Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Down to the nitty-gritty - Part 3: A divorce settlement for the Scots Navy


Scotland is being offered £3.7bn assets - Navy could have £1bn worth of vessels
Defence Minister Peter Luff recently suggested Scotland would be entitled to £3.7bn of MoD assets in the event of independence. 

What could be the provenance of the figure, and what would it mean in practical terms for Scotland?

The National Asset Register 2007 listed £93bn as tangible (£70bn "things" such as land, buildings, weapons) and £23bn intangible (R&D spend to develop weapons) as MoD assets. £3.7bn equates to 8.4% of the moveable portion of these* - vehicles, ships and aircraft. This seems reasonable - after all even if we wanted to give up Faslane (value £260m , or Couplort value £2m) we obviously can't move them across the border. 

When Russia and the Ukraine separated with the end of the Soviet Union, they eventually split the Black Sea Fleet (based on Ukrainian sovereign territory) 50/50 by number of units, with Russia "buying back" units assigned to Ukraine that they wanted to keep for operational reasons. 

There are clear parallels with Scotland's situation - the most obvious example being the Trident nuclear missile submarines, built for £4.8bn in the 1990s and valued at £2bn in 2005 - and of no value to Scotland. 

Before jumping to the answer for a possible split of units, or cash in hand, let's look at the actuarial issues. 
  • The 2007 National Asset Register uses 2005 figures - we need to use 2014 values for assets
  • However the depreciation scheme for the 2007 Asset Register is not disclosed, so 2014 values have been estimated based on:
    • historical purchase cost, unadjusted for inflation (Historical Cost Accounting - "HCA")
    • estimated asset life with straight-line depreciation
    • HCA values for 2005 have been compared against the National Asset Register
  • Resale values have also been shown, where comparators are available
The full table of estimates and values by asset can be viewed here:

The quick answer is that the valuation of the RN's vessels attributable to Scotland's Navy should be of the order of £1bn at independence. 

The Scots Navy could take 14 vessels of different types, and still have £400m cash in hand - mainly thanks to the six eye-wateringly expensive Type 45 destroyers and the two Astute submarines in service by 2014, all eight vessels around £1bn each - and none of which we want. 

What ships would the Scottish Navy spend £1bn on?
Previously we sized the Scottish Navy at 9 patrol vessels, with the option to run 10 new generation Calmac ferries as dual role ships, as was first done in the 1960s. 

The previous post considered ranges and operating areas only, not functions. However our patrol vessels should have space for hangar for a helicopter (ideally Chinook-sized), accommodation for soldiers and ideally a vehicle ramp and deck. Such a utility vessel can "do anything" we would reasonably expect. Built as new, a simple helicopter-capable ship could cost in the order of £50-60m - examples are the New Zealand Protector class or the Norwegian Svalbard class. To add space for vehicles, indeed for a hangar for two helicopters is just that - space surrounded by steel, and relatively cheap. New Zealand bought the Canterbury for £85m  - but the Australians got an even better bargain. 

The closest approximation within the RN's current inventory to a ship for soldiers, their vehicles and as a base for helicopters are the Bay class landing ships. These cost £165m when new - but Australia bought a 5-year old one for £65m

Bay-class [bottom] alongside cruise liner [top] for comparison

Here is the list of 14 vessels we could negotiate for:

Intervention ships
  • Bay-class x 2 [leaving RN 4 other landing ships]
  • Frigate x 2 [leaving RN 17 other escorts]
  • Supply ship x 1
Patrol vessels
  • Minewarfare x 6 [doubles as a stop-gap for new build patrol vessels, leaves RN 9]
  • Patrol vessel x 2 [leaving RN 3]
  • Survey vessel x 1 [leaving RN 3]
Effectively we get our 9 home patrol vessels and an intervention force to contribute to multi-national efforts as anticipated by the SNP

Knowing that the balance of asset values can allow us to negotiate for the ships we need, then helicopters and fast jets for maritime strike and air defence for the Scots Navy can be drawn from the pool of existing UK assets on a proportional basis to population (25 helicopters and 18 fast jets) 

Independence "So Whats?"
1. Scotland can negotiate for nine patrol vessels and fiveintervention ships from RN

2. Up to £400m trade-in value of other vessels to allow us to acquire maritime patrol aircraft (RN has none today)
3. Sufficient fast jets for Scots Navy to defend national perimeter and helicopter fleet for patrol and intervention can be available from a proportional split of UK assets. 

* "Single use military equipment", "Transport equipment" and a portion of ""Assets under construction"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Scotland is a maritime nation - how do we look after it?


"Scotland is a maritime nation with more than 11,000 miles of coastline, including nearly 800 islands, critical under-sea and offshore infrastructure and an area of responsibility extending far into the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean"

SNP Resolution on Defence, published 16 July 2012

SNP: Scotland needs mutual defence

"While conventional military threats to Scotland are low, it is important to maintain appropriate security and defence arrangements and capabilities."

Putting to one side the talk of in/out NATO, Trident leaving Scotland slowly or quickly, the facts of Scotland's geography and the nature of the surrounding nations does not change (quickly anyway). 

rUK, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark & Faroes & Greenland, Canada as we look out and North are not likely to cause Scotland problems of state-on-state aggression. Seabed demarcation lines between us don't move (or shouldn't) - talk of what happens in the High Arctic, with melting ice-caps and and finding more oil there is not for Scotland directly, but maybe for Norway, Denmark & Greenland and Canada, and not immediately at that.

In working out our defence needs, and who we might partner with, we need to separate classic state-on-state armed aggression from dealing with lower-level disputes on natural resources sharing, and international terrorism. 

Today, as you read this post, foreigners are free to come into our territory to take our resources - the fishing fleets of any other maritime nation: England, Russia, Spain. Rules of course apply, and are enforced by Marine Scotland, the Royal Navy having withdrawn fishery protection south of the Border as long ago as 1994. 

Whether we are in/out of NATO though we still need to deal with our own territorial integrity, and deal with the environmental risks of moving large quantities of oil around our coasts. 

No-one will do this for us (not even Westminster on fishing rights). Indeed with the recent Westminster driven cuts (to rescue Coastguard co-ordination centres, emergency tugs and maritime patrol aircraft) we have a real marine protection problem today. 

SNP: Scotland will contribute to world peace

"An independent Scotland will be an outward-looking nation which is open, fair and tolerant, contributing to peace, justice and equality. By mobilising our assets and the goodwill and recognition that Scotland enjoys in the world, we will provide sustainable access to natural resources to tackle need and prevent insecurity in the world for this and future generations"

NATO represents a mutual defence pact, it also allows groups of nations to take collective action, piggybacking on the US, they could not otherwise undertake on their own, such as in Afghanistan. 

Eastwards expansion is also a running theme with NATO - it effectively increases the size of the Western bloc by drawing former communist states into the mutual defence arrangement, and gets them to go fight in NATO's wars.

Costs of membership of this insurance club are not high (a commitment to spend 0.5% of GDP on defence), but once you've joined it, you'll be expected to join in the club's activities. 

As a UN member, but outwith NATO, Ireland has sent peacekeeping troops overseas for years. Scotland's consideration is: if we are not to be isolationist, which overseas conflicts and wars will we be involved in? - and if so would we rather send the Scots Army to fight under NATO command or under UN? Given the higher levels of professionalism in the former and a duty of care to our troops, we may not be left with many options.

"The Multi Role Brigade structure and interoperable air and sea assets will provide deployable capabilities for United Nations sanctioned missions and support of humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace-making ‘Petersberg Tasks’'"

To send troops overseas requires at least the following, beyond combat:
  1. training facilities pre-deployment
  2. logistics bridge back to equipment base (to support ever more complex weapons)
  3. equipment maintenance in theatre (routine and deeper level maintenance)
  4. HQ base in theatre for communications & accommodation
  5. medical support (different "echelons" or levels of care)
  6. post-deployment support
The latest round of UK defence cuts anticipate further outsourcing to contractors - if you count reserve forces as part of the contractor pool, then all of the above can be delivered this way - but the unglamourous basics of foreign wars cost money regardless of how you staff them.  In multi-national operations most individual nations don't bring an entire independent base structure - instead they will contribute resources to common-use facilities.

In the list above though, points 3-5 can be addressed by sea-basing: using a large base ship, such as an assault ship or a supply ship with a helipad. Importantly this gives individual nations greater national control over how their forces are employed and sustained. Anything land-based by definition needs the consent of / payment to the land-owner. Check the map for why Afghanistan is a logistical headache. Even Afghanistan though is only 2 hours flight time from a US Navy carrier in the Gulf of Oman, and different studies suggest 40-60% of world population live within 100 miles of the sea. 

What is the relevance for Scotland here? If we want to retain a degree of independence when acting overseas then building our forces with a maritime centre makes sense. You need big ships with a hangar for helicopters, workshops and office space for HQ staff. They don't have to be expensive either. Steel is cheap and space is cheap, we don't have to fall into the fallacy that there's such a thing as a ship that's physically "too big for a small country". In terms of soft power and a positive foreign policy influence such vessels don't have to be called warships either.

Independence "So Whats?"
1) Westminster doesn't protect our fishermen and is cutting Coastguard protection - we have to deal with this problem with or without NATO
2) Recognising that Scotland does not face conventional military attack, SNP want Scots Army to be able to fight overseas
3) Only from the sea can nations offer truly independent contributions to multi-national efforts - Scotland can govern its degree of involvement in this way

Friday, 6 July 2012

John Paul Jones and the birth of a nation

The creation of founding myths based around strong historical figures is nationalist 101. People and stories from the past are used to define the characteristics of the nation which the leaders want to promote. Borrowing and reshaping historical figures who might sit awkwardly in the present is also standard operating procedure - the Soviet regime, notionally proletarian, was happy to honour the actions of Tsars and noblemen from bygone days.

Today is 6 July, birth date of the Scotsman tagged as "Father of the American Navy". John Paul Jones was not of course the true "father" of the US Navy - he joined only as second-in-command of one of the USN's first ships in December 1775. The Navy's originators were arguably the members of the Rhode Island assembly who passed a motion in August 1775 calling "for building at the Continental expense a fleet of sufficient force, for the protection of these colonies, and for employing them in such a manner and places as will most effectively annoy our enemies..."

Why then was his body repatriated in 1905 to the US, with full military honours, and why is his tomb still guarded today by cadets from the US Naval Academy?

     Source: Wikimedia

The answer of course is that what he did during the War for Independence was so audacious that his character has imprinted itself on the USN's consciousness - like Nelson did later for the Royal Navy. Unlike in the UK though, the USN retains a special place in the national consciousness. It is the armed service which first declared American independence directly to Europe and continues to define American might abroad.

That declaration of independence was thanks to the personal willpower and daring of John Paul Jones who by now a commander, took his ship, USS Ranger across the Atlantic to strike Great Britain in its home waters. Leaving America in November 1777 for a base in France, Ranger raided Whitehaven and the Solway Firth, with his first war cruise culminating in the capture of HMS Drake in April 1778.

Greater was to come though. On 23 September 1779, this time in command of the 42-gun USS Bonhomme Richard, off Flamborough Head on the east cost of England, he uttered the immortal words "I have not yet begun to fight" when asked by the captain of the 50-gun HMS Serapis if he had surrendered, as the Bonhomme Richard began to sink and his subordinates decided to lower the American flag. Taking charge and rousing the crew in a do-or-die response he turned around the course of battle which ended with the surrender of the Serapis.

John Paul Jones' naval campaign in British home waters did not win the military contest in the way that Trafalgar in 1805 demarcated the Napoleonic War. But it did define the birth of a nation and showed to the Old World, on their doorstep, that America was ready and willing to fight for its future.

For that reason he has entered US mythology, it is no mistake that the names of the two ships with which he won glory, have been reused to pass some of that honour onto later ships embodying American might abroad.

USS Ranger 1957-93                 USS Bonhomme Richard 1998-present

Source: Wikimedia

How should Scotland remember John Paul Jones though? He was born in Scotland and served the British merchant marine until 1773 when he came to live in British America. That said, he was prepared to shed blood of his recent fellow sailors for the general principle of independence and self-rule.

John Paul Jones fits as but one character within Scotland's long naval heritage, recognised on the world stage, but mainly created by sailors serving in the post-1707 Royal Navy*. Unlike the Soviets, we ought not to deny or gloss over that historical fact - Scots have proven themselves to be some of the greatest naval commanders the world has known - but in the service of nations other than an independent Scotland.

What does the military and naval heritage of Scots matter to Scotland today then? The answer is simply that it underlines that Scotland's global contributions are often way in excess of the size of its population. Shackled to a now-decaying England, it points again to the latent potential in Scotland that independence can unleash.

Independence "So Whats?"
1. A Scot is honoured as the central historical figure for the US Navy - the ultimate expression of American might abroad - we have powerful cultural connections to an institution which counts in the USA
2. Scottish military heritage speaks to the potential of Scotland
3. Geography and individuals' histories mean Scotland is just as much, if not more, a "maritime" nation than England. 

*Not to be forgotten are:
Thomas Gordon (1658-1741), one of founders of Russian Navy
Samuel Greig (1736-1788), Russian Navy reformer, fought for Russia against Turks and Swedes
Adam Duncan (1731-1804), Victor of Battle of Camperdown in 1797, which broke the power of Britain's premier Northern naval rival, Holland, and meant that victory at Trafalgar was the final one needed over Napoleonic forces.
Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860), Frigate captain on whom CS Forrester's Hornblower and Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey novels were based. Radical politician who was framed by Establishment for stock market manipulation, sent to gaol, expelled from the RN. Subsequently became naval commander of Chile, then later Brazil in their independence wars. Also later directed Greek Navy in war of independence from Ottoman Empire. Truth is stranger than fiction.