Sunday, 17 February 2013

Guest Post: Trident?

During the cold war there was a genuine threat to the UK and Western Europe from Soviet military expansionism. The Soviet Union had the military capabilities to destroy the UK's military presence in Germany and then push westward and destroy the UK's RAF air defences and the Royal Navy. This would then give them the option to force a surrender through a blockade or to launch and all out invasion.

Submarine launched nuclear weapons were the ultimate deterrent against this threat. They were almost impossible to destroy preemitvely as they hid in the vastness of the sea and inter-continental missiles could be launched in retaliation to any invasion or nuclear attack. The Soviets also had submarine launched nuclear missiles and the only hope of defending against them was to find, track and attack them with Royal Navy 'attack' submarines; Anti-submarine warfare ships and anti-submarine patrol aircraft equipped with detection sensors and torpedoes.

Today Russia has four submarines equipped with inter-continental nuclear missiles. These submarines were launched in the 80s and are on their last legs. As they are old, the noise signature they give off is significant. The Royal Navy's newest submarine, the Astute class (costing £1B each), can easily detect and track them every time they are at sea and would sink them before they could launch their missiles at UK population centres.

Although the Russians are trying to re-purpose some old submarines as their new generation of nuclear missile launch platforms, this is yet to materialise and may not. The Russian Navy has struggled to commission new submarines due to limited budgets and an erosion of their defence industry. It is unlikely that they will succeed with this.

If the UK withdrew its submarine launched nuclear deterrent capability, there is a strong possibility that Russia could be persuaded do the same. Furthermore, China has one old submarine with Nuclear missiles which don't have the range to reach the UK. Indian missiles are out of range of the UK, likewise Israel and Pakistan only has free fall bombs.

If the UK replaces Trident, at a cost of £40B, then this will motivate Russia, China and India to develop nuclear bombs. Likewise, there is a strong argument that if the UK didn't replace Trident then the Submarine launched nuclear deterrents of Russia and China would wither on the vine. And it is likely that France would also follow our lead in due course; even the US. The UK government could develop this as a diplomatic strategic objective and open up negotiations.

One argument for replacing Trident would be to assure the UK's place on the UN security council.  Removal for not having nuclear weapons is far from certain and India, with a nuclear capability is not a member. Either way, at £40B that makes it a very expensive club to join and there is more to being a super-power or having super-influence than having nuclear weapons.

The world has certainly changed since the cold war ended. We are now enjoying a peace that will be long and enduring. Ideological governments have melted away and democracy, trade and inter-governmental organisations are the new order. Russia's democracy is developing and their biggest foreign policy interest is their essential oil and gas exports. China is economically, and structurally, co-dependent on the West as is India and Pakistan. Any future conflict between these powers are likely to be limited and in the soft form of cyber-attacks, 3rd world influence, economic trade and industrial espionage. 

The UK is not under threat of being attacked by nuclear weapons from any state on earth. Furthermore, the UK could not launch trident without the involvement of the US and if it did, the US would most likely deliver their own strike.

The UK is also not under threat of being invaded. No nation has the capabilities to invade the UK. France and Germany don't have the hardware or resources. We are beyond the reach of the Russian Army, Navy and Air force. Even if they were closer, they couldn't sustain a military campaign against the UK or launch an invasion. Even the USA would struggle militarily to invade the UK. And China and India are not capable of any operations outside their own region.

So replacing Trident seems a big waste of £40B and would offer the UK little or no military, diplomatic, political, security or moral advantage. There's not threat of a nuclear strike and we are not at risk of a conventional attack on UK soil.

Of course the Treasury would claw-back from some cash from cancelling the Trident replacement. However the UK government would have to compensate with increased commitments to conventional equipment.

UK armed forces would certainly benefit from some of the £40Billion saved being spent on other hardware to meet the growing global diplomatic and defence needs. 

  • The RAF 's expensive Euro fighter is defending UK airspace despite no actual threat to our airspace. Yet is has insufficient strategic assets to lift and deploy an expeditionary land force and deliver and support long range air-strikes.

  • The Royal Navy has the best submarines and air-defence ships in the world. The two new aircraft carriers will provide enhanced diplomatic leverage to future governments. But the Navy's assets are hugely expensive and so limited in numbers.  The Royal Navy doesn't have enough ships to provide the adequate response to diplomatic, security and humanitarian objectives. It needs a mix of more world-class vessels as well as affordable utilitarian ships. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary should have the standing capability for delivering humanitarian relief in the event of war or natural disaster.

  • The Army, while reducing to the historic expeditionary level of  80,000, will also have equipment needs in the form of more versatile fighting vehicles, improved communications equipment, intelligence gathering assets, helicopters and battlefield strike capabilities such as artillery and drones. There will also be a need to invest in the infrastructure and equipment to continuously train reservists and, possibly, local armies.

Increased investment in conventional equipment to enhance the capabilities of the armed forces would offer greater influence on the world stage. It would enhance our projection of hard and soft power.  It would boost the manufacturing base and defence exports. It would also allow the UK to take a moral lead in nuclear disarmament, which would enhance our prestige, reputation and influence in the world.

So let's start to discuss and debate the option of no Trident replacement. Let's start now with limited and restricted patrols. Consider silo launched land capabilities as a replacement to sea-launched if we can't stomach the concept of Pakistan, North Korean and possible Iran being in a nuclear club without the UK. But one thing is for sure, the UK does not need to spend £40B on a state-of-the-art submarine launched nuclear deterrent to preserve the peace in the next 50 years.

This was written by paulrae100 ( and posted here on 3rd February )

1 comment:

  1. As they're American missiles and rotated at their storage facility they probably have the means to prevent us launching. With that in mind it would be a waste of money.