The hunt for Green October

The hunt for Green October

by Ben Acheson
article from Monday 8, October, 2012

THE SINGLE MOST important duty of any government is to ensure national security; the protection of its citizens. Economic prosperity, health, education and energy security are vital to the success of any democratic state, but national security should be any government's first priority.

In an increasingly globalised world, the UK faces an ever-changing range of security threats from widely varying sources. New threats increasingly emanate from non-state actors. Insurgency, cyber attacks and terrorism provide unprecedented tests for our national security architecture. Nuclear proliferation is another growing danger even though today's concept of national security differs vastly from when we dealt with the 'conventional' threats of the Cold War era. Britain will forever be an island nation, however, and the Royal Navy therefore has a vital role to play in providing national security, regardless of the threat.

Enter the submarine.

The Royal Navy Submarine Service has helped protect our waters since 1901 and today, the 'Silent Service' consists of two classes of Fleet submarines and one class of Ballistic Missile submarines. The Fleet submarines include the five Trafalgar class subs and one Astute class vessel. These hunter-killer subs are nuclear powered and armed with Spearfish Torpedos and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Navy's four ballistic missile subs are all of the Vanguard class. They are the UK's nuclear deterrent and use the Trident missile system. For over 30 years, there has been at least one of these vessels on patrol at all times. Each one of the ballistic submarines carries one of the four, identically worded, 'letters of last resort' which are handwritten by the Prime Minister and contain orders about what action is to be taken in the event that the UK has been devastated by a nuclear strike, in which case the subs may be the last military force standing.

Scotland is the home of the strategic nuclear deterrent. Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde, which consists of the Faslane Naval Base and the Armament Depot at Coulport, is the home of the UK's Astute and Vanguard class submarines. Worryingly, there is a new threat facing these vessels. But this threat does not come from a hostile state, a foreign insurgent or even a homegrown terrorist. This threat comes from our own government.

As part of the SNP's plans to encase Scotland's coast with wind turbines, two enormous areas in the Firth of Clyde have been earmarked as 'Strategic Search Areas' for massive offshore wind arrays. If plans for turbines are consented, the two zones, named 'West of Ayrshire' and 'South of Islay', could be home to two of the world's largest wind farms. The South of Islay zone consists of a gigantic 1,284km2 (496 sq miles) area which would effectively close most of the entrance to the Firth of Clyde. The 'West of Ayrshire' zone is a 301km2 (116 sq miles) area just off the coast, which would prevent access even further. In comparison, the world's current largest offshore wind farm, the planned array in the Moray Firth, will cover 300km2 (114 sq miles).

For the submarines, which leave Gareloch and travel down Faslane Bay, through the Rhu Narrows and into the Firth of Clyde, the consequences are worrying. These silent hunters are designed to be stealthy, versatile and lethal. They rely heavily on silence. The onboard 'sound room' is home to all of the sonar equipment - the ears of the submarine. Here, up to 12 sonar operators use high-tech machinery to listen to the outside world to collect information vital to the creation of the tactical systems picture. Sound is the principal means of working out what or who else, friend or foe, is in the ocean.

As sound is so vital to these submarines, the sonar equipment is not your regular run-of-the-mill kit that is installed in many fishing boats. These submarines have the most advanced sonar systems in the world. They detect every noise the ocean makes, even biological sounds from tiny shrimp to dolphins and whales. Identifying biological noise is a vital job for the sound operators as whales are so large that they could be mistaken for other submarines due to the flow noise created by their smooth bodies, which sounds similar to submarines.

The sonar equipment on these submarines can not only identify other vessels up to 70 miles away, but it can tell you how many shafts and blades their propellers have. Astoundingly, it can even tell how fast the other vessel is travelling and what type of machinery is on board the ship. The submariners keep a record of every technical detail of vessels they meet so they know if they come across the same ship again, even years later.

These silent hunters, with over £200 million of hardware, lurk undetected in our waters. They listen and watch everything, without anyone knowing, ready to intercept and attack at a moment's notice. They are unsung heroes and most of us will never know just how important they are. Needless to say, surrounding their home base and most of the coast of Scotland with massive, noisy, industrial wind turbines will not only hamper the navigational ability of the subs, but could completely ruin their ability to detect and intercept hostile ships and submarines.

With their support for onshore wind power, we saw how the SNP hijacked energy policy as a means for its own political gain. Now the government's aim to appear 'green' is trumping the protection of its citizens. Is the Government's plans for vast offshore wind farms another step towards achieving its main political goal? Is this is all part of the plan to rid Scotland of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and clear the path towards independence?

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