Concerns have been raised that Scotland will lose out in tomorrow’s UK Government defence review amid growing signs the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has decided to station its maritime patrol aircraft south of the Border.
Scotland on Sunday has learnt that the MoD is opting for RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire instead of reopening RAF Kinloss in Scotland or stationing the aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth, both in Moray.
The news comes amid a row between the MoD and Treasury over which aircraft to buy, with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne pressing defence secretary Michael Fallon to go for a cheap option.
The MoD is said to want the Boeing P8 Poseidon model, which is seen as the best of its type currently available.
The Treasury, though, is pressing for a basic converted Hercules constructed by Lockheed Martin, while a middle option, the Airbus C-295, is also being considered.
It has emerged that this week’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) will not decide on a final model but instead order a competition, which means the MoD is unlikely to get the Boeing, which costs £100 million per plane.
The issue of the maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) has already been identified as the UK’s biggest capability gap since the replacement Nimrods were dropped at the last minute in the 2010 SDSR.
This has left the UK without proper surveillance, particularly in the northern seas, where there have been several incursions by Russian naval ships into British waters.
The aircraft are also vital for providing cover and surveillance for the two new aircraft carriers which are about to be commissioned for the Royal Navy and the Trident nuclear deterrent.
The government was severely criticised by the defence select committee for failing to find a replacement for the Nimrods, which were deemed too expensive and unsafe.
However, another row is about to erupt with the plans to station the aircraft in Lincolnshire instead of Scotland.
It has been argued that the aircraft need to be as far north as possible to deal with the Russian threat, as well as interact better with the nuclear submarines at Faslane.
And last night the SNP made it clear that any decision not to base the new aircraft in Scotland would be seen as a “betrayal and unacceptable”.SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara said: “Since their scrapping after the 2010 SDSR, the SNP has continually called for the government to replace the maritime patrol aircraft and for those aircraft to be stationed in their historical and logical home, Scotland.
“With the new SDSR imminent we reiterate that call.
“Our fear is, however, that not only will there be fewer MPAs ordered than is required but that they will be based at an RAF base outside of Scotland.
“If that does happen, the MoD will have gone back on its promise not to further shrink Scotland’s military footprint and yet again the UK’s conventional defence footprint will have been undermined by this government’s obsession with renewing Trident, regardless of the spiralling cost, which currently stands at £167 billion.”
Ahead of tomorrow’s review, the SNP has also called for “immediate clarification” from the defence secretary on the future of the contract to build frigates on the Clyde.
Bill Kidd, MSP for Glasgow Anniesland, has written to Fallon saying he is concerned about reports that the contract for the 13 new Type 26 frigates could be cut “to pay for Trident replacement” as part of the SDSR.
He said he had a “deep concern” that the number would be reduced to eight, and has also raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament.
“We are now in the ridiculous situation where Scotland – despite being a maritime nation – is without a single maritime patrol aircraft to defend our waters and without the proper conventional naval vessels,” Kidd said.
“All the while, Westminster presses on with renewing the immoral and completely useless nuclear arsenal only miles from Glasgow.”
He added: “As the cost of replacing Trident soars to £167 billion, it’s simply unacceptable for shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde to be sold down the river to pay for it.”
An MOD spokeswoman said: “All of our security decisions are underpinned by thorough analysis and backed by a rising defence budget.
“That puts us in a position to deliver an Armed Forces that can react effectively to the threats we face. It would be inappropriate to comment further ahead of publishing the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 on Monday.”