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59. Beith, Ayshire. (NS 351 524)

A tomahawk missile being fired from a Royal Navy submarine

Royal Navy cruise missile just before and after it hits a target during trials in 1999.

Defence Munitions depot, which is part of the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency (DSDA). Established as a munitions depot in 1943, the depot covers an area of over 1,000 acres, has 21 miles of internal roads and 6.5 miles of perimeter fence. With a workforce of 500 civilians the main work of the depot is to store, produce, test, and issue a range of missiles and torpedoes for all three branches of the armed forces.

With a much larger workforce than the other Scottish Defence Munitions Centres at Glen Douglas[76] and Crombie[96], Beith acts as the main armaments distribution, administration and maintenance centre in Scotland with an emphasis on 'sophisticated' weapon production. Sixty per cent of the work carried out at Beith comes from commercial contracts to assemble and maintain weapons from armaments companies such as BAe and MBDA. In other words, a situation where the government pays arms companies to build and maintain weapons who then sub-contract the government's own arms depots to do most of the work! (MBDA is a missile systems company owned jointly by BAe Systems, EADS and Finmeccanica; EADS, the second largest aerospace and defence company in the world, had revenues of £20.8 billion in 2003; Finmeccanica, an Italian defence aerospace company had profits of £146 million in 2001.)

The depot has the capacity to store up to 18,000 cubic metres of high explosives and the buildings at the depot are specially designed to implode should there be an accident. An explosion inside a building would result in the roof being blown off and the walls collapsing inwards.

Amongst the munitions developed and produced at Beith are the Tomahawk, Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles and Spearfish torpedoes.

Tomahawk cruise missiles are designed to fly at extremely low altitudes at high subsonic speeds, and are piloted over an evasive route by several mission tailored guidance systems. They have a range of 1,700 km and carry a conventional warhead. The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (cruise missile) is now one of the key weapon systems for Royal Navy Fleet Submarines and the UK is the only country to have Tomahawk outside of the United States. The missile is launched underwater from a torpedo tube, allowing the submarine to remain undetected. Flying low-level at high subsonic speeds, with a low radar signature, the missile navigates to its target using the satellite Global Positioning System and the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation system.

The first operational use of sea-launched Cruise missiles by the US was in Operation Desert Storm, 1991. In 1995 the United States and United Kingdom governments signed a Foreign Military Sales Agreement for the UK to buy 65 missiles at cost of £180 million, marking the only sale of Tomahawk to a foreign country. After a November 1998 launch and live warhead test, the U.K. declared operational capability and in 1999, 30 more missiles were sold to the UK, at an additional cost of £56 million, to replace those fired at Kosovo by the Swiftsure submarine, HMS Splendid, the first RN submarine to be fitted with the missiles. MoD reports suggest that 17 out of the 20 cruise missiles fired by Splendid (out of a total of 238 fired during the war) were accurate.

On her return to Faslane[74] in 1999 Splendid flew the Jolly Roger (skull and crossbones) flag, supposedly a symbol of a successful war patrol. Her commanding officer later received an OBE.

By 2003, the RN aimed to have five Tomahawk capable boats fully operational at any one time. Two Faslane[74] based, Swiftsure class, submarines were modified for cruise missiles, HMS Splendid and HMS Spartan. In 1998 the Strategic Defence Review announced that seven Trafalgar Class and two Swiftsure Class submarines will be made cruise missile capable by 2006, with HMS Triumph, HMS Trafalgar, HMS Spartan and HMS Torbay fitted out by the end of 2001. The total cost of the cruise missile programme is believed to be £300 million.
In 2002, Splendid fired cruise missiles at Afghanistan along with Trafalgar class submarines, HMS Trafalgar and HMS Triumph.
In 2003 Splendid was also in the Gulf firing cruise missiles at Iraq along with HMS Turbulent. In July 2003 Splendid returned to Faslane[74], again flying the Jolly Roger, and was decommissioned the following month.

Jolly Roger being flown from HMS Splendid on its return from firing cruise missiles at Iraq

Turbulent, based in Plymouth, fired a total of 30 missiles during the war on Iraq at an estimated £700,000 a shot. Faslane[74] submarine HMS Spartan was also fitted to take cruise missiles during its refit at Rosyth dockyard[103] in 1999 but is due for decommissioning in 2006. Both Trafalgar and Swiftsure submarines are due to be replaced with Astute nuclear powered submarines which are also expected to carry cruise missiles and Beith will continue to maintain cruise missile supplies for submarines based at Faslane[74] for the continuing future.

Beith is also sub-contracted by BAe Systems to produce Spearfish torpedoes. Spearfish torpedoes are a heavyweight torpedo fired from submarines against surface vessels and other submarines. The torpedoes are tested at BUTEC ranges based at the Kyle of Lochalsh[24] and at the AUTEC ranges (the US Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center) in the Bahamas and teams from Beith assist in the test firings. Spearfish torpedoes are a particular problem on British submarines because of the large explosive power in the warheads and the toxic and explosive hazards of the Otto fuel that propels them. Whilst early experiments with the fuel were being carried out two workers at another munitions depot in England were killed. The torpedoes are carried by both the Trident and the hunter-killer submarines based at Faslane[74] and there is considerable road transport between Faslane[74] and Beith.

An RAF Storm Shadow missile is
unpacked in preparation for use on the first night of the Iraq war 2003

The Storm Shadow missile made its operational debut during the Iraq war of 2003, as the main component of the weapons arsenal of the Tornado GR4s based at RAF Lossiemouth[53] . Storm Shadow, developed by Matra BAe Dynamics, has two warheads, one to make an initial impact and another to create a blast. During the Iraq conflict, Storm Shadow was nicknamed a 'bunker buster' as it was deployed against heavily fortified bunkers and command centres. It can be launched by a bomber from any location up to up to 155 miles (250km) from the actual target. Technicians on the ground programme the missile with the target co-ordinates and locations of air defences in preparation for a sortie. When the pilot nears the target, but is still a substantial distance away, the missile is released.

At Beith adding explosives, testing and preparing one Storm Shadow missile for transport to RAF Lossiemouth[53] and other RAF bases, for the Tornado warplanes based there, takes two and a half days.

The RAF is believed to have purchased an initial batch of 500 Storm Shadow missiles. The programme cost is some £980m. 27 Storm Shadow Missiles were used in Iraq by the 'Dambuster' 617 Squadron based at Lossiemouth[53].

The Brimstone missile is the latest anti-armour missile for Britain's attack aircraft like the Tornado, Harrier and Eurofighter. It is based on the US Hellfire missile and was first tested in 1999 in Arizona. They are produced at a rate of six a day in a new purpose-built assembly building at the armaments depot.


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