Ironically, the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne has greatly helped the case for not renewing Trident, by placing the £25 Billion cost of the successor submarine in the main Defence budget, to compete with conventional arms for money. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chiefs of the three services are reported to be going cold on the idea of a like-for-like replacement.
Traditionally the west had two types of nuclear submarines – attack submarines, called SSNs, whose role was to sink enemy ships and submarines, and SSBNs, whose only role was to stealthily carry, and if necessary, launch, sea-launched ballistic missiles; a secure retaliatory nuclear strike to deter the Soviets from starting a nuclear war.
Although I could reluctantly support a nuclear deterrent during the Cold War, I feel the current international situation has pushed the nuclear deterrent from being a necessary evil to a an unjustifiable expense.
Of the arguments for keeping the deterrent, two give me pause.
One argument recognises that we no longer have an enemy to deter so suggests the deterrent becomes a nuclear insurance policy. We have no idea how the future will unfold and what threats we will face in the future; we need to keep the deterrent just in case.
The second is that to keep the necessary skills and knowledge for the production of vital nuclear attack submarines they must be built roughly every two years. The production of the new ballistic missile submarine would bridge the gap between the last of the current Astute class attack subs and their replacements.
A new submarine type was introduced in the West when the US Navy decided to convert four surplus SSBNs to carry conventional cruise missiles. These cruise missile carrying nuclear submarines packed seven cruise missiles into one Trident missile tube. The US Navy was so happy with their new cruise missile submarines that they decided to build in the capability to launch a ballistic missile OR cruise missiles into their next class of ballistic missile submarines.
The British Ministry of Defence has become a partner in the project and it appears the tubes will be built in units of four.
Two years ago the Royal United Services Institute suggested four options which could allow a cheaper replacement for the Royal Navy’s Trident ballistic missile boats. Their third option was a dual role submarine; an attack submarine which had four ballistic missile tubes. With the proposed ability to launch ballistic or cruise missiles from these tubes, we could have a triple role submarine: an attack, cruise or ballistic submarine.
Using the “quad pack” of multirole missile tubes in a new class of submarine could allow us to remove the Trident system from front line service. Should the international situation change we could bring the nuclear deterrent back without too much difficulty (but probably high cost) as we would have the missile tubes on our subs. Plus, we would gain a submarine fleet with much improved capabilities, whilst guaranteeing important strategic industry and jobs in Barrow shipyard.
A triple role submarine would solve both the insurance and production dilemmas, enhance the capabilities of our submarines and save money to be spent on our conventional forces.
P.S. unsurprisingly perhaps other people appear to have arrived at similar conclusions.
* Gareth Jones is a post-graduate in International Relations from Swansea university and was an active member of the Swansea and Gower Liberal Democrats for nine years before recently moving to Maidenhead