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Response to Ironing Man (Reply #8)

Thu Nov 5, 2015, 09:02 AM

9. Let's look at just a few of those issues.

Last edited Thu Nov 5, 2015, 09:50 AM - Edit history (2)

Milford Haven (what you refer to as Haverfordwest) has deepwater berthing, but is rather remote (good for isolation, but with poor road links), with extensive existing oil and gas installations and difficult topography (a problem also faced at Coulport, where the warheads have to be transported up and down a precipitously steep winding road to the explosives handling jetty, but where availability of 3,000 acres of what was once open moorland allowed the demarcation of a large buffer zone around the red area); accommodation for personnel would also be a significant problem; direct sea access would be to the south of the Irish Sea rather than to the Western Approaches, which is a strategic consideration; the MoD vetoed the idea of stationing Polaris there in the 1960s for "safety reasons" due to the newly built oil refinery; since then another refinery has been added and it's become home to two liquefied natural gas facilities and will soon host a new power station; the LNG facilities supply 30% of the UK's gas.

Barrow-in-Furness has a superficial appeal, but problems of tidality in the Walney Channel make its existing operations, which only require occasional access and egress, difficult (subs are very restricted in when they can gain access to and leave the existing facilities and have to make a break for it when the going's good, currently around once a month) and there's a shortage of land for expansion, especially to allow the safety clearance distances needed for any successor to Coulport; it's a long way to water deep enough for as sub to safely submerge, let alone reach operational sea areas.

Devonport has extensive dry dock and other facilities and with substantial investment would probably be able to duplicate what Faslane has to offer if the MoD were willing to write off the extensive recent investment as Faslane, but duplicating Coulport would pose major problems due to the proximity to a major population centre and again the issue of an adequate safety zone; again, it's a long way from the Atlantic patrolling areas, often through quite crowded sea lanes.

Any nuclear sub facility also needs the co-existence of Z-berths, and relocation of the fleet would need to expand that provision outside Scotland, where there are numerous deepwater lochs and other "suitable" locations; Z-berths are supposedly primarily to allow recreation and re-supplying of nuclear-powered subs, but subs have been known to use them in emergencies and when sufficient accommodation is unavailable at Faslane.

Contrary to your assertion, attack submarines don't just escort the boomers, they have other roles - some deploy Tomahawk cruise missiles, as used in attacks on Libya and elsewhere, and current doctrine sees them focusing more on integrated fleet defence operations and sonar surveillance. There would be strategic arguments for not putting all the UK's eggs in one basket by co-locating them along with the Trident successor.

The minesweepers (MCM Squadron) are widely deployed in the Gulf or wherever their services are required; their primary role is not, as you claim, to protect the "security of the bombers" - they could be stationed anywhere, but they have comparatively empty sea lanes up here in which to conduct their exercises (which they also often do outside my house!).

I don't underestimate the petulance a UK government might display by taking all its toys away if denied a base for the Trident successor, but finding a new home for that alone would be far from simple and would take a hell of a long time to get through design and planning, environmental impact assessment hearings etc., then the subsequent building, as the above explains, let alone relocating the facilities for the other submarines, the minesweeper squadron etc. etc., which could be dispersed, but have been concentrated where they are for a reason.

Faslane also regularly hosts ships and occasionally submarines from NATO and other forces, especially during annual exercises which focus on activities in the Atlantic. Its strategic location and necessity (whether one approves of it or not) would not change in that respect.

I doubt anyone would shed too many tears if we lost the Royal Marines. They're accommodated within the base, have access to NAAFI and other facilities that mean they don't support the local economy much anyway, and we generally only notice them when one of them runs amuck in a local bar and maims a resident or two or three.

Numerous voices among the armed forces have deplored the concentration on the "cuckoo in the nest" that is Trident, which has sucked up resources to the extent that we barely have a functioning surface fleet able to provide lower-level strategic responses (remember the scramble during the Falklands War?), and the debacles over the aircraft carriers and maritime surveillance capabilites have been widely reported. Staff recruitment and retention have also become serious problems. It's proving very hard to find people willing to serve on Trident, and what were once the elite among the submarine staff now see new raw recruits stationed on the subs, some of whom aren't psychologically suited to that role.

Like-for-like re-employment for those directly employed would be nigh impossible, but many within the navy retrain or develop their existing skills in civvy street or invest their payoffs in setting up new businesses unrelated to their MoD work on retirement anyway - I know some people locally who've done that.

As for the directly employed civilian workforce - the government's own figures put the numbers at 500-600 - given the employment issues we all face, the base unions risk taxing people's patience if they act as if they're entitled to incredibly expensive jobs for life (and longer!) when very few others have that luxury. We all have to adapt, and we've all contributed to keeping these folks employed over the years when many of us have been struggling along with little state support or concern when our circumstances change and we have to adapt. As a long-time local pointed out to me, when you sign up with the forces or military civil service, you'd be daft or very shortsighted not to realize that the future of your job hinges on purely political decisions. The unions have also been incredibly unresponsive over the years to any initiatives to explore alternative employment (I was involved with the Alternative Employment Study Group back in the 1980s, when we looked at all these issues)- it's been far easier to dig their heels in and try to hang on to the status quo, which has largely been a slow, losing battle anyway as contractorization has taken hold and conditions have deteriorated under cost-cutting. Being contractors, a fair proportion of the base workers don't have local roots, so the impact of any direct job losses would be spread around the country.

Nobody doubts that there would be an impact on indirect employment in the locality, but the most catastrophic predictions exaggerate its scale and assume that nothing would replace the current work on offer. Bear in mind the Faslane base has its own supply lines and extensive facilities on-site that restrict the amount of money pumped into the local economy.

There are also opportunity costs due to the location of the bases - the west of Scotland largely missed out on being able to service the oil industry because the navy didn't want the Clyde cluttered up with extra installations and traffic. On a more minor level, the area around Faslane and Coulport was excluded from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park when it was set up - some tourists might get a kick from seeing subs and other military hardware and miles of razorwire and weldmesh and watchtowers and armed guards and nuclear warhead convoys etc., but most of those I've spoken to have been disturbed.

Have to stop there because I need to get back to work!

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Arrow 10 replies Author Time Post
Jeneral2885 Nov 2015 OP
2naSalit Nov 2015 #1
T_i_B Nov 2015 #2
Ironing Man Nov 2015 #3
T_i_B Nov 2015 #4
Ironing Man Nov 2015 #5
muriel_volestrangler Nov 2015 #6
Denzil_DC Nov 2015 #7
Ironing Man Nov 2015 #8
LineLineLineLineLineLineLineNew Reply Let's look at just a few of those issues.
Denzil_DC Nov 2015 #9
Nihil Nov 2015 #10
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