The unique geography of Scotland has once again proven itself to be vital to NATO and the defence of Europe.
If Scotland chooses to leave the UK and looks to rejoin NATO, this will be yet another bargaining tool.
Typhoon and Lightning jets have successfully conducted their largest ever mass firing of Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAM), say the Royal Air Force. Over the space of 10 days, pilots from eight different squadrons successfully launched a total of 53 missiles at target drones.
The Royal Air Force add that the ‘Missile Practice Camp’ took place over the sea in the Hebrides Air Weapon Ranges last month and was the largest mass firing of the infra-red guided Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles from Typhoon and F-35B Lightning II.
“Typhoon pilots from 1(F), II(AC), 6 and IX(B) Squadrons based at RAF Lossiemouth, as well as from 3(F), and 41 Test & Evaluation Squadron at RAF Coningsby, worked with Lightnings from 207 and 617 Squadrons based at RAF Marham in the event. The ability to end-to-end test these missiles develops confidence in the weapon, whilst simultaneously developing personnel from professions across the RAF.
From the movement and loading of live weapons onto the aircraft, to the aircrafts’ transit to the Air Weapons Ranges, the integration of personnel and aircraft from around the country was key to the success of the event. The training has proved the impressive capability of Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles across both RAF combat air platforms, providing training and real-world feedback by destroying Banshee drone targets.”
An unnamed pilot from RAF Lossiemouth was quoted as saying:
“It surpassed all expectations of what my first live firing exercise on the Typhoon would be. Selecting the weapon and knowing a live missile would come off the rail was a unique moment; hearing the missile tone and pulling the trigger, followed by a large whoosh sound and a slight wobble of the aircraft was fantastic. Watching the missile disappear into the sky in front of me was a moment to remember, it really is impressive how fast the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles can go. The experience has given me a real appreciation of the capability of the missile and how it can be employed in a real combat situation.”
Additionally, note the RAF, crucial experience of safely transporting and loading live weapons onto aircraft was gained by logistical and engineering personnel.
“This is vital in developing an even more skilled team to protect UK interests.”
On the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides is where you’ll find the missile range. The missiles are monitored from an island in Scotland known as St. Kilda, which is currently devoid of inhabitants and is rented by the Ministry of Defence.
The site is managed by QinetiQ, which was formerly a department within the Ministry of Defense but was later privatised. Across the various locations of the range, there are approximately 230 employees.
In 1987, St. Kilda was designated as Scotland’s first ever World Heritage Site. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence established the facility in 1957 in order to conduct tests on nuclear missiles. In response to the opposition to the construction of the range, Sir Compton Mackenzie wrote the novel Rockets Galore!, which was later adapted into a movie that was shot on the island of Barra.
Rising use of the weapons range
The Range occupies 115,000km² of sanitised airspace with unlimited altitude. This large area and its nearby airfield make it ideal for air-launched weapons operations, and by implication is suitable for rocket engine testing. The missile testing range recorded one of its busiest years towards the end of the last decade as NATO combat aircraft and vessels decided to take advantage of the unique facility.
Data released to the Press and Journal shows that 12 different types of missile were used at the Uist facility in 2017/18.
They included the US Navy’s surface-to-air SM-2, SM-3 and SM-6 weapons, which can shoot down enemy aircraft or missiles, as well as the AQM-37C, which is a supersonic drone used as a target to test the SM missiles.
A vital facility for Europe and NATO
In addition, rockets from the United States, known as the Terrier Oriole and the Terrier Orion, were fired from the Hebrides Range in 2017, acting in the capacity of ballistic missiles during training exercises.
The only other time a Terrier Orion missile has ever been launched from this location was during a war games event in 2015. At that time, it made history by becoming the first ever space vehicle to lift-off from UK soil and leave the Earth’s atmosphere.
Other systems, such as the Rapier surface-to-air missile used by the Royal Air Force, the Sea Ceptor naval missile defence system, the Evolved SeaSparrow missile used by NATO forces, Europe’s Sea Viper, the ASRAAM and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, and the meteor system, were also tested in 2017.
It’s very clear that this range is essential to the defence of the United Kingdom and by extension, NATO. Many readers will be aware of my approach to defence and to constitutional matters but, in short, if Scotland chooses to leave the UK and looks to re-join NATO, this will be yet another bargaining tool.