Sir Humphrey has read the British Ministry of Defence paper on Scottish options in a post-independence scenario and has a few thoughts:
The paper nicely highlights the reality that you cannot slice up defence assets and turn them into a coherent military force – ORBATs may look impressive, but dividing them into something more meaningful is particularly difficult.
Additionally the paper highlights the issue of how one takes a world class military, optimised for power projection abroad, and then carves off a smaller chunk of it to focus on missions for which it was not designed. For instance, the idea that Scotland would keep running a modern air force built around Typhoon seems interesting, but where does the pilot training pipeline come from, how is this affordable and what happens when the Eurofighter nations move to upgrade their aircraft? Is it truly feasible to imagine a relatively small Scottish Defence Force being able to shoulder the burden of paying the costs of sustaining an increasingly obsolescent Typhoon fleet, which is no longer at the same standard as its multi-national peers?
The problem facing a newly independent Scotland seems to be that the UK military assets are simply not appropriate for what will be a low level defence force in a relatively small country. Stripped of the recruiting, support and logistical contracts and pipeline that have sustained the equipment, one can imagine a future Scottish Defence Force burdened down with legacy equipment which requires expensive training and support to run properly, and which is too expensive to meet what will be a very small budget.
One could almost argue that rather than take much UK military equipment, it would be more sensible for Scotland to instead take a large cash payment and procure a low level defence force (with UK forces providing sovereignty assurance in the interim) which better meets their specific needs. So, procurement of low level OPVs, simple vehicles and so on – in other words start from scratch with something that is feasible, and not take on equipment that is designed for a very different role.
Update: His look at the SNP’s proposed military structure from last year is also worth reading:
At the moment, the current policy seems to be that on separation, those army regiments deemed Scottish will become part of the SDF. Similarly, an equivalent amount of manpower, roughly 1/8th of all UK military assets and personnel will be offered to the Scottish Government. In broad-brush terms, this leads to an Army of about 10,000 troops, 5,000 air force and 4000 navy/marines (say 19,000 overall).
Here is where the fun really starts. Firstly, the armed forces do not neatly break into component parts which can be divided up. An infantry battalion may have 650 people on its strength, but there may be many more from supporting arms such as REME and so on who will be there to maintain and support weapons and equipment. Do the SNP want to take the supporting arms too?
Secondly — how will they attribute manpower against specialisations — the RN for instance has a deeply specialised manpower structure, made up of composite branches – it’s not just a mixy blob of 30,000 sailors looking good and drinking rum prior to catching the eye of hairy women with tattoos, it’s a collection of branches and capabilities.
The author knows relatively few individuals who would willingly wish to transfer to any SDF. Most of the Scots personnel he knows are immensely proud of being Scottish, but are also equally proud of belonging to something much greater in the form of HM Armed Forces. They relish the challenge offered by soldiering in a military that has a track record for being employed aggressively overseas. How many of them will willingly want to transfer to a SDF that is unlikely to be used in any similar manner?
The SDF is going to have a challenging initial few years — it will inherit people at all levels, but probably not enough for any one role. It’s going to take time to grow personnel into the jobs required of them, and even if it started recruiting on the day of independence, it would still take 5-10 years to grow the critical mass of SNCOs and junior officers needed to manage and lead the organisation.