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MOD may have to consider cheaper alternative to Trident

Foreign policy experts have claimed that the Chancellor’s pledge not to make treasury funds available for the Trident nuclear deterrent could spell ’the begining of the end’ for the system.

Speaking in Delhi last week, George Osborne rejected calls from defence secretary Liam Fox for £20bn to replace the UK’s fleet of nuclear missile submarines.

While Fox has previously stated those costs should be provided by the Treasury because continuous at-sea defence is a matter of national security, Osborne said funding for Trident would be covered entirely by Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) budget allowances.

Chris Brown, a professor of international relations at London School of Economics, told The Engineer that this will put severe financial constraints on its renewal programme.

‘I think the announcement is really interesting and to my mind this might be the beginning of the end for the Trident replacement,’ he said.

‘The reason I say this is as far as the vast majority of the military are concerned it’s not a weapons system it’s a political symbol…and they are saying it is bitterly unfair we have to pay for this as though it were a weapons system.’

The Vanguard-class submarines that carry the Trident missiles are due to begin the end of their working lives in the 2020s

The Vanguard-class submarines that carry the Trident missiles are due to begin the end of their working lives in the 2020s

The Vanguard-class submarines that carry the Trident missiles are due to begin the end of their working lives in the 2020s. Prime Minister David Cameron had given assurance during the campaign his government would maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are among the contractors who would build the replacement vessels.

With funding only being provided from the MoD, defence analysts believe less expensive options to the Trident nuclear deterrent renewal programme will need to be considered.

Malcolm Chalmers, a fellow in British security policy at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) suggested possible savings could be made by extending the Vanguard-class submarines and delaying the start of peak spending on the renewal programme until at least 2019.

In his paper ‘Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD): Costs and Alternatives,’ Chalmers called for redefining what is meant by ’CASD’ to cut the fleet of boats from four to three.

Alternatively the fleet could be halved to two submarines by abandoning CASD in normal circumstances and delaying peak spending on the renewal programme until 2023.

Chalmers proposed another alternative using a ‘dual-capable’ submarine force that could fulfil conventional or deterrent roles and eventually replace the Vanguard and Astute class submarines.

He also proffered ‘a more radical option’ that would abandon a submarine-based nuclear deterrent altogether and rely instead on a non-deployed arsenal toprovide deterrence of future nuclear attacks

But Brown said this idea might in the end prove to not be any less expensive and potentially dangerous. ‘I’m not sure I would want hundreds of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles lying around the countryside in RAF bases,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t strike me as an attractive option. Plus the fact you couldn’t guarantee they could be delivered in time.’

While unsure which direction the UK nuclear deterrent programme will go, Brown said the recent public clash between Osborne and Fox on Trident’s funding will certainly spur the coalition government to seriously consider the issue. ‘I think we could have quite exciting political debates going on,’ he said.

Ben Zala, of the global security think tank Oxford Research Group, said the split in the cabinet over Trident could lead to risky deferral on the decision over its future.

’If you defer for a certain amount of time you are increasing the likelhood of things going wrong with the submarines that are out there at the moment,’ he said. ’The longer you defer the decision the higher the risk goes in terms of, in this case, catastrophic failure. A deferral for maybe six months to a year is possible but it likely that in the next two parliaments a firm decision will be taken. It may be they defer it so it doesn’t fall within the current cuts for the autumn budgetary announcement and therefore would fall outside of the timing of the defence review as well.’

As to whether a renewal of the Trident programme is actually necessary, Zala said ’that’s the $50 billion question’ for politicians but suggested that nuclear weapons are unlikely to have a role to play in future UK conflicts. ’The conflicts we are likely to be engaged in in the next couple of decades are likely to be what is referred to as hybrid warfare,’ he said. ’It’s a mix of terrorism, insurgency and traditional warfare all together. This is a much more complex way of fighting where nuclear weapons hold no use and can hinder your ability to fight because of the budgetary constraints that possessing nuclear weapons…would impose.’

Readers' comments (12)

  • The total cost of Trident is less that half the increase in spend on the NHS in the last thirteen years, which has provided no overall benefits whatsoever. Pay for it out of the waste, or admit that Labour has turned us into a third world country.

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  • I think it is offensive to all the people who work in the NHS to say the increase in spend on the NHS over the last thirteen years has provided no overall benefit.

    Nuclear submarines that roam around 24 hours a day waiting for doomsday are hardly an investment. Osborne is right to make the MoD take it out of their existing budget - in effect killing it.

    Here's some NHS achievements for you (straight from the Labour website ha ha!):
    89,000 more nurses and 44,000 more doctors in the NHS since 1997 have helped to drive up standards and drive down waits.
    Waiting lists have fallen by over 500,000 and waiting times are now at their lowest level since records began.
    In 1997 284 000 patients waited more than 6 months for an operation. The figure today is almost zero.
    3 million more operations are carried out each year than in 1997.
    The premature mortality rate for cancer is the lowest ever recorded, saving nearly 9,000 lives in 2006 compared to 1996.
    Premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases has dropped by more than 40 per cent since 1996, saving nearly 34,000 lives a year.
    The NHS has delivered the largest hospital building programme in its history, with 118 new hospital schemes opened and a further 18 under construction.
    Created new services to provide patients with greater convenience including around 100 new walk-in centres and over 750 one-stop primary care centre.

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  • Polls show that a large majority of the UK public do not wish to replace Trident, and it is now only a small fringe who want new nuclear weapons. The reason for this is obvious: who wants to waste billions of pounds buying nuclear weapons at a time when your schools, hospitals, and local services are facing the axe.

    Nuclear weapons cannot protect us against modern security threats such as climate change, fundamentalism, and cyber attack. They played no role in stopping or fighting the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Falklands. Most of the world's major economies have no difficulties in defending themselves without nuclear weapons. Axing Trident would free up money which could be used far more effectively in the defence budget to protect the UK.

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  • The cost is irrelevant. Can anyone honestly believe that any of the prime ministers we have had in the last 15 years, or the current upcoming crop of politicians for that matter, would actually have the 'strength of resolve' to actually order a launch of nuclear weapons?
    The likelyhood of a nationstate using WMD's against another is virtually nil.
    The most plausable outcome is a lone detonationation or release of a WMD by a radical minority group. And if that happens, who or what do you launch your 192 missiles at?
    The only plus to our nuclear deterrent is it will keep several thousand people in work in this country for several years.

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  • For what we've spent on the NHS over the last few years there should be NO waiting times, NO in-hosiptal infections. I do not blame the medical staff, who I believe are hard-working and do much of their work despite the Labour party meddling, EWTD and administrator apparent incompentence.

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  • We seem to be drifting off topic a little here...

  • Do we honestly need a nuclear deterrent; or are we just trying to maintain membership of the nuclear 'club'? Can anyone seriously think of a situation where we would need to launch a nuclear missile? I very much doubt it! So why not use our limited resources where they would be more effective, and find ways of helping with the troop deployments we already have - better protection for our troops, or alternatives to road travel to avoid IEDs, for example?

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  • Losing it will be considered a mark of typical British weakness by everyone. Some completely unimportant people will say "hooray" but it will generate no respect whatsoever. Everyone will consider Britain to have regressed and to have become a pushover.

    This weakness is the same kind of thing that led some people in the 1930s to believe that Britain would not respond and could not respond to aggression. They were frighteningly close to being right and I think a lot of misery would have been avoided if they had not felt so confident of a wet response from Britain.

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  • The whole point of a deterrant is not to use it! But to have the capability to use it, theres a massive difference and thats what some people don't seem to understand...

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  • The Labour Party's own figures admitted that the NHS was getting less efficient at a rate of 4% a year. After 13 years therefore , a 66% increase in relative costs. Yes, it's not down to (all of) the medical staff, but the money is wasted nonetheless. What other industry gets away with a 10% plus sick rate and so on and so on. Don't get me wrong, the NHS may be a horrible, bloated ,inefficient beaurocracy, but the only thing worse would be not having it.
    The point is, do we wish Britain to remain a significant country in the world, or will we, for reasons of Socialist economic failure, cowardice and general apathy, walk away from the world stage? Do we declare ourselves as officially neutral ? The US has given us our foreign policy under Labour, and the EU our domestic poicies. That makes us more neutral than Sweden.

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  • An alternative that was not mentioned was nuclear armed cruise missles on normal submarines. They are readily available from your friend and ally across the water and come with the appropriate command and control facilities. Buy them off the shelf, save most of the 50 billion, and keep some level of posturabiity re the Russians, Chinese, Indians, and so on. You can't hit every spot on the globe with these but you can hit significant parts of the territory of every other actual or potential nuclear armed state.

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