September 17, 2014

Scottish independence: impact on defence and military structures

17 September 2014

Scotland risks having a "very hollow military force" as a result of a limited defence budget should the country become independent on 18 September, according to Edward Hunt, an IHS Senior Defence Consultant.

"Maintaining a country's armed forces is inherently expensive and requires a sustained commitment of public funds not easily amended or reversed," he said. "In addition to the costs of buying, maintaining and, in some cases, upgrading equipment, there is the long-term cost of supporting personnel.

"Hiring, training and supporting personnel and their families is a long-term commitment that can span up to 20 or 30 years."

The budgetary costs of supporting a smaller force can be promotionally higher than that of a larger force owing to the inherent fixed costs such as training, maintenance and basing. While any equipment used in the short-term would be from existing UK stocks, recapitalising or replacing the defence equipment in the long-term is likely to prove very expensive as small numbers of modern systems would have to be purchased. This is likely to result in a need to reduce overall capability in order to focus on what is cost-effective.

"Illustrative of this trend, Italian fighter aircraft earlier this year had to intercept a rogue airliner over Switzerland, as the Swiss Air Force did not operate 'out of hours'," explained Hunt.

"Similarly, the Austrian Air Force has cut its 18 Typhoon fighters pilots by a third due to cost concerns. The aircraft are now only operated between 8:00 and 16:00. Such limitations on military capabilities are precisely why the US is likely to view independence as further fragmentation of European defence capabilities."

With regards to fighter aircraft and patrol vessels, operating fighter aircraft will be difficult due to the limited requirement for an independent Scottish combat air capability. This is especially so given the Scottish National Party's stated aim to focus on domestic security and low-level overseas deployments for peacekeeping operations.

"Since Scotland would lack the force multipliers of intelligence-gathering aircraft, refuelling aircraft and similar, it would be difficult to deploy and support any kind of force without significant assistance from friendly nations," said Hunt.

"Patrol vessels for protection of fishery and offshore oil installations and other maritime capabilities are perfectly feasible in terms of cost-benefit analysis given Scotland's geography. In the longer term, Scotland's offshore interests would include the growing importance of northern waters as a trade route and natural resource exploration."

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