The Russians are coming!

I have just had the misfortune to stumble over this piece of garbage ‘Why Independence Could Put Scotland In Danger Of Russian Invasion’ by James Cook, a ‘European Technology Reporter’ apparently. I haven’t given anyone a doin’ recently, I’m bored and this appears ripe for it. More importantly, I have been intending writing a military flavoured article for some time. This’ll do nicely, thank you.

 If Scotland votes “Yes” on independence, it will begin a long process of creating its own naval defence force, a process that could leave its coastline at risk. The Royal United Services Institute, a British military think tank, said last week that Scottish independence would trigger a national debate over the U.K.’s nuclear weapons if the submarines carrying the Trident missile system were relocated to the south coast of Britain, away from the fleet’s current base in Scotland. The relocation could add £3.5 billion to the cost of maintaining the U.K.’s armed forces.

 This is three separate issue being conflated into one to ramp up the fear factor.

  • Scotland’s coastline ‘at risk’
  • rUK rethink on WMDs
  • Cost to rUK of relocating said WMDs

But there are larger concerns over the future of Scotland’s naval defenses. While Scottish independence would indeed spark a debate on Britain’s nuclear future, as well as kickstarting a costly process to relocate the submarine fleet, some experts caution that Scottish independence could leave it vulnerable to naval threats.

Again two issues, not one.

Put simply, the Russians sail their submarines into Scottish waters on a regular basis. Russian vessels approach Scottish waters about once or twice a year, close enough to require the Royal Navy to perform counter-manoeuvres.

Currently there is no such thing as ‘Scottish waters’, it is UK water as far as the damned Russkis are concerned.

The reason the Russians are interested in these waters is not the water itself, nor our beautiful rugged coastline or the activity of our gentle fisher-folk or the rufty-tufty oil workers either but because the UK Royal Navy and its NATO allies carry out military training exercises around the coast of Scotland, specifically in the Minches, and the UK’s strategic deterrent (Weapons of Mass Destruction to you and me) are based here. The UK military test weapons such as missiles and torpedoes and practice tactics and manoeuvres, all of which are of interest to ‘opposition’ forces, in this case the Russians. So, if the rUK Navy is no longer storing nukes here or playing NATO wargames in Scottish water in the near future, the Russians are not going to be interested in being here. More realistically, the rUK will continue to play wargames in Scottish waters, accompanied by Scottish naval vessels and those from other NATO forces, who will all have a vested interest in keeping the snooping Slavic submarines at bay.

And Russia has a recent history of military adventurism, in the Ukraine. Although there is absolutely no reason for Russia to invade Scotland, the departure of Trident from Northern waters could — in theory — let the Russians do whatever they like up there.

Yes, you are entirely correct to say “there is absolutely no reason for Russia to invade Scotland” because that is precisely the chance of it happening any time, and I don’t mean anytime soon in the near future, I mean anytime, ever. Perhaps you skipped geography lessons but can I just point out that Ukraine is right next door to Russia and Russia considers it to be in its backyard, so to speak. Scotland is not. Ukraine and Russia share a border so the Russians have no requirement to send submarines to the Ukraine. Never, in the history of submarines, has one country invaded another by submarine. Raided perhaps; invaded never.

Russia is one of four countries (by my reckoning) that have the military capability to invade Scotland. The others are the USA, China and…wait for it…rUK/England. That means, for the militarily uninitiated, that they have enough troops to do the job and, far more importantly, they (might) have the ships to carry out the task and the logistical backup to make it anything other than a complete military farce. I have to say that there is only one country on that list which I am even the tenny-tiniest bit concerned about in relation to Scotland being invaded. I’ll give you a clue: we share a land border.

And the only routes the Russians could possibly use to achieve this aim are (unless they march across western Europe to get to us) around the north of Norway from Murmansk, out of the Baltic (passing Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Germany) and all the way along the Mediterranean from the Black Sea (passing  Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, oh and the US Navy 6th Fleet put there precisely for this reason). Now think about this for a moment: The USA and NATO see Russia building a large invasion force at one of three ports and sailing for Atlantic. What do you think they are going to assume, ‘oh, they must be off to invade Scotland now that it is independent’ so they let them sail, un-hindered, un-challenged past several places where they could invade western Europe or start to threaten mainland USA itself. Really?

So “in theory”, Russia could send one of its submarines to the moon because anything is possible in an independent Scotland, isn’t it? I mean, gravity might be reversed or something. NOBODY KNOWS! Russia invading iScotland is actually less credible than the earlier threats about invasion from outer space. If that was possible.

The entire British nuclear fleet is based in Scotland

Now we get to the nub of the matter. Though that is actually factually wrong. The nuclear armed fleet is indeed based here as are the majority of nuclear powered vessels too. When I say ‘majority’ I mean five (maybe six) out of a total of nine (maybe ten), and only of one or more of said vessels is not undergoing refit in Portsmouth in which case the majority of the nuclear fleet are south of the Border. Mind you, if you factor in the decaying remains of nuclear powered submarines festering in Rosyth Dockyard we could indeed have the majority of nuclear powered vessels homed in Scotland.

Scotland is currently guarded by a fleet of British warships and submarines. Five British submarines are based at Faslane Naval Base on the River Clyde in Scotland. Along with Britain’s Trident fleet, Scotland is also protected by three armed patrol ships and seven armed mine-hunter ships. As the UK Defence Journal reports, five more submarines are set to move to the Scottish base within the next few years. The U.K. Trident Programme is the controversial system of four nuclear submarines that are capable of launching the Trident II D-5 nuclear missiles. Since the submarines began patrolling the U.K coastline in 1994, they’ve been based at HMNB Clyde, part of the Faslane Naval Base.

Scotland is guarded… (where is the roley-eye icon when you need it?)

Let’s do geography first: Faslane is not on the River Clyde. The River Clyde is where we build the surface warships. It is on the Gare Loch which, only by a topographical stretch, touches the River Clyde where they both merge into the upper reaches of the Firth of Clyde.

There are indeed five RN submarines based at Faslane, possibly six if the RN haven’t updated their website to reflect the latest Astute class becoming fully operational , four of which are the big missile boats which all the other vessels at Faslane are there to protect (that’s right folks, all the minesweepers etc. are there to protect the Trident submarines, not Scotland’s coastline). At any moment one of those V-boats is at sea ‘protecting’ the Scottish coastline from under the polar ice cap or somewhere equally remote (so not exactly “patrolling the UK coastline”) , another has just returned from such a patrol and her crew are away home on leave, one is preparing to get ready to sail (and quite possible could at fairly short notice, ie. a week or two) and the other is being pulled apart and being put back together again at Faslane or possibly in Portsmouth (so we can forget that one for the moment, can’t we?).

The fifth (and possibly sixth) submarine is the Astute class ‘attack’ submarine which is exactly the sort of craft used to intercept Russian submarines. Hmmm, I wonder where it is? Perhaps sitting off the coast of Murmansk spying in Russian submarines doing what the Russians are doing to us? Perhaps under the polar ice caps hunting their missile boats? Perhaps sitting in the Greenland-Iceland-Scotland (more properly GIUK) gap trying to find those pesky Russian submarines? Or it might well be exercising in Scottish waters dodging Russian spy submarines.But there is only one and we have a long coastline to guard.

But of course I would be remiss to mention the four Trafalgar class submarines (based in England) that, while ageing, are still operational doing an identical role to that of the Astute boats.

So there we go, the UK’s quota of submarines that are actually capable of patrolling our waters is six (maybe seven). If Scotland has 8.4% of the allocation we don’t even get a single boat to call our own.

The other ‘warships’ referred to are minesweepers and patrol craft. The term ‘warship’ is a little bit generous because they really are more like ‘war boats’ (which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?). I think they might have a couple of light cannons and machine guns on board each of them, just the sort of thing needed to fight off CND protesters but not exactly enough to stop an invasion of any kind. That is no disrespect aimed at the crews of these vessels. From a UK military perspective they perform vital tasks that are not without considerable risks and are a completely necessary component of a modern naval fleet. In fact, the iScotland navy will have many such craft in its fleet. Minesweepers do actually have some anti-submarine warfare capabilities this is limited to near coastal areas such as the Firth of Clyde and they are most certainly not submarine hunters of the type needed to protect our entire coastline. For that you need major surface ships which can move at high speed and carry helicopters. Frigates and destroyers in other words, and there are none of those stationed in Scotland.

‘Warship’ signifies something big and dangerous with lots of guns and missiles, not something that makes the Waverley paddle steamer look like a big ship. Submarines are warships, though a very specialist kind that cannot perform the sorts of tasks a surface warship like a frigate or destroyer can. Those, in modern terms, are the types of ships people think of when they read the term ‘warship’ and the only ones of those in Scotland are under construction at the Clyde shipyards or at Rosyth. Truth be told, at any given moment there may be more Danish, Norwegian, German or other NATO warships paying a courtesy visit to Scotland than there are Royal Navy major surface vessels in Scottish waters.

We are just so well protected, I feel warm and fuzzy inside.

But despite the fleet of nuclear submarines and surface vessels currently stationed around Scotland, defence experts say Scotland’s naval defences are actually rather weak. Dr John MacDonald, director of the Scottish Global Forum, says that Scotland’s navy is already suffering from a “profound and fundamental” weakness. As Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond claimed in a 2013 speech, “the navy does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland.” Another weakness of Scotland’s current navy is the lack of maritime patrol planes. In 2011, the British government decommissioned the last of its Nimrod fleet. For over 40 years, Hawker Siddeley Nimrod planes provided maritime reconnaissance as part of Operation Tapestry, the patrol of the U.K.’s coastland. After the decommissioning of the last active Nimrod in 2011, Scotland’s coast was left with no maritime patrol planes, and the planned upgrades to the fleet have been repeatedly delayed.

Isn’t this is the truth. Glad we found some in here somewhere.

On page 233 Chapter 6 of the white paper, Scotland’s Future, the current Scottish Government outline the basic framework of that they intend a Scottish Military to be, specifically plugging the very holes that are identified above. The clear message, and independent Scotland will have a more effective self defence capability than the one currently afforded by the UK military structure.

If Scotland goes independent, Trident will leave

Yay! Next…

If Scotland votes for independence, a process will begin that will see the country gradually transition to hosting its own naval force. The current plan is to build a force of 2,400 regular personnel working across two squadrons. An independent Scotland would almost certainly force the British government to remove Trident from the Faslane base, leaving the country without any nuclear-powered submarines. Removing the Trident force from Scotland is certainly possible, although it will be costly.

Owning nuclear submarines = good; not owning nuclear submarines = bad. Obviously.

But this is not necessarily true. There are currently five (maybe six) nuclear powered submarines that the Royal Navy have that Scotland could claim a proportion of while still removing Trident missiles from our waters. The issue is not nuclear powered submarines, it is nuclear armed ones that have the Scots displeased. Tell you what rUK, we get to keep the two newest T-boats and you can have the old bombers and the new A-boats (with all their teething problems) back. Fair swap?

A study published by the Royal United Services Institute estimates the price of the move to be between £2.5 billion and £3.5 billion. That’s cheaper than some predictions had previously estimated, with one figure of £20 billion now seeming unreasonably high.

The UK is proposing spending £100 billion on replacing these vessels and weapons systems. Why not save some money and simply move the existing ones? Better still, why not get rid of the lot?

Two countries are being heralded as the blueprint for Scotland’s naval ambitions: Denmark and Norway. Scottish Global Forum director Dr MacDonald stated that the Royal Danish Navy is “providing the inspiration” for Scotland’s defence ambitions. Presently, the Royal Danish Navy has over 80 vessels, with the Royal Norwegian Navy comprising of a similar number of ships.

So wait a second, a country with a population of six million has 80 vessels while the British Royal Navy has 95 (including 13 non-armed supply ships crewed by civilian non-Naval personnel ) from a population of 63 million? And Denmark shares water with Sweden, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands, all of whom maintain their own considerable navies and are members of NATO and have reciprocal defence agreements? This while the UK only shares coastal water with Ireland and France and has a huge sea area to patrol compared to our European neighbours (with the exception of Norway)? Sounds like we are chronically ‘under-protected’ and virtually unguarded at the moment within this great Union of ours. Help! The Russians are coming…

Oh and mentioning Ireland, they currently have seven operational naval vessels (the oldest one nearly as old as me), one brand new one and two more on the way. None of these should really be considered ‘major surface vessels’ though they all have a greater claim to the title ‘warship’ than any of the RN surface ships stations in Scotland. And no submarines at all, nuclear powered or otherwise. I believe they are still awaiting, with bated breath, their Russian invasion.

While it’s established that Scotland is already lacking in naval defence forces, should we be worried about leaving Scotland without its full complement of submarines to patrol the icy waters around the River Clyde?

See above for what that ‘full quota’ actually entails.

Nice use of the word ‘icy’, keeps the spirit of doom and gloom alive.

Many British government figures have expressed doubts over the plans laid out by Scotland’s government for the formation of a new naval defence force. A paper published by defence secretary Philip Hammond in 2013 claimed that Scotland will face an “immediate and pressing challenge” to establish its armed forces due to the small size of the £2.5 billion annual defence budget. As Scotland rushes to procure naval vessels, a newly independent Scotland could find itself facing a threat from overseas.

That is presuming that Scotland starts with zero military assets on day one of independence.

But we can lay claim 8.4% of all UK military infrastructure – we’ve already paid for it, it is ours just as much as the rUK’s – so let’s say that this means Scotland starts with two major surface warships (frigates or destroyers) and half a dozen patrol craft and minesweepers which were then based in Scottish waters we would have considerably increased our immediate defensive capabilities. But wait, the Russians are coming!

The £2.5 billion is smaller than the UK’s £35 billion but the £2.5 billion actually represents around £1 billion more to be spent in Scotland on defence than is currently the case. And that is still a total saving on the £3.5 billion we currently send Westminster’s way to fund our share of the defence budget.

And let’s be real here; the £2.5 billion figure is the average projected figure over the next decade or so. So what if we end up spending £4 billion a year for the first couple of years while we build our ships (in Scotland keeping Scottish people working and paying their Scottish taxes to Holyrood rather than Westminster) or buy more aircraft and then settle down to enjoy not having to pay for Trident’s replacement. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

The Russians are always testing Scottish defenses

So we are already independent and have our own defences? Cool! Cancel the referendum

Almost every year, there are incidents around the Scottish coast involving the Russian Navy:

In 2010, a submarine that forms part of Britain’s Trident fleet was tracked by a specially upgraded Russian submarine as the English vessel attempted to leave the Faslane naval base in Scotland.

 English vessel? ENGLISH vessel? I must tell my Scottish submariner pal that he is working for the English Navy on an English submarine…

Specially upgraded? Those pesky Russians! How dare they upgrade and modernise their submarine fleet. We are the only nation allowed to do that.

It was also reported in 2010 that British submarines were reporting the highest levels of contact with their Russian counterparts since the peak of the Cold War in 1987.

So it is back to being a British submarine now?

Ok, so if iScotland has no submarines then surely the Russians are not going to be very interested in stalking our ‘no-submarines’ then, are they?

2011 saw a Russian aircraft carrier caught dumping waste off Scotland’s coast after being tailed by the Royal Navy destroyer HMS York. At the time, the Scottish National Party’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson accused the Russian navy of “fly tipping” and “bad manners.”

Oh I see, we need the union and Trident to protect against invading swarms of bad mannered Russian fly tippers. Glad that is cleared up.

Russian warships are continuing to encroach upon Scotland’s coast on a regular basis. The most recent incident occurred days before Christmas in 2013, when a Royal Navy vessel was dispatched from the south coast of England after a “Russian task group” sailed near to the Scottish coast while on a training exercise in the North Sea. The Ministry of Defence did not disclose whether the Russian vessels sailed close enough to the Scottish coast to have entered territorial waters.

 They didn’t. 12 miles is our territorial limit. If they had there would have been an almighty international incident and a Russian Captain would have been hung, drawn and quartered for risking a shooting war. The Russians were, if memory serves me right, about 20 miles off the coast. Just within TV range but probably not quite close enough to see the coast, let alone encroach on it. Those waters are neither ‘Scottish’ or British but International according to the Law of the Sea. The Russkis had every right to be there and we had every right to send a warship to shadow them. In fact, they should have been shadowed from the moment they sailed past Shetland. Imagine if we had a naval base in the Scapa Flow – that’s never been tried before – with an actual major surface vessel stationed there… (not that I think we actually need to, but you get my point?)

This incident is a perfect example of how ‘well’ Scotland is defended by the Royal Navy. That Russian ship was sitting off the Moray coast for 24 hours ‘enjoying’ BBC TV(without paying their licence fee!) and comparing it to the golden years of Soviet state controlled media/propaganda before one solitary RN ship was able to make it up the coast against bad weather. My greatest sympathy to the sailors who made that voyage. It must have been horrendous pounding into a northerly gale all the way from Dover to Inverness (this same northerly gale was part of the reason the Russian ship sailed into the Moray Firth for shelter in the first place). I know, I have done it plenty of times and we were under no pressure of time. Nobody was invading the oil rig my ship was taking supplies to (and they DO NOT fly tip off the rigs otherwise heads roll).

While the above incidents may not sound alarming, every one of them involved a Royal Navy ship. As Scotland scrambles to either purchase or build its own ships in the model of the Danish Navy, could there be a rise in the number of times Russia decides to test the U.K.’s coastal defences? Some may expect a rise in occurrences during the difficult change-over period, but it’s possible that Russia might even lose interest. It’s currently estimated that Scotland could be rid of the nuclear submarines by 2020. If Faslane is emptied of its stock of thermonuclear warheads and nuclear submarines, will there be anything left for the Russian Navy to snoop around?

You are right, they don’t sound alarming. Why was the Russian ship there at all? Perhaps to test RN response times? If Scotland has no navy I think the Russians would have a fair idea what our response time would be. ‘Ah, could you please come back in five years once our ships are built? Cheers pal!’.

But best of all, if Faslane’s nukes are gone the Russians will not be interested in Scotland. Have I not been saying as much…

We don’t know for sure what Russia is actually doing in the seas around Scotland (if anything). If Scotland votes to become an independent country on Sept. 18, Britain will become the first country in the world to host its nuclear arsenal in an independent country, and Scotland faces a daunting six years of change in its armed forces.

 It is very debatable how long Scotland will continue to host these weapons. Of course we don’t become independent on the 18th September and the plan is for 18 months of negotiations so it could well be that the nukes are out before Scotland actually is independent. Either that or we impound the weapons on Day One and nobody gets to play with them again.

To sum up this story: Fear, fear, more fear, actually there is nothing to worry about other than ‘daunting’ six years (I feel far from daunted by the prospect and where that figure comes from I don’t know) of reshuffling the UK’s armed forces.


[I just thought I would add this footnote: I am a former merchant navy seafarer so I know a little bit about ships and I was a TA soldier so know a little bit about military matters through direct experience and training. Obviously, I’ve done a bit of reading over the years as well as squaddies weren’t taught much about nuclear submarines or global military geo-politics but my main source of knowledge for this article is that some 20 years ago my intended profession was to be a nuclear submariner. My best pal from school – who I have barely spoken to in years and haven’t seen since, I dunno, 2005? – is a nuclear submariner and I know enough about the unclassified details of his job to see through the complete hogwash that comprises much of this article. I might well have a few details wrong but I challenge anyone to pick significant holes in anything I have written (and you better bring sources if you want to try). So if I can rip this to shreds quite so easily how does a professional journalist get to publish it in the first place?]


About Hugh Wallace

Soldier, sailor, policeman, engineer, scientist, democrat, socialist, environmentalist, advocate of Scottish Independence
This entry was posted in defence, independence, military, propaganda, referendum, shipbuilding and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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