The Independent View: A cheaper but credible alternative to Trident

TridentOne of the strange things about recent elections is the lack of debate about defence and international affairs. So far, the current election campaign is no exception, despite the reality that the choices the next Government makes will limit our strategic options over the next 30 years.

The key decision is whether or not to replace the existing Vanguard­-class Trident submarines at a capital cost of up to £33bn, £3.3bn of which has been spent thus far. A decision to pursue replacement would commit between a quarter and a third of the total Ministry of Defence (MoD) equipment budget to Trident – every year – from 2018 to 2032. It would deny the conventional forces of the investment that they need to remain capable of world-wide operations in support of the UN and regional peacekeeping and, where necessary, intervention and peace-enforcement.

As Nick Harvey MP made clear in a Commons debate on 20 January, Trident’s budgetary burden could well mean cutting the Army to 60,000 men and women – a previously unthinkable figure. Such small conventional forces would render the UK unable to play a leading role in – or indeed, meaningfully contribute to – the multilateral operations that support the UK’s diplomatic and development agenda worldwide.
We can do better.

Today, CentreForum publishes a paper outlining how a simpler – and much less costly – system can provide the UK with a credible, minimum, independent nuclear deterrent. Unlike the Trident Alternatives Review, our paper is based on the recently declassified definition of minimum deterrence to deter the Soviet Union developed by the Cabinet Office’s Joint Intelligence Committee in 1978 and reiterated in 1982. This minimum requirement was defined as the ability to destroy 10 Soviet cities other than Moscow or Leningrad, or to deliver 30 warheads against Soviet targets. Given that this would result in several million casualties, what would have deterred the Soviet Union in 1982 would deter Putin’s Russia.

Our proposal uses a British-built version of the new US B61-12 thermonuclear bomb being developed for NATO, delivered by the UK’s forthcoming F-35 Joint Strike Fighters operating from land bases and from the Royal Navy’s new carriers. The weapons would be based in existing facilities at RAF Marham, Norfolk and RAF Honington, Suffolk, removing all nuclear weapons from Scotland in the process.

Dual-role systems offer two clear advantages: first, the nuclear mission can free-ride on much of the capital and operating costs of the conventional forces, significantly reducing costs.

Second, a dual-role system is a clear step down the nuclear ladder in both cost and capability terms. This means that as and when the international climate allows for multilateral disarmament, the UK won’t waste the investment in the F-35 aircraft, which can continue to operate in their conventional role. Trident submarines, however, are much harder to adapt to a range of conventional tasks, meaning that once acquired, there is likely to be heavy pressure to operate them beyond 2050 to avoid wasting the billions invested in them.

Those advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament in a single jump off the nuclear ladder need to think carefully about whether this is realistic. It would be a rather pyrrhic victory if opposing a minimum nuclear deterrent based on dual-use assets led to a Trident replacement that locks the UK into nuclear operations into the 2050s.

After paying for the cheaper, dual-use platforms, CentreForum’s proposal provides an additional £5 – 13bn savings to recapitalise the UK’s conventional force’s equipment. And by retaining the submarine industrial base, the facilities and expertise at Aldermaston, and the UK’s uranium and plutonium stocks, in the very unlikely event of a new Cold War the UK retains the option to return to Trident.

CentreForum’s package would result in a much more capable conventional force, which balances the conventional mission and the UK’s global role with a credible, minimum independent UK nuclear force fit for the 21st century. The alternative diminution of the UK’s international role by clinging on to a single-role Cold War weapon and slashing the UK’s conventional forces to pay for it, is in our view far too high a cost to pay.

* Toby Fenwick is a Research Associate of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), has written extensively on the UK Trident programme, and served on the party’s last Trident Working Group. This article is written in a personal capacity.

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80 Comments

  • Robin McGhee 16th Feb '15 - 4:11pm

    This is a thoughtful and very fair suggestion for how we could get cheaper nuclear weapons, and if the MoD were interested in cost they would take it up.

    Unfortunately there is no justification for the UK possessing nuclear weapons in the first place. But if we are going to replace them I guess going for the cheaper option would make sense.

  • Stephen Bolter 16th Feb '15 - 4:21pm

    Wonderful Idea.
    Instead of having our nuclear weapons hidden at sea, we will have them in Suffolk and Norfolk – nice and far from Putney if an enemy decide on a pre-emptive strike on them.

    But second thoughts, after nuclear warring, the scientific and IT skills of the East of England might be more useful than those of the City of London bankers.
    Perhaps the weapons would be better based at Docklands.

    Or better still, how about helping fight global warming by using up our stockpile of weapons grade Uranium and Plutonium in the reactor of nuclear power stations, thus reducing the war triggering pressures of climate change.

  • Stephen Bolter 16th Feb '15 - 4:29pm

    Apologies Missing eses in “an enemy decides” an in “in the reactors”

  • Geoffrey payne 16th Feb '15 - 4:34pm

    We don’t need and cannot afford nuclear weapons. Why is the party so timid?

  • Does anyone think Norfolk and Suffolk don’t have nuclear weapons stored in them already?

  • Jenny Barnes 16th Feb '15 - 4:53pm

    The b61 12 is a n upgraded b61 with a steerable tail fin assembly which gives a very limite stand off capability. I’m puzzled how this proposal would deter anyone with first strike capabilities . The carriers would be stand out targets and runways in the uk would too.. Launch on warning? How would it work? I see no,need for,the uk to have an independent nuclear deterrent , but this just wouldn’t deter any serious adversary. And how would people know your F35s weren’t carrying nukes????

  • Indeed, there was a reason why every single nuclear power switched their deterrent to a submarine platform as soon as the technology was available: it is the only feasible way to ensure second-strike capability, and without second-strike capability you don’t have a deterrent.

  • Bill le Breton 16th Feb '15 - 5:19pm

    I remember being involved in a war game, perhaps in 1980 or something. Would it have been called operation Square Leg.? It was the one where all the vehicles were loaded onto ships and taken to Calais for unloading. Trouble is no one had realized that they all had to be reversed off and it took far longer than anticipated and then everything was back to front.. The Soviets were likely to get to Paris before the British Army completed their disembarkation and got their ducks in a line.

    Meanwhile down in the Isle of Wight’s subterranean bunker the nuclear device impacts were plotted on a large map. Two on Portsmouth dockyard and two on Southampton docks. Everything was clock work and manual below ground as it was assumed there would’t be much power for very long. I seem to remeber that regional government was somewhere near Guildford.

    Above ground the mayhem had affected the homing device of a fifth bomb which thus ‘missed’ its target and landed in Southampton Water, this ‘miss’ immediately sprayed the whole of the populated northern part of the Isle of Wight (and all of Southampton with ultra hot radioactive steam, annihilating all the population above ground. “But,” warned the Emergency Planning Officer, “All the buildings and installations would be undamaged.”

    “If this was the effect of dropping nuclear devices in salt water, why,” I asked, “would the Soviets not deliberately aim there – taking out the population and leaving all those resources for their occupying troops.”

    Answer came there none.

    I always thought that what we were really doing was fighting an economic war, dressed as a nuclear war. We won in the end because we invented jeans and jeans won the hearts and minds of the population east of the iron curtain.

    Richard Cobden understood that.

  • A deterrence that doesn’t deter a first strike in the first place isn’t much good.

    A deterrence that actually invites a strike is worse.

    “Second strike capability” is a manifestation of the pathology of power, the notion that you can live with your own population being wiped out as long as you can destroy the enemy’s population as well and leave the world in radioactive ruins. Following that logic, we “win” if our robots beat their robots, even if we are all dead by that time.

  • “Second strike capability” is a manifestation of the pathology of power, the notion that you can live with your own population being wiped out as long as you can destroy the enemy’s population as well and leave the world in radioactive ruins

    Well, the idea is that the enemy would rather their population not be wiped out by your second strike so they don’t launch their first strike in the, er, first place.

    Which will only work if they cannot be sure of destroying your retaliatory capacity, which they could be with any system other than submarine missiles.

    If all we had was these aeroplanes, then there would be no reason for any nuclear-armed enemy not to blow us all up any time they felt like it.

    With a constantly-at-sea submarine system, on the other hand, there is a reason for them not to blow us up, at least if they are averse to the idea of being blown up themselves shortly afterwards.

    Hence, the only feasible deterrent is a constantly-at-sea submarine system.

  • Simon McGrath 16th Feb '15 - 5:48pm

    Its an excellent paper. I used to think we needed to replace Trident but what is impressive about the Centre Forum paper is that we can preserve a credible second strike capability, while at the same time greatly strengthening the Royal Navy.

  • jedibeeftrix 16th Feb '15 - 5:56pm

    I have a question, even if we accept this as a credible option, what does this say for our nuclear attack submarines?

    Specifically:
    1. On the numbers necessary to sustain a build industry (~30 year life with a @ 27 month build time)?
    2. On the numbers necessary to sustain a design industry (~30 year life with a new design ~7 years)?

    Nuclear sub building is a startegic industry that already exists on the margins of viability.
    Will we build more attack boats to compensate for the lack of missile boats….

  • “………. It would be a rather pyrrhic victory if opposing a minimum nuclear deterrent based on dual-use assets led to a Trident replacement that locks the UK into nuclear operations into the 2050s.”

    Can anyone explain what this curious sentence actually means?

    ” a rather pyrrhic victory ” ???

    Or is this just Toby desperately trying to frame a nonsensical question ?
    Is it because he has no answer to the real question ? which is put succinctly by —

    Geoffrey payne 16th Feb ’15 – 4:34pm
    We don’t need and cannot afford nuclear weapons. Why is the party so timid?

  • I’ve now read the paper; what it describes is not ‘credible second strike capability’, and only appears to do so by revising down the requirements for a second-strike capability from making sure an enemy knows that if they launch an attack they will face a devastating response, to simply making it possible that we might be able to launch some kind of retaliatory attack. If we’re lucky.

    In effect, the position described in the paper throws down a gauntlet to potential aggressors: ‘come and have a go if you think you are hard enough to knock out our retaliatory capability.’

    As the history of the 20th century demonstrates, it is entirely possible for militarily advanced nations to be taken over by reckless, bellicose leaders with a shaky grip on reality, who are willing to launch military campaigns that they have little hope of winning, in the belief that destiny is on their side.

    The position described in the paper, far from deterring such a figure, would seem to act as provocation: daring the despot to try to take Britain out of the fight, without suffering the retaliation that Trident would guarantee.

    Daring despots does not sound like something you want to do with nuclear weapons.

  • Like Bill Le Breton I too have some knowledge of what would happen if the lunatics were allowed to play the war games that some think is worth spending BILLIONS of pounds of tax payers money.

    The best expenditure to deal with the sort of proposal is to invest in large quantities of white coats.
    To stop this madness employ lots of “men in white coats” to drag the lunatics away to a place of safety where they cannot do any further harm to themselves anyone else.

  • Peter Chegwyn 16th Feb '15 - 6:35pm

    John Tilley. Please see your Facebook messages. TV trying to get hold of you!

  • Vote Lib Dem. We’ll only spend £16bn on an ineffective bit of miltary kit.

  • Robin McGhee 16th Feb '15 - 7:09pm

    It’s not fair to argue only submarines allow an effective deterrent. Most countries with nuclear weapons use silos and planes. These are not as sexy as submarines, which is why we have submarines.

    Meanwhile, the whole idea of a “retaliatory strike” capability is strategically worthless anyway. An all-out attack by a major power against the west would totally destroy civilisation by creating a new ice age and annihilating most of the world’s economy, so the enemy would be defeated without any need to actually attack them.

  • Toby Fenwick 16th Feb '15 - 7:23pm

    Thanks to all for your interest.

    Dav : we’ve not ” revising down the requirements for a second-strike capability”, I’ve used the minimum deterrence / unacceptable damage criteria from 1978 and 1982. I’ve also gone back to first principles, which shows that deterrence is achieved by the other side not being confident that they can stop you causing unacceptable damage. Of course, this relies on your opponents being rational; if they’re not making value-maximising decisions as we would understand them (e.g., Bin Laden’s “we love death more than you love life”) then deterrence cannot work. But within the bounds of rationality, this proposal meets the 1978 criteria.

    Stephen Bolter: I’m from Suffolk, and hope to move back shortly. Anyone who doesn’t think that Marham, Mildenhall/Lakenheath, Honington and Wattisham aren’t already nuclear targets in a nuclear war with the Russians needs to think a little more deeply about the issue.

    Jenny Barnes: From 45.000 ft, B61-12 will fly just over 40km. Combined with the F-35’s stealth and coordinated conventional attacks, this gives us a high level of confidence that it will successfully overcome advanced air defences. See page 55- 57 and Appendix 3 of the report.

    David-1: It doesn’t invite an attack unless someone was proposing to attack us and wasn’t deterred by our forces and the NATO Article V guarantee. Who did you have in mind?

    Simon McG: Thank-you. If only it were party policy!

    Bill le Breton: Things have moved on somewhat. The rationale for Trident (the second decision making pole) was predicated on the existence of a credible Soviet conventional force (GSFG) that could take Western Europe and then ask the US if they really wanted to swap Moscow for Minneapolis and Los Angeles for Leningrad. The removal of GSFG (20 years ago) removed a large part of the rationale. This proposal allows us to meet minimum deterrence, but to have something to trade away, and to improve the conventional forces.

    John Tilley: Yes, a rather pyrrhic victory, because there is no political route to unilateral nuclear disarmament in the UK between now and Trident Main Gate in 2016. Those who favour nuclear disarmament should see – and be able to support this – as a major step to their desired goal. As a committed multilateralist, there is much common ground here.

  • Jenny Barnes 16th Feb '15 - 8:03pm

    45km? The Russian s300 Sam system -1997 vintage and as sold to Syria – has a 70km range and better than 80% kill ratio. The details don’t matter, this is not a credible deterrent system.

  • Toby Fenwick 16th Feb '15 - 8:15pm

    Jenny: it’s all in Appendix 3 of the paper. S-300 (SA-10/20) and S-400 (SA-21) do indeed have long range missiles, but they cannot shoot down the aircraft if they can’t detect it: in our case, even an S-400 will detect the aircraft about 5.6 seconds before the bomb is launched, allowing the aircraft to escape. That’s the point of stealth.

    All the best.

  • Toby Fenwick 16th Feb '15 - 8:16pm

    Oh, and the details matter enormously.

  • If the details matter enormously, isn’t this quite a big missing one?
    “The B61-12 RCS is unknown, and thus it is unknown how easy it would be to intercept by the defences. ” (pg 87)

  • Jonathan Brown 17th Feb '15 - 1:24am

    I think the point several people are missing here is that a cheaper, less effective alternative to Trident, allows us to remain a nuclear power – and therefore with a dog in the game – while dramatically reducing costs and still being a considerable step towards eventual complete disarmament. Which seems like a pretty good alternative to the most likely option at present: a renewal of Trident.

    While it’s not an effective (or as effective) deterrant against a massive nuclear first strike by someone else, that shouldn’t in itself be an argument against this option for those that don’t want any kind of nuclear strike capability in any case. Indeed, one of the reasons for scrapping Trident is that we think it pointless: it doesn’t deter the kind of enemies we face, and we wouldn’t want to use it in any case. Replacing it with a nuclear weapon that is less effective than Trident isn’t therefor putting us in a ‘worse’ position than we’d be militarily / strategically than if we unilaterally disarmed.

    I would vote for unilateral disarmament. But it’s not at all clear to me that the country would, and I’d much rather take a significant step on the road to full disarmament by seriously downgrading our nuclear warfare capabilities than keeping Trident as it is because we can’t muster the votes.

  • We can’t be unilateralist because we might not have the votes. With Labour supporting a Continuous at Sea Deterrent (still their official position) there aren’t the votes for an alternative. And in any case if you take the view as a political party that you only adopt a policy that other parties will support there is precious little point in existing.

    As for the “Dog in the Game” argument, the UK is the smallest nuclear power in NATO and the NPT signatories. I’ve not exactly noticed Germany not being taken seriously on the international stage because they aren’t a nuclear power.

  • I find the chattering about first strikes and second strikes and survivability and exchanging cities to be completely inane and out of touch with the reality of nuclear weapons. Any discussion of nuclear strategy that does not keep foremost in mind the ghastly Gehenna that even a small nuclear explosion would turn a city into is not a serious one. Everyone who wants to put forward an opinion on the subject should be staring at a picture of the devastation of post-bombing Hiroshima or Nagasaki — and should reflect that those weapons had only a fraction of the power of a single Trident missile.

    The idea that it would be somehow better for the entire world to be devastated than — well, than any other alternative — can only be one of two things: mad, or evil.

    Trying to justify it as part of a psychological game is building a very fragile house of cards. It all depends on assuming that an enemy will do exactly as predicted according to some bureaucrat’s imaginary ideal of military and diplomatic judgment. Yet history shows that decisions are not, in fact, made that way, and under actual wartime conditions politicians and generals make the most egregious blunders and bad decisions, not with a view toward optimal outcomes, but to save face or curry favour or advance a career.

    There is no evidence that ‘deterrence’ actually works, and there never has been. Of course, no nation wants to be hit by a nuclear strike, but the uselessness of nuclear weapons in modern warfare is such that there would never be a compelling reason to use one in the first place. It is not deterrence that prevents their use, but the fact that the weapons are incapable of acquiring any meaningful military objectives. The only reason to have nuclear weapons, we are told, is not to fight a war with them, but to use them as a giant scarecrow. (The scarecrow would be both cheaper and safer.) The rationale is circular and self-defeating. We have the weapons because They do; They can’t get rid of the weapons as long as We have them. This is not about security or defence; it’s just a loser’s game where the possession of the weapons actually makes us less safe, and the only reward is being able to wear a badge with the words “Nuclear State”; from any sensible perspective, a badge of shame.

  • @ David 1

    “There is no evidence that ‘deterrence’ actually works, and there never has been.”
    It’s a very good argument you make. Have you tried putting it to Vladimir Putin to see what he says? When Russia feels compelled to give up its nuclear arsenal in response, then I’ll be convinced as well. In the mean time….

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Feb '15 - 8:01am

    Jonathan- thank you, that’s exactly the point.

    Hywel- thank you for reading it. But this demonstrates how careful the paper is. The B61-12 is only 13.3″ across and approximately 12′ long, so the expectation is that it is very low. If it is unexpectedly high, EMP could provide a tactical solution.

  • RC 17th Feb ’15 – 7:52am

    Are you not very effectively making David 1’s point for him?

    If NATO’s combined nuclear weaponry has not been enough to deter Putin from sending troops into Ukrainian territory what uses it?

    Nuclear weapons do not seem to be able to deter the Wahhabi funded nutters in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and now Libya.

    Instead of spending £33bn on Trident or a few Billion on Toby’s cut-price insanity devoting those resources to funding opponents of Wahhabi gangsters and cut-throats might actually do something for “security”.

  • Jenny Barnes 17th Feb '15 - 9:01am

    The purpose of an independent UK nuclear deterrent is to ensure the US do their bit. Assume the enemy (Orange) make a first strike on Birmingham, for example. Would the US retaliate, risking all out thermonuclear war? Maybe not. But with a UK deterrent, the UK can guarantee retaliation, so the potential first strike wouldn’t happen. ( Yes, ok, assuming rationality etc ). Now, with this proposal, Orange carries out a first strike taking out 2 aircraft carriers with nuclear tipped antiship missiles, and the airbases in East Anglia. Assuming you have any assets left, in order to retaliate you would need to first take out Orange’s air defences – you would need Tomahawks and long distance stand off conventional weapons on a large number of stealth fighters. Then your remaining nuclear armed F35s set off towards Orange targets. They would probably need airborne refuellers, another juicy target for Orange. It just might work if Orange were a relatively poorly armed state, but with modern weapon systems – not likely. You would need the US to provide the facilitation – anti air defence campaign, and if they were willing to do that, then the need for an independent nuclear deterrent would not exist in the first place.
    Do we need Trident, or this proposal? I suggest not, and the cost in these times of deficit reduction is likely to be the capabilities of the rest of the armed services.

  • Julian Tisi 17th Feb '15 - 9:57am

    Much as I hate to say it but with Putin looking increasingly dangerous, now is not the time to be going for unilateral nuclear disarmament. It would send the wrong message to Putin and I could see him taking it as a signal that we’re not serious about protecting Europe from his imperialist ambitions – other countries in Eastern Europe would likely suffer the same fate as Ukraine.

    However, it’s absolutely right that we should reconsider alternatives to replacing Trident – I think it was right that in government we have managed to delay its replacement and if we can find a cheaper alternative then we should definitely go there. In fact politically it’s surely a must – why spend £33bn on something you don’t need?

  • Dav : we’ve not ” revising down the requirements for a second-strike capability”, I’ve used the minimum deterrence / unacceptable damage criteria from 1978 and 1982. I’ve also gone back to first principles, which shows that deterrence is achieved by the other side not being confident that they can stop you causing unacceptable damage

    No, it isn’t. Deterrence is achieved by the other side knowing for sure that they can’t stop you causing unacceptable damage.

    Anything else is an invitation to them to gamble.

    if they’re not making value-maximising decisions as we would understand them (e.g., Bin Laden’s “we love death more than you love life”) then deterrence cannot work

    Gambling can be a value-maximising decision (have you never played poker?) If the chance of unacceptable losses is calculated to be low enough, and the rewards of taking the UK out of the game big enough, then it could well be worth a shot for a rational enemy.

    The only way to make sure that no first strike on the UK will ever be a good gamble, is to make the chance that the aggressor will suffer unacceptable losses 100%.

  • Tsar Nicolas 17th Feb '15 - 10:55am

    Julian Tisi

    “With Putin looking increasingly dangerous.”

    Last week, Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma introduced a bill to provide for military aid to Ukraine. He backed up his case with photographs of Russian tanks in Ukraine provided to him by members of the Ukrainian Rada.

    Except that there weren’t any Russian tanks in Ukraine. The photographs were of Russian tanks in Georgia back in 2008. So, if there was any evidence of any Russian incursions into Ukraine, where is the evidence? You accused me on a previous thread a while back of being willfully blind. But I say again, where’s the evidence?

    Meanwhile there’s plenty of evidence that the fascists in Ukraine, brought to power by a US-sponsored coup, have been bombing civilian areas in the Donbass, and the US seems to be on the verge of arming the Kiev regime. That’s a sure fire way to get a wider conflict started. I am sure that if Russia feels its survival to be threatened, then nuclear weapons will be used, with or without Trident.

  • If Uk planes can “hide” from radar until 5 seconds before bomb release, can’t planes or missiles from an antagonist do the ssme? In which case you’d have 5 seconds to get planes out of a blast area to deploy the detterent.

    A detterent which can be taken out with a first strike is quite risky as it creates a “might get away with this” scenario for a sufficiently deranged leader

  • @ John Tilley

    “If NATO’s combined nuclear weaponry has not been enough to deter Putin from sending troops into Ukrainian territory what uses it?”

    John, you missed out one minor point there: Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, is it?

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Feb '15 - 1:19pm

    Jedi – sorry, missed your first comment. This proposal builds an additional five Astutes to address exactly this point. It would be a mad case of the tail wagging the dog to go for Trident renewal only in order to maintain the industrial base to build Astute replacements in the 2030s.

    John Tilley: Ukraine did not have a NATO nuclear guarantee, unlike Poland and Baltics. So Ukraine proves only that Putin is prepared to engage in dangerous cross-border adventurism in states that don’t have NATO guarantees.

    Caractus: No, the “we love death more than we love life” actively invites suicide. MAD is mutually assured, and needs people to want to stay alive in order to work. As it did throughout the Cold War in stopping a superpower v superpower exchange.

    Jenny Barnes: Your scenario requires (i) a pre-emptive strike from (ii) a nuclear armed state with (iii) nuclear armed torpedos on an SSN having (iv) the ability to engage all 18 dispersals before the aircraft can launch (not sure how you intend to achieve this). What state did you have in mind?

    Dav- No, deterrence is achieved by someone considering that it is not worth the risk to attack the UK if the threat of unacceptable loss is sufficient. Because of their destructive power, the threat posed by nuclear weapons is such that the risk of even a small number getting to target provides the deterrent effect.

  • jedibeeftrix 17th Feb '15 - 2:08pm

    Cheers Toby, not your fault, my comments are held in auto-moderation

    Encouraging, will give the whole report a read.

    Related info:

    Trouble with nukes is that there are huge fixed costs, see eg
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmdfence/225/225we37.htm
    We estimate that the current cost of supporting the SSBN and SSN fleets averages around £600 million a year. This figure covers the costs of maintaining the submarines themselves, including for replacement parts and systems, equipment and the operating costs of the naval bases that provide support. It does not include costs associated with supporting the strategic weapons system (ie the missiles and their launch systems and the warheads) installed on the SSBNs.

    On average the £600 million is divided more or less evenly between the SSBN and SSN fleets, but there is some variation from year to year reflecting peaks and troughs in major maintenance periods. A substantial proportion of these submarine support costs (around 80%) are considered to be fixed, that is they are not directly activity dependent. Ending SSBN operations could therefore be expected to generate only relatively modest savings in submarine support costs, of less than £100 million a year.

    .

  • RC and Toby
    Not only had I not missed the point that Ukraine’s desire to be in NATO has not yet been granted, nor had I missed the point made very succinctly by Noam Chomsky on Ch4 News last week that Putin and the Russians regard Ukraine as being within the Russian ‘ sphere of influence ‘. One could say they are legitimate in so thinking because Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO.

    So that makes everything OK ? It is just fine and dandy that thousands have been killed in the he last year ?

    The “rules” of this big boys’ nuclear game say if you are not a member of the NATO nuclear club it’s fair game for the Russian tanks to come over the border?

    If the Russians bomb the biggest nuclear power station in Europe (which is in Ukraine) and if they do it with ‘conventional’ weapons that will be OK because unlike Chernbyl the wind will restrict itself to dropping radioactive waste only on non-NATO countries. Is that how it works?

  • No, deterrence is achieved by someone considering that it is not worth the risk to attack the UK if the threat of unacceptable loss is sufficient

    Indeed. But in your scenario, the threat of unacceptable loss is not sufficient, as an enemy might consider that they would be able to knock out enough of the UK’s second-strike capability that either they suffered no losses, or they suffered only acceptable losses.

    Because of their destructive power, the threat posed by nuclear weapons is such that the risk of even a small number getting to target provides the deterrent effect.

    Not true. One might be willing to risk one or two getting through. It depends on the risk/reward calculation.

    Say they calculate that they have a 60% chance of knocking out all Britain’s second-strike capability and suffering no losses, a further 20% chance of being able to take out all but a single retaliatory aircraft before it reaches the target, a further 10% chance of being able to take out all but two, another 5% that they can get all but three, and the chances of more than five, say, reaching their targets being only 1%.

    That’s a 99% chance of being able to remove the UK entirely form the geopolitical situation (and, you know, the map) while suffering either no losses at all, or the loss of only one, two or maybe three cities.

    Depending on the strategic situation, that mayy be a risk worth taking for a rational adversary.

    Whereas if an enemy is guaranteed (or all-but so) to be obliterated by a retaliatory strike (as in the case of SLBMs) then it is never rational for them to launch a first strike against the UK.

    Your proposal, therefore, does not provide a reasonable deterrent.

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Feb '15 - 3:23pm

    Jedi: interesting figures. Look forward to your thoughts idc.

    John: I’m not sure if you’re being deliberately obtuse – trolling – or whether you actually believe the nonsense you post on here. Pretty obviously no-one is keen on giving Putin a free hand in eastern Ukraine or Crimea, but it is far from clear that sending NATO ground forces to take on the “rebels” and their Russian “volunteer” helpers is likely to help – which is why there is a sanctions regime targeting the Russian leadership. Do you have a plan that has so far eluded everyone else? (And if you were trolling, congratulations.)

    Dav: You are asserting that the risk of loss is insufficient. On what grounds? If I understand your argument, a 1% chance of losing five cities would be a risk worth taking to blow the UK off the map, and it is only Trident that stops Putin from doing so? You’d have to include the element that says “and NATO Article V won’t apply” and “no-one else’s interests will be engaged”.

    If that’s right, I’m afraid I disagree.

  • Julian Tisi 17th Feb '15 - 3:25pm

    @ Tsar Nicholas
    It takes a certain type of courage to take a stand against one’s own country’s actions, as for example those Russian students did recently in a video aimed at Ukranians attacking Putin’s actions and where many students say “Forgive us”. I’m guessing you’re not such a person and are either wilfully blind as I said before or for some other reason are unwilling to confront what is clearly happening. I’ve already circulated links showing satellite pictures the Americans have taken of Russian tank columns and heavy artillery inside Ukraine (last I looked Ukraine didn’t have spy satellites) so feel no need to do so again for you to ignore them once more.

    But I have to take issue with your last line about Russia using nuclear weapons if it feels it survival is threatened. First of all, Ukraine is not Russia. No-one has threatened Russsia or an inch of its land. This is about Russian incursions into another sovereign state. Second, you point to the very real threat here – Russia is a nuclear power currently led by a dangerous man. Hence disarming unilaterally is not something we should currently consider. One day I hope that Putin will be gone and we can welcome Russia into the fold of democratic, civilised nations. I hope that day is soon but we’re not there yet.

  • Tsar Nicolas 17th Feb '15 - 4:23pm

    Julian Tisi

    The photographs you previously posted are fake. If photographs of Russian forces inside the Ukraine actually existed then they would have been presented to the US Senate last week and not fakes. that was the whole point of my post. fake photographs were presented.

    I regularly read the work of former CIA analysts like Philip Giraldi and Ray McGovern (and colleagues) – McGovern being the man who used to give the daily intelligence briefings to US presidents including George H W Bush. The photographs of such evidence that you speak of do not exist.

    My perception (and yours) of what constitutes an existential threat to Russia may differ from what is perceived in Moscow. The Diplomatic Corps begin their training by being taught to look at matters from the other fellow’s point of view. that is what we are not doing. Russia has seen Ukraine and Belarus being used time and time again as an invasion route and that explains why they are nervous about what is happening in Ukraine.

    As for your remarks about Russian democracy please consider this. If the Russians had a national election in which just 28% of the voters bothered to go to the polling stations, then western media would be crowing about lack of participation. But that doesn’t happen in Russia where turnouts are relatively high – the 28% turnout happened in the United States in the mid-terms last November.

  • But that doesn’t happen in Russia where turnouts are relatively high – the 28% turnout happened in the United States in the mid-terms last November

    It’s not the voting that’s democracy.

  • Tsar Nicolas 17th Feb '15 - 4:51pm

    Here’s a link to the story about Senator Inhofe releasing fake photographs, something not picked up by our mainstream media.

    http://libertyblitzkrieg.com/2015/02/13/in-his-thirst-for-war-senator-jim-inhofe-releases-fake-photos-of-russian-troops-in-the-ukraine/

    This underlines the point about there being no real photographs of Russian forces in Ukraine – if there were such evidence, then surely real photographs would have been used.

    As for US democracy (Dav), there was a thread on LDV on electronic voting where I showed that online voting and voting machines are easily manipulated – as in Ohio in 2004.

  • John Broggio 17th Feb '15 - 4:57pm

    For those advocating the UK retaining a stock of these WMDs perhaps they’d be kind enough to suggest at what point France should use its WMDs to deter an advancing conventional army from the East?

  • For those advocating the UK retaining a stock of these WMDs perhaps they’d be kind enough to suggest at what point France should use its WMDs to deter an advancing conventional army from the East?

    Hasn’t it already done so, from the sixties up until 1989?

  • AC Trussell 17th Feb '15 - 5:25pm

    After reading some of the M.A.D. comments and scenarios above; it seems to me that most are thinking with “war brains” of the past.
    What I mean is : would Spain start nuclear war with France; Britain with Italy? Germany with USA? and so on.
    In the past, this has happened (not nuclear- ok). But we have grown-up now. Most of the places in the world are communicating with each other now and wouldn’t think of such a thing.
    Some places are still catching-up. Russia- it seems to me is still (in a lot of ways)- in the middle of the last century.
    Most other places where there are problems have been held back by religion.
    The point is -they are all becoming more involved and learning that we are all very similar, and don’t want to kill everybody!

    There is no reason why anyone would start a nuclear war! To keep such things is inhuman!

    If explained correctly; the Lib/Dems should get rid of Trident and collect a mega-ton of votes.

  • But we have grown-up now

    Ha ha. just because there hasn’t been a major European war for, what, 70 years after how many centuries of conflict? And you’re ready to declare that war is a thing of the past, never to come again?

    Human nature doesn’t change: there will be another war. there is always another war. The winner will be the one who used the peace to prepare.

  • AC Trussell 17th Feb ’15 – 5:25pm
    “….. thinking with “war brains” of the past.”

    Yes indeed — although maybe “thinking” is too generous a description.

    They are slipping into a comfortable old 1950s overcoat that their American uncle used to to wear; It is threadbare, impractical, it does not fit and it makes no sense to wear it — but it is so much easier to put it on again rather than trying something new.

  • Toby – Am I mistaken or does your list of “states of concern” on page 82 omit India (probably a fair call) and Russia (lets just say less so) but include Israel. Whilst I’m fairly critical of the Israeli government at times I don’t see them launching a first strike nuclear attack on the UK any time soon.

  • Dav. “….Human nature doesn’t change: there will be another war. there is always another war”

    The distinctive mating call of the Conservative and the arms manufacturer through the ages.

    Just like the will always be slavery in the USA, there will always be polio, there will always be communism in Eastern Europe, there will always be an Apartheid regime in South Africa and the Third Reich will last for a thousand years.

  • jedibeeftrix 17th Feb '15 - 5:48pm

    from the report:

    “The UK should also market these evolved Astute-class SSNs to Australia and Canada which both have submarine replacement programmes in the 2020s and for which an evolved Astute could provide an effective solution. In both cases, the twin aims are to support traditional alliance partners and the UK nuclear submarine industrial base, meaning that export submarines would be priced at the marginal cost of UK production, ….”

    Has not Australia opted to buy the new Japanese Soryu sub design?

  • John Broggio 17th Feb '15 - 7:18pm

    France used nuclear weapons in war as recently as 1989?! I really don’t think it did; a shamefully transparent attempt not to answer the question posed.

  • It’s a debate between the establishment, not the public. If the public had this debate the topic would be should we have nukes, not how best to have them.

    This is exactly what I mean when I say the mainstream establishment parties (Lib/Lab/Con) are all the same, all signed up to the same agenda, and any disagreement between amongst the three of them is just tinkering around the edges.

    The debate amongst the Lib/Lab/Con establishment isn’t if we should have these things, nukes that can wipe out entire cities, the debate is how best to have them. For those of us who don’t want them isn’t a meaningful debate at all and the policy amongst them is all the same.

    The establishment (Lib/Lab/Con) are all in favour of nukes, it’s just the Greens the SNP and the majority of the public that are against them.

    The UK has no right in condemning barrel bombs and indiscriminate weapons whilst keeping their indiscriminate weapons that kill indiscriminately on a far larger scale.

    The three establishment parties really are all the same.

  • A Social Liberal 17th Feb '15 - 7:37pm

    Tsar Nicholas said

    “Except that there weren’t any Russian tanks in Ukraine. The photographs were of Russian tanks in Georgia back in 2008. So, if there was any evidence of any Russian incursions into Ukraine, where is the evidence? You accused me on a previous thread a while back of being willfully blind. But I say again, where’s the evidence?”

    the evidence, Tsar, was in the report aired by Channel 4 news. They showed (without reporting it as such) a T72BM being fired by the Russian backed separatists.

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Feb '15 - 7:42pm

    Hywel,
    The table on page 82 corresponds to the target sets in Figure 8, page 65. This is preceeded on page 62 with an underlined disclaimer that these are illustrative only.

    So, why include Israel? Well, it is outside the NPT, is strongly suspected of cooperating on the apartheid South Africa nuvlear programme, and could be the progenitor of an unauthorised launch or extremist takeover of the government. None of this likely, but it would have been a major value judgement not to have included Israel (which has nuclear weapons) whilst including Saudi and Iran, who currently probably don’t. The tipping point though, was historic Israeli proliferation, which rather puts the lie to it being a responsible nuclear power.

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Feb '15 - 7:44pm

    Jedi: not confirmed, we were told. Australia’s geography makes SSNs a much more useful tool.

  • Stephen Hesketh 17th Feb '15 - 8:47pm

    JohnTilley 17th Feb ’15 – 2:15pm

    “If the Russians bomb the biggest nuclear power station in Europe (which is in Ukraine) and if they do it with ‘conventional’ weapons that will be OK because unlike Chernobyl the wind will restrict itself to dropping radioactive waste only on non-NATO countries. Is that how it works?”

    A good question John. I seem to recall Chernobyl fall-out reaching the UK and many thousands of gallons of radioactive milk being flushed away and thousands of animals rendered unfit for consumption. Human toll yet to be finalised.

    Uncivil Nuclear Power 1 (for not emitting CO2) : John Tilley circa 100 and counting.

  • Stephen Hesketh 17th Feb '15 - 8:57pm

    Jenny Barnes 17th Feb ’15 – 9:01am

    “Assume the enemy (Orange) make a first strike on Birmingham, for example. ”

    Jenny, I know the (loosely termed) Orange Bookers have inflicted terrible damage on the electoral outlook of our party but I am yet to see evidence of them having it in for Birmingham in particular 🙂

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Feb '15 - 9:24pm

    Stephen: John Tilley’s ludicrous suggestion that the Russians would target a nuclear reactor should be treated as such. Not only would it be a direct violation of the laws of war (on”dangerous forces” as well as Environmental Modification) it would also be tremendously short sighted.

    It is certainly not a reason to oppose low CO2 nuclear power in the UK. There are others, mostly relating to the financing.

  • Stephen Hesketh 17th Feb '15 - 10:33pm

    Toby

    “It is certainly not a reason to oppose low CO2 nuclear power in the UK”.

    I don’t believe the threat of attacks on nuclear power stations can be ignored. I sincerely hope someone somewhere is keeping a special watch on them as the implications of not doing so are unthinkable. I do not however wish to distract from the main topic so will stop there.

  • Tsar Nicolas 17th Feb '15 - 11:40pm

    A Social Liberal

    “the evidence, Tsar, was in the report aired by Channel 4 news. They showed (without reporting it as such) a T72BM being fired by the Russian backed separatists.”

    So why was this evidence not used by Senator Inhofe? He is a senior member of teh Senate with access to lots of resources, and he chose to run with fake photographs. It suggests that all the other so-called evidence is not what it’s made out to be.

    Does anyone remember Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations security Council back in 2003?

  • “…a direct violation of the laws of war”
    Toby Fenwick 17th Feb ’15 – 9:24pm

    Toby, can you elaborate on these  “laws of war” ?

    Do your “laws of war” permit an invasion of Ukrainian territory by convoys of Russian tanks, heavy artillery and regular soldiers of the Russian Army (Putin and Lavrov claimed they were just ordinary guys spending their free time and holidays going to help Ukrainian  friends).   

    Do these splendidly equipped and obviously well drilled regular soldiers in unmarked uniforms which have a striking resemblance to Russian uniforms all keep to your “laws of war”?

    Who drew up these “laws of war” ?    
    Was it the Marquis of Queensberry or some other jolly decent public school chap ?   
    It all sounds frightfully sporting !
    If rain stops play –  will the result of the Ukrainian war  be determined by Duckworth Lewis ?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/cricket/rules_and_equipment/4184006.stm

  • Simon McGrath 18th Feb '15 - 8:28am

    @john Tilley

    You will find a good intro to the laws of war here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_war
    and the specific convention on attacking nuclear power stations here:
    https://www.oecd-nea.org/law/nlb/nlb-72/029_038.pdf
    There’s a great website called Google that helps answer all sorts of questions – you should give it a try.

  • Simon McGrath

    Thank you Simon. No doubt you will be e-mailing this information to Mr Putin without delay.

    I am surprised you were not asked to go to Minsk with Chancellor Merkel To explain the laws of war to Mr Putin.

    With your googling skills we can only be the click of a mouse away from World Peace.

    Are you entering the Miss World competition this year?

  • The distinctive mating call of the Conservative and the arms manufacturer through the ages.

    As arms manufacturers seem in no danger of going bust any time soon, perhaps they know something about the world that you don’t?

    Just like the will always be slavery in the USA,

    I gather there is slavery in the UK. If we can’t eradicate it, then I dare say the colonials probably haven’t managed either. So I’ll bet you there is slavery in the US and, yes, there always will be.

    there will always be polio,

    Measles is making a comeback, so it wouldn’t surprise me if polio were to have a late rally too.

    there will always be communism in Eastern Europe,

    Well, Russia is currently a dictatorship run by the KGB, so remind me what’s changed from 1985?

    History moves in circles. There was war; there is peace; there will be war again, and peace again.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Feb '15 - 12:04pm

    Stephen Hesketh – lovely, thank you.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Feb '15 - 12:15pm

    I refer you to this article about a war game against a potential middle eastern adversary, held in 2002. Lt. Gen Riper is a man I’d want on my side!
    “In the first few days of the exercise, using surprise and unorthodox tactics, the wily 64-year-old Vietnam veteran sank most of the US expeditionary fleet in the Persian Gulf,…. The Pentagon…ordered their dead troops back to life and “refloated” the sunken fleet. Then they instructed the enemy forces to look the other way as their marines performed amphibious landings. ” ” Chinese Silkworm-type cruise missiles fired from… small boats sank the US fleet’s only aircraft carrier and two marine helicopter carriers. ”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/sep/06/usa.iraq

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Feb '15 - 12:49pm

    This isn’t at all constructive, but – Gen Ripper, did you say?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Strangelove

  • AC Trussell 18th Feb '15 - 1:44pm

    Lets be brave and join the other 150 + countries.

  • Toby Fenwick 18th Feb '15 - 7:49pm

    Jenny: Have you had a chance to read the report? If not, happy to confirm that the UK does not need to place the carriers in The Gulf on order to have target coverage. There are a few targets where this may be useful but it isn’t required.

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Feb ’15 – 12:49pm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Strangelove

    Now you mention Dr Strangelove, 

    The character Major TJ “King” Kong was played by one of my very favourite Hollywood characters the much under-rated actor Slim Pickens.

    BTW — have you noticed how similar in appearance Slim Pickens is to Toby Fenwick?   
    Give Slim a pair of heavy dark framed glasses and you would not be able to tell which was Toby and which was Slim.   Except of course Slim Pickens was never asked to write anything for Centre For Um.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slim_Pickens

    It will be difficult to forget the image of Toby astride a nuclear bomb waving his cowboy hat.

  • Steve Coltman 19th Feb '15 - 3:13pm

    I am a pragmatist, and I ask – what can be done, realistically, in the next year or so to persuade parliament not to go ahead with the renewal of Trident? The odds are they will go ahead anyway, there is absolutely no chance that parliament will opt for unilateral disarmament; but there may be an outside chance parliament might be persuaded to opt for something other than what is proposed.
    The Review of Alternatives to Trident, published in 2013 (downloadable from the cabinet Office web-site) says there is no alternative, or rather, we are too late, a completely new warhead needs to be developed. Toby suggests we could build a different US warhead under licence. He does not explain why the US should agree to this though. If the US wants us to stick with Trident (I assume they do) they might block access to any alternative.
    On the other hand, if the US is willing to let us build a free-fall bomb warhead under licence they might also be willing to let us build the warhead they designed for the Tomahawk cruise missiles. Toby knows my opposition to his ‘son-of-V-bomber’ idea – like other contributors to this article I do not believe this proposal will have any chance of gaining support but submarine-launched cruise missiles might.
    Personally I am sceptical that we need any new warhead type at all. The Review of Alternatives claims that the existing Trident warheads cannot be used in cruise missiles, implying they are not robust enough. I have good reason to suspect this is nonsense and that we have realistic options that the Review of Alternatives did not consider. You will have to read my book when it is finished.
    We do need a cheaper alternative to Trident; the conventional forces are in poor shape and look like being cut further. Even the Tories don’t care anymore about defence. But with Putin looking dangerous in Eastern Europe (Poland is upgrading its army with urgency) and ISIS trying to take control of Libya, we need decent conventional armed forces. If the three Baltic states are attacked, we are obliged legally and morally to defend them. They are EU and NATO members. But they are former parts of the Soviet Union so Putin may well view them differently.

  • AC Trussell 20th Feb '15 - 9:36am

    The Lib/Dems should give a referendum on Trident and all weapons of mass destruction.

  • An interesting discussion. I have a question. Nuclear submarines at sea, are supposed to be undetectable and this is crucial to the entire MAD strategy. But is it still actually true? In the ’80s it may have been, but there are many, many, more high tech satellites up there, these days. It wouldn’t even be necessary to have a precise location, a shockwave underwater can be hugely destructive. I would be inclined to suggest, that very large lumps of submerged metal may not be quite as well hidden as the pro-Trident lobby might like us to believe.

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