meaningful degree.
So the story behind the humanitarian story of the UK going to the aid of 200 kidnapped African girls is that the UK does not have an RAF geared towards patrolling and controlling its own territory but rather one which is set up to allow the UK military to put its ‘boots on the ground’ on foreign shores. The Sentinel aircraft is, by all accounts, very good at its job but its job is to support troops on the ground in hostile territory, search for people, vehicles and buildings on the ground and coordinate artillery fire, ground troops and tactical strike aircraft on the ground. It is not designed to carry out patrols over the sea to look for ships, submarines or for humanitarian SAR missions. The RAF used to operate several aircraft capable of such work but they were controversially scrapped in 2010.
The White Paper on Scotland’s Future outlines the intention of an independent Scotland to equip itself with suitable MPAs. I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer to live in a country which concentrated on defending its own borders and had a significant ability to provide humanitarian aid near its shores rather than in one that wishes to maintain an aggressive force capable of invading foreign countries and cruises around brandishing its nuclear weapons. But maybe that is just me.