Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde (also HMS Neptune) is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy (the others being HMNB Devonport and HMNB Portsmouth). It is the service's headquarters in Scotland and is best known as the home of the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear deterrent, in the form of nuclear submarines armed with Trident missiles.
HMNB Clyde lies on the eastern shore of Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, to the north of the Firth of Clyde and west of the city of Glasgow. The submarine base encompasses a number of separate sites, the primary two being:
Faslane, 25 miles from Glasgow;
- RNAD Coulport, beside Loch Long, west of Faslane.
Faslane is also a Defence Equipment and Support site, operated in dual site organisation with Great Harbour, Greenock, by Babcock Marine, and managed by Serco Denholm.
Faslane Naval Base
Faslane Naval Base, situated on the Gare Loch, and the RN Armaments Depot Coulport on Loch Long, are the primary components of HMNB Clyde. The naval shore establishment at Faslane is HMS Neptune, Naval personnel appointed to the base who do not belong to a sea-going vessel make up Ship's Company. Both the Gareloch and Loch Long are sea lochs extending northwards from the Firth of Clyde. The base serves as home base to the United Kingdom's fleet of Vanguard-class nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines, as well as conventionally-armed nuclear powered submarines, supported by the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines.
departing HMNB Clyde
In command of HMNB Clyde is the Naval Base Commander (Clyde), Commodore C J Hockley who succeeded Commodore Carolyn Stait in Autumn 2007. The base is home to a number of lodger units including Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland (FOSNNI) (who is also Flag Officer Reserves/FORes), the Northern Diving Group and the Scottish Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency. It is base to 3,000 service personnel, 800 of their families and 4,000 civilian workers, largely from Babcock Marine, forming a major part of the economy of Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire.
Faslane was first constructed and used as a base in World War II. During the 1960s, the United Kingdom began negotiating the Polaris Sales Agreement with the United States regarding the purchase of a Polaris missile system to fire UK-built nuclear weapons from five specially constructed submarines. In the end, only four were constructed; , , and . These four submarines were permanently based at Faslane.
Faslane itself was chosen as the base at the height of the Cold War because of its geographic position, which forms a bastion on the relatively secluded but deep and easily navigable Gare Loch and Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland. This position provides for rapid and stealthy access through the North Channel to the submarine patrolling areas in the North Atlantic, through the GIUK gap to the Norwegian Sea. One boat was always on patrol at any given time. In times of political instability, sometimes two boats would be deployed at sea.
In the 1980s, the British Government announced plans to replace the s carrying UGM-27 Polaris with the newly developed Trident missile system on the new s, also to be based at Faslane. These submarines were named:
arrived at home port, Faslane, for the first time on the 20th November 2009. Faslane will be home port to the s for the foreseeable future.
Astute is the lead ship of her class of nuclear-powered fleet submarines. Commissioned in August 2010, Astute is one of the most "advanced submarines in the world".
Also based there are the mine countermeasure vessels of the 1st MCM Squadron. The patrol vessels of the Northern Ireland Squadron were based at Faslane from 1993 until the squadron was decommissioned in July 2005.
With the disbanding of the Cyprus Squadron in 2010, the patrol vessels and are now stationed at HMNB Clyde.
Safety and accidents at Faslane
Exercise Evening Star is the annual test of the emergency response routines to a nuclear weapon accident at Faslane. It is conducted by the Office for Nuclear Regulation. In 2011 the test failed as "a number of command and control aspects of the exercise were not considered to have been adequately demonstrated".
Given the presence of these nuclear capable missiles, Faslane has attracted demonstrations by Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and other Scottish pressure groups, including Trident Ploughshares. A permanent peace camp is outside the base gates, where there are frequent demonstrations. The presence of Faslane is also an issue in Scottish politics.
The Scottish National Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, and the Scottish Green Party all oppose the deployment of nuclear weapons, although the Scottish National Party have made assurances that they would retain the base for the servicing of conventionally-armed and -powered naval units. It is not unusual for members of these parties, and indeed some from the Labour Party to be present. Also, some independents, such as George Galloway attend rallies outside Faslane. Such events aim to keep the base closed for as long as possible by preventing its staff from arriving for work, and usually involve large numbers of protesters being arrested for non-violent civil disobedience.
The "big blockade" at Faslane Naval Base is an annual event held since 1999 usually in the 2nd week of February, aiming to close the base for 24 hours (although never successfully). The event attracts thousands of peace activists and has on occasion resulted in more than 350 arrests.
Police dismantling a blockade of protestors from York at the south gate of the Faslane base.
The Faslane 365 campaign was a one-year protest at the base. It was a civil resistance initiative to apply critical public pressure for the disarmament of Britain's nuclear weapons.
The campaign was launched in September 2006 with the first protest action commencing on 1 October 2006 carried out by a campaigning group of women associated with protests at Greenham Common. It formally ended with a Big Blockade on 1 October 2007. However, groups are continuing to take direct action at both Faslane and Coulport.
131 blockading groups took part in Faslane 365 and 1150 arrests were made.
The Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) at Coulport, Loch Long is the other major part of HMNB Clyde. RNAD Coulport stores conventional armaments for Royal Navy vessels but is best known for its role in the Trident missile system.
Location of Faslane and RNAD Coulport.
Nuclear weapon storage bunkers have been excavated from a ridge. From here British-designed and built nuclear warheads can be fitted to the Trident missiles (built by Lockheed Martin). Whilst the warheads themselves are British-owned and built, the delivery system is not actually owned by the United Kingdom and instead it has ownership rights to some 58 missiles from a "pool" shared with the U.S. Navy. Whole missiles can be lifted out of or into a submarine, however the missiles are normally serviced at the U.S. Navy facility at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in the U.S. state of Georgia.
Initial construction took place between 1963, when Faslane was chosen as the new Polaris base, and 1968, when the first Polaris boat began its patrol. Safety considerations required that the armament maintenance and storage facility have its own berth and be at least from the main facility, whilst operational considerations dictated that the two facilities should be within an hour's sailing time. Coulport, on the opposite peninsula, met both of these requirements. Additional construction took place during the 1980s to support the Trident missile programme.
Notes and references
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