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“Unanswerable” defence case for RAF Leuchars taken to heart of government

May 3, 2011 1:16 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

The "unanswerable" strategic defence case for the retention of RAF Leuchars has been made directly to the Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore by North East Fife's Member of Parliament Sir Menzies Campbell.

In his three page letter Sir Menzies Campbell MP sets out the comprehensive case for RAF Leuchars to remain as the home of the Quick Reaction Alert for the northern half of the UK.

Commenting on his letter Sir Menzies said:

"With the decision on the future of RAF Leuchars expected soon after the election on 5th May now is the time to set out once more the compelling case for keeping the RAF in Fife.

"The base and its personnel remain eminently qualified and equipped for the role which they have executed with skill and professionalism for four decades. No alternative use for the base could make so vital a contribution to the defence of the United Kingdom. RAF Leuchars is in the right place, doing the right job at the right time."


Text of letter to Prime Minister et al:

As the decision on the future of RAF Leuchars approaches I felt it would be of use to summarise the case for the retention of the base in its current role.

The Royal Air Force has maintained a presence in Fife for nearly a century with RAF Leuchars one of the longest established frontline air bases in the United Kingdom. Over that period the base has entered both the local and national consciousness, and stands as a proud reminder of the contribution Scotland has made over many decades to the Armed Forces. That it is a visible sign of the Royal Air Force in Scotland is evidenced by the fact that the RAF has chosen to combine the responsibilities of Station Commander at Leuchars with the representative duties of Air Officer Scotland.

RAF Leuchars is primarily responsible for Quick Reaction Alert (Interceptor) North, requiring the base to maintain aircraft and crew on 24 hour high alert and to be able to scramble at a few minutes notice to police the air space of the northern half of the United Kingdom and to intercept unauthorised aircraft. Crews from the base have been scrambled with increasing frequency in recent years to fulfil this latter responsibility.

More recently RAF Leuchars was chosen to become the northern home of the Typhoon and the second Typhoon Main Operating Base. Nothing has occurred since the decision was taken forty years ago to award QRA duties to RAF Leuchars to undermine the suitability of the base for its current role. While we are in a difficult economic climate and our Armed Forces facing new challenges it is worth restating that
successive defence reviews have only underlined the role of RAF Leuchars in the defence of the United Kingdom. Indeed, long-term investment in the development of the base has enhanced its ability to meet its responsibilities. In this task its personnel have also shown themselves eminently qualified, having fulfilled their responsibilities to date with professionalism and skill of the highest order.

Leuchars was chosen for the above role by reason of its location and the strategic advantages which that brings. Within thirty miles of Leuchars there is a population of half a million, within eighty miles there is a population of four million - i.e. approximately 80 per cent of the population of Scotland. Aircraft from Leuchars can be overhead the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, or the possible targets of Faslane (the nuclear submarine base) and Torness (a nuclear power station), within minutes. Its fighter aircraft also provide air defence for the major cities of the north of England and are capable of reaching other population centres in England which, in the event of an emergency, may prove critical.

These figures are important because they have direct relevance to the Tier One risks highlighted in the government's National Security Strategy.

In the event of a national or local emergency RAF Leuchars' personnel, if directed by Government, can support the emergency services with boots on the ground in the Central Belt within two hours once mobilised. Most recently personnel from Leuchars were deployed to assist an NHS hospital in Edinburgh during a period of unprecedented snowfall.

The base is also well situated for access to training airspace on land and at sea. It is sheltered from the prevailing winds by the Highlands. It has a rainfall on a par with the South East of the UK and, as a result, cloud base and visibility are very suitable for flying operations. Most winters pass without excessive snowfall. Government figures show that RAF Leuchars has one of the best records for available flying days in the country.

The base is scheduled to receive three squadrons of Typhoon, the first of which - 6 Squadron - was stood up in September last year. The infrastructure changes to prepare the base for the Typhoon were expeditiously carried out and amounted to close to £40million. This included resurfacing of the runway.

In addition, RAF Leuchars is the home to many other military units such as No 6 Force Protection Wing HQ, 71 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers) and 58 RAF Regiment Squadron. It is truly a centre of
defence excellence.

The strategic role played by RAF Leuchars is argument enough for its retention but the economic and social impact of closing the base should not be overlooked or underestimated. The base makes a
significant contribution of an estimated £60 million per annum to the local economy and £75 million to the wider Scottish economy. The closure of the base would have a profound and direct effect on the livelihoods of hundreds of people who work in Fife and would detrimentally impact upon the thousands who live there and depend upon services such as schools, hospitals and community organisations which benefit from the presence of the base.

I am aware that alternative military uses for Leuchars are under consideration. No advantage derived from basing army units at Leuchars can possibly outweigh the strategic contribution which the base in its current RAF role makes to the first duty of any government: namely the proper protection of the citizens of the United Kingdom. The preferences of the potential alternative occupant of the base such as army units returning from Germany should not be allowed to undermine that duty.

The Ministry of Defence has emphasised decisions about the future of air bases in Scotland will be made on the basis of protecting defence priorities. The strategic defence case for retaining RAF Leuchars is unanswerable and I urge you to ensure that the base is retained in its current form and role.

I have sent similar letters to the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Yours sincerely

Menzies Campbell