RAF Leuchars air base ‘could be re-opened’

The site had recently been renamed Leuchars Station. Picture: PA
The site had recently been renamed Leuchars Station. Picture: PA
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DEFENCE bosses could re-open the Leuchars air base, in Fife, Scotland, in response to threats from Russian aircraft and submarines.

A new fleet of maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) could be based there as part of the government’s forthcoming defence review.

RAF Leuchars, the UK’s second most northerly air defence station, closed as an air base just six months ago.

But Russian threats to Britain’s coastline could prompt the Ministry of Defence to reopen it.

The UK has required planes from NATO to scan its waters for submarines since its Nimrod fleet was retired without replacement in 2011.

However, with Russian military craft operating close to the nation’s territorial boundaries, the ability of the RAF to patrol its own borders has come under scrutiny, raising the possibility of the force returning to Leuchars.

Dunfermline and West Fife MP Douglas Chapman, a member of the government’s Defence Committee, welcomed the possible return of MPA operations from Scotland.

“Failure to renew this vital part of our defence infrastructure in 2010 was a disastrous decision by the coalition government,” he told The Courier.

“Not only did it leave Scotland’s huge North Atlantic coastline undefended and exposed, it removed vital skills and investment from our economy at the height of the economic crisis.

“Speaking to our closest neighbours, Maritime Patrol is the one military capability they always ask us about, and we can see from the various Russian incursions into our airspace that the lack of this capability has been noticed elsewhere too.”

The Ministry of Defence is understood to be considering the purchase of up to nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft, with the former air base at Leuchars just one potential destination for a proportion of the new fleet.

RAF Kinloss, another former airfield closed in 2012, is also under consideration but would require resurfacing of its runways, something not necessary at the Fife airfield.

Leuchars Station, as it is now known, was handed over to the army in March following the relocation of the air force and its Typhoon aircraft to RAF Lossiemouth.

Former Dunfermline and West Fife MP Thomas Docherty, who was involved in the creation of the 2011 Armed Forces Act, said that “it makes a lot of sense” to place MPA at Leuchars, even in the short term.

“It is my understanding that the runway at Leuchars is still intact so that physical element is there,” he added.

However, the Ministry of Defence is remaining tight-lipped on any future strategy until the publication of the review later this year.

An MOD Spokesperson said: “The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 is considering the current and likely future national security risks and in turn the capabilities the armed services will need to address these risks in the future.

“No further capability decisions have been made.”