8 February, 2023
The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has published the HSC’s evidence to the committee’s inquiry into Defence in Scotland – the North Atlantic and the High North. The inquiry comes in the wake of last year’s publication of the UK Ministry of Defence’s Arctic Strategic, as well as 2021’s Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper, and in advance of the post-Ukraine ‘refresh’ of the latter two documents due to be published in spring 2023.
Our evidence proposes that:
The UK’s national security priorities in the North Atlantic and High North focus on securing the maritime, airspace and terrestrial territory of relevance to Britain and its allies’ military security; the closely linked issue of sustaining the UK’s continuous at sea deterrent (CASD); supporting economic security; managing the consequences of climate change and other environmental issues that may impact UK security; and countering criminal activity and supporting international law.
Scotland provides basing facilities for a broad range of UK military capabilities, including many of relevance to the North Atlantic and the Arctic. These include the Royal Navy’s (RN) ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) fleet of four vessels, Arctic-trained Royal Marines, the RAF’s (P-8) Poseidon MRA1 maritime patrol aircraft force, four squadrons of Typhoon combat aircraft and, in the near future, three (E-7) Wedgetail AEW (Airborne Early Warning) Mk1 aircraft and the RN’s entire attack submarine (SSN) force.
Critical North Atlantic/Arctic taskings of the Armed Forces in Scotland include policing the UK air defence region (as well as periodically undertaking Icelandic Air Policing), securing the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap, supporting littoral/land operations in the Arctic region (particularly Norway), fielding and defending the CASD, and supporting military exercises.
The MOD’s 2022 Arctic Strategy is comprehensive but contains little that is new in terms of policy and only a minimal indication of additional resources. Defence capabilities in Scotland of relevance to the region are lacking in both mass and resilience.
HSC Deputy Director and Security and Defence lead, Dr Rowan Allport, said:
“Scotland hosts UK defence capabilities which are critical to Britain’s national interests in the North Atlantic and Arctic regions, as well as its wider commitments to NATO and other allies and partners. Notably, during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War, the North Atlantic sea lanes have been utilised militarily for the transport of US forces and equipment to support NATO and Ukraine, as well as economically through the shipping of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from the US to Europe in order to compensate for lost Russian supplies. Any attempt by Moscow to interfere in these shipments would require the use of aircraft and submarines based in or transiting through the Russian Arctic.
While individually many of the UK’s systems represent some of the best available, there is a lack of numerical strength and force resilience – both made worse by the fact that many of the assets central to the North Atlantic and High North also have to carry out taskings around the globe. Only addition resources can help mitigate these shortfalls.”
Image: Royal Navy submarine HMS Astute returns to its home at HMNB Clyde, Scotland (Source: LA(Phot) Paul Halliwell/Royal Navy/MOD via Open Government Licences version 1.0)