Tag Archives: Vanguard

Scottish independence: Where might Trident go?

Map of where Trident could end up

Scottish ministers say the UK’s nuclear deterrent – the submarine-based Trident – will be banished from Scotland if it becomes independent. The UK government says there are no plans to move it. But where could it relocate to if it had to?

The UK’s nuclear weapons system – currently made up of four Vanguard-class submarines which carry Trident strategic missiles – has been based at HM Naval Base Clyde on Scotland’s west coast since the 1960s.

The site is made up of two main parts – Faslane on the Gareloch, where the submarines are based, and Coulport on Loch Long, eight miles away, where the warheads are stored. The sites are kept separate for safety reasons.

The UK has had at least one submarine on patrol at any given time for more than 40 years and has used the Trident system since the 1990s.

Both Conservative and Labour want a like-for-like replacement when the existing fleet ends its working life in the late 2020s, while the Liberal Democrats want to downsize to three submarines, saying the existing system was designed for the Cold War era.

The UK government says all Royal Navy submarines will be based at Faslane by 2017 – supporting 8,000 jobs – and there are are no plans to move the nuclear deterrent. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said any alternative solution would come at huge cost and take decades.

In 2012, an inquiry into independence by a cross-party group of MPs concluded that identifying and recreating a suitable base to replace Faslane and Coulport would be “highly problematic, very expensive, and fraught with political difficulties”.

However, the Scottish government says if Scotland votes “Yes” in the independence referendum on 18 September, Trident will be removed – with the weapons’ withdrawal by 2020 – and a written constitution would ban nuclear weapons from being based in Scotland.

It also says Faslane has a “strong future” as a conventional naval base and the joint HQ for defence forces of an independent Scotland, and military personnel employed there would match current numbers.

So if the UK had to relocate Trident, where might it go?

1. Milford Haven

Tanker in Milford Haven dock Milford Haven is home to two liquefied natural gas facilities

In 2012 Wales’s Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones said the UK’s nuclear-armed submarines and jobs associated with it would be “more than welcome” in Wales if they left Scotland. The remark that was met with an angry response from Plaid Cymru politicians and activists who cited safety risks.

When the original shortlist was drawn up for basing Trident’s predecessor Polaris in the 1960s, Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire was one of the candidates.

The Welsh site is an attractive option because it is a natural deep-water port. But In the 1960s Esso had just established an oil refinery in the town and the MoD decided the two were incompatible on safety grounds, according to William Walker, one of the authors of Uncharted Waters: The UK Nuclear Weapons and the Scottish Question.

“The dangers of handling and storing high explosives near major oil facilities ruled it out. Imagine a big submarine colliding with a tanker. It’s common sense – even if there is a low probability, the consequences could be horrific,” he says.

Nowadays the town’s economic and industrial output makes that line of thinking even more tricky. The haven is home to two liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities and handles 30% of the UK’s gas supply. It also hosts two oil refineries and will soon have a new power station.

Dr Nick Ritchie, a lecturer in international security at the University of York, says it’s inconceivable that the MoD would allow LNG plants and oil refineries to stay open if Trident was relocated to Milford Haven.

And he says closing the refineries and petrochemical plants would have “a pretty significant economic impact”.

Walker thinks there would also be a question over whether the port could take the submarine traffic. There is also the possibility Wales might follow in Scotland’s footsteps and call for further devolution or independence. If it voted for that, and took the same stance as Scotland, the MoD would be back to square one.

2. Plymouth

HMS Turbulent at Devonport Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Turbulent at Devonport

Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth – the biggest private-sector employer in Devon and Cornwall – is the main nuclear repair and refuelling facility for the Royal Navy.

It is also home to the Trafalgar-class submarines, which will be moved to Faslane by 2017.

The port’s size – the largest naval base in Western Europe covers more than 650 acres and has 15 dry docks, 25 tidal berths and five basins – and familiarity with submarines has led some to believe Devonport might be the best option for an alternative location for Trident.

However, the Royal United Services Institute’s Malcolm Chalmers says even though – time and expense allowing – Devonport might work as an alternative to Faslane, it couldn’t recreate Coulport.

Coulport possesses a huge floating dock where warheads are placed inside the missiles, 3km from the small village of Garelochhead on one side and the small village of Ardentinny on the other, Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee heard in 2012. Any new warhead storage facility would need similar distances from population centres for loading and offloading warheads from missiles.

Devonport naval base, Plymouth

The dockyard is also in a densely populated area, which poses a safety risk. There are about 166,000 people living within 5km of the Devonport base, compared with about 5,200 within that distance of Faslane and fewer close to Coulport. The city of Plymouth has about 250,000 residents and is within 3.5km of the dockyard. Glasgow has a population of about 600,000, but it is 25km away from Faslane.

Walker says loading warheads into the missiles on Trident is “very delicate and complicated” and a process that shouldn’t be done in or near built-up areas.

“You can’t have Trident missile bodies laden with rocket fuel and nuclear warheads near a city of quarter a million people – the UK regulatory authorities would be very uncomfortable with that,” says Ritchie.

Lifting missiles is also a safety risk. “There needs to be an explosive handling jetty that is designed for the worst case scenario – if a missile is dropped or there is an earthquake, even if this might only happen once in several thousand years, and high explosives are scattered,” says Chalmers.

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Trident facts and figures

HMS Victorious
  • UK has four Vanguard Class submarines: HMS Vanguard, HMS Victorious, HMS Vigilant, and HMS Vengeance
  • They were launched between 1992 and 1998
  • Vanguard-class vessels are 150m (492ft) long
  • Ministry of Defence estimates cost of replacing all four submarines at £20bn
  • Submarines are based at Faslane on Gareloch
  • Missiles are kept at Coulport on Loch Long
  • UK has access to 70 Trident missiles held in communal pool at strategic weapons facility in Georgia, USA
  • Trident missile system replaced the Polaris system
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In 1963, Falmouth was suggested as a warhead depot option – like Coulport – in combination with Devonport. However the MoD dismissed the idea because it wanted the ammunitions depot to be within one hour’s sailing of the submarine base. Falmouth is 70km west of Devonport. However Chalmers thinks this combination could be a runner. “But it would require substantial political will,” he says.

Falmouth was also seriously considered in its own right in the 1963 shortlist. However, the area has a strong tourist economy and the proposed site would have required National Trust land acquisition which would be very difficult, if not impossible.

Olympic games 2012 Weymouth hosted the sailing events in the 2012 Olympics

Portland, Weymouth, was the third English port to make the shortlist. It was ruled out because it didn’t have a close enough site for the warheads depot. Chalmers says it was the issue of warhead loading being kept far enough away from people and sites of economic value that meant Scottish locations made six of the 10 shortlisted 1960s options.

Portland’s naval base and the neighbouring Naval Air Station have now been closed down and replaced by a residential and commercial marina which hosted the sailing events in the 2012 Olympics.

3. Barrow-in-Furness

The BAE Systems construction hall dominates the skyline above the town of Barrow-in-Furness, The Vanguard submarines were built in Barrow-in-Furness

An existing nuclear site that could be considered is Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, where BAE are currently building the nuclear-powered Astute-class submarines.

However, the base didn’t make it on to the 1963 shortlist because Walney Channel is thought to be too shallow for nuclear submarines.

Part of the problem is tidal. There are only a certain number of hours in each month when the tide is high enough for nuclear submarines to transit into the open sea, a 2005 investigation by research group RAND found.

Even at these restricted times the vessel has to travel fast to complete the journey.

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Trident II D5 missiles

  • Length: 44ft (13m)
  • Weight: 130,000lb (58,500kg)
  • Diameter: 6ft 11in (2.11m)
  • Range: 7,500 miles (12,000km)
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The problem isn’t just theoretical. The second Polaris submarine to be built at Barrow, HMS Repulse, ran aground when it was launched in November 1967.

However, Francis Tusa, editor of Defence Analysis, told the 2012 inquiry by a cross-party committee of MPs that Barrow’s advantage was that it already had support facilities, including a ship-lift, similar to Faslane.

Substantial dredging would also make the site more accessible.

There are other problems though. The size of the current dock means it would not have room for more than two Vanguard-class submarines and the town – which has a population of about 69,000 – is close by. There is also the issue of where the warhead depot would be.

As with most of the options, Barrow could work but it would be costly and require extensive changes. “The bottom line with all these potential sites is we are talking about huge infrastructure projects like high-speed rail or Heathrow. It’s only when the detail is looked at that it becomes clear how complicated it is, and nobody has done the very detailed feasibility [studies] that would be needed,” says Chalmers.

4. Ile Longue, Brittany, France

Submarine at Ile Longue Ile Longue base, north-west France

The idea of the UK’s nuclear deterrent being based abroad would horrify some in the British military and raise big questions about its independence.

No country has ever kept their deterrent force in its entirety in a foreign country, based on the principle that a country’s last resort has to be somewhere where it has total control of it.

However, the UK and France have recently signed up to two new defence agreements.

One of these is for a joint nuclear weapon’s research establishment – where the two countries will share the hydrodynamic test facilities but keep the data from their experiments separate – at Epure.

And there have been calls for the UK to consider patrols with France, following the collision between Le Triomphant and HMS Vanguard in February 2009.

Trident graphic

It might be possible to expand Anglo-French nuclear cooperation by asking France to host the British nuclear fleet. “I would say that’s the best option from economic and ease point of view,” says Dr Michael John Williams, a reader in international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Tusa told the Scottish Affairs Committee there was also a precedence for storing warheads abroad.

“We shared American storage facilities for nuclear warheads at Iserlohn for 40 years and no-one seemed to care. There were American, German and British guards. The UK had British bunkers on German soil, but it was a US sovereign base. I did not notice anyone caring one way or the other,” he said.

However, Ritchie says a separate nuclear submarine base and nuclear armaments depot would have to be built in France because of commitments to the UK’s nuclear safety regulatory authorities and Nato.

That would be a problem at Ile Longue – where France’s fleet of nuclear-armed submarines are based – because it doesn’t have space, according to John Ainslie, co-ordinator at the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which wants to get rid of Trident altogether.

It also shouldn’t be assumed that the French would be prepared to have a sovereign foreign nuclear weapons base on their territory, says Ron Smith, professor of Applied Economics at Birkbeck College, University of London.

5. King’s Bay, Georgia, US

Kings Bay, Georgia

The equally radical idea of re-siting to the US raises similar questions over independence as France.

However, Trident is a joint venture between the UK and the US. Trident II D5 missiles are leased from the US in King’s Bay, Georgia.

British submarines return to Georgia for their maintenance on a regular basis and the UK contributes £12m a year to the US as part of the running costs of the base. Non-nuclear warhead components are also made in the US.

Past UK prime ministers have always stressed Trident’s independence, saying its firing does not require the permission, the satellites or the codes of the US.

But Ritchie says there has always been a degree of controversy over the “incredibly high level of US support that allows the UK to remain a nuclear weapons base”.

Despite the “special relationship” between the US and the UK, as with the France option, there would be massive political obstacles to be overcome.

Essentially it comes back to independence. “Even when countries get on well, they can disagree. For the UK to have its ultimate security guaranteed, it would want to be fully independent,” says Williams.

6. It could stay put

David Cameron with Commander John Livesey aboard HMS Vanguard, 2013 David Cameron with Commander John Livesey aboard HMS Vanguard, 2013

The Scottish government says it is committed to removing Trident if it becomes independent and maintains it would not negotiate with the UK in exchange for concessions on other issues such as national debt and currency union (the UK government has ruled out the latter anyway).

But Ron Smith says there would be considerable pressure within an independent Scotland to do a deal and create a type of Sevastopol military enclave as Ukraine did, before Russia took over the Crimea.

The UK would be under pressure to do a deal too because even if it was feasible to replace the Clyde naval bases – “and it’s not clear that it is” – it would be incredibly expensive and time consuming, he says.

But Ritchie thinks the scenario is unlikely. “The SNP has staked its political credibility on getting rid of Trident – it’s unlikely to concede. The MoD would also find it very uncomfortable to have the UK’s nuclear deterrent in another country, even if it was a sovereign UK territory,” he says.

Earlier this year, First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, ruled out the prospect of a “Cyprus-style” leaseback scheme. Chalmers says this is a distraction. “A sovereign base area would be UK territory, but a foreign base is different. The SNP has already conceded four years of basing to 2020, so there is no point of principle in extending this for some more years,” he says.

Another option would be to change the UK’s nuclear deterrent to an airborne or land-based system, according to Williams. However, they have been dismissed as too vulnerable and highly problematic the past.

But Chalmers believes it probably would be possible to find an alternative home for Trident – “given time and political will”. But it would not be easy, he says.

Source – BBC News

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UK – First glimpse of new nuclear subs

Defence bosses have revealed the first glimpse at the  future  of Britain’s nuclear deterrent today, publishing the first artist’s impression  of the submarines due to replace the Vanguard-class boats which carry Trident  missiles.

The image was included on the cover of the second annual report to MPs about  developments in the Successor Submarine programme.

 ​DEFENCETrident

 

The boats are designed to be amongst the stealthiest in the world and the  image, created by the design  team  working on the new vessels, shows a submarine built with sweeping curves.

In the report to MPs, the Ministry of Defence announced it had agreed two  contracts worth a total of £79 million to BAE Systems Maritime-Submarines for  initial work on the new  vessels, which are due to be in service by 2028.

The items include structural fittings, electrical equipment, castings and  forgings which must be ordered now, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said.

Mr Hammond said: “The Successor programme is supporting around 2,000 jobs and  up to 850 British businesses could benefit from the supply chain as we exploit  the most modern technologies, and employ a significant portion of the UK’s  engineers, project  managers  and technicians over the coming years.”

Admiral Sir George Zambellas, First Sea Lord, said: “The Royal Navy has been  operating continuous at-sea deterrent patrols for more than 40 years and the  Successor submarines will allow us to do so with cutting-edge equipment well  into the future.”

Both contracts, one of £47 million and another of £32 million, will be filled  by workers in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

The Ministry of Defence said the total number of MoD and industrial staff  currently working on the Successor programme is around 2,000, with more than  half working as engineers  and designers.

More than 850 potential UK suppliers have so far been identified as  benefiting from investment in the programme and as many as 6,000 people will be  involved by the time that the construction reaches a peak.

Source – Western Morning News

Trident: Does Britain need a submarine-based nuclear missile system that will cost £100 billion?

Ministers argue that having nuclear submarines permanently patrolling our waters has “served us well”

So, the Lib Dems’ long-awaited review of alternatives to Trident is Here.

Having pledged to “say no to the like-for-like replacement” in their election manifesto in 2010, then being forced to cede ground in order to enter into power, the review was always going to represent something of a fudge. Essentially it outlines a slimmed down version of the current system, which would deliver a bit less firepower and very little in the way of savings to the taxpayer.  It’s done little to paper over the cracks in the Coalition with the Defence Secretary condemning the plans as “reckless”, and the Prime Minister flatly rejecting them.

Most importantly the review fails to address the blindingly obvious question of whether Britain, decades after the Cold War and in the grip of austerity, actually needs a submarine-based nuclear missile system that will cost an estimated £100 billion over the next 30 years. I’ll be raising this point in a debate in Parliament today.

In any case, what the Lib Dems think seems to be of little relevance.

The Government, regardless of the views of its coalition partners, Parliament, or the public has been ploughing money into a replacement.

In response to a parliamentary question I tabled in 2010, the MoD revealed it was already spending billions on enriched uranium components and high explosives.

Ministers argue that having nuclear submarines permanently patrolling our waters has “served us well”.  But has our security really been greater than other nations that have chosen not to spend billions on a permanent flotilla of nuclear submarines?  Do we sleep safer in our beds than the Germans or the Japanese?

The fact is that the Liberal Democrats, like the Conservatives and like Labour, refuse to accept the major strategic and economic benefits that non-renewal would offer.  These include improved national security (with flexibility to spend elsewhere on the armed forces) and improved global security.  Britain’s moral authority in global multilateral disarmament initiatives depends on its own behaviour.  How can we dictate to Iran or other nations seeking to join the nuclear club while we remain wedded to Trident?

This is a time when growing numbers of our citizens are relying on food banks. When public sector workers are having their pay frozen.  When vital services that the most vulnerable in our society depend on are being cut daily. And when the armed forces themselves are under strain.

It’s not lefty-pacifist propaganda to ask whether we should be refusing to move on from a past era of warfare. Four former senior military commanders have voiced concerns  that “replacing Trident will be one of the most expensive weapons programmes this country has seen” and highlighted concerns about its impact on  defence equipment budget.

You might reasonably ask, like the former Prime Minister John Major: “In what circumstances, and upon whom, is Trident likely to be used?” The Government’s own National Security Strategy has downgraded the threat of state on state nuclear warfare, while highlighting the emergence of new 21st Century threats – including climate change, pandemics, organised crime and cyber warfare – as well as terrorism, the threat of which is arguably heightened by the kind of posturing that Trident represents.

But instead of facing up to the real threats of the modern world, the Government sadly seems determined to lock the UK into the costly technologies of the past.

Source – The Independent

Trident: Lib Dems consider end to continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent

Trident nuclear submarine

The future of Britain’s Trident nuclear programme has split the coalition

The Liberal Democrats are considering calling for Britain to give up its permanent at-sea nuclear deterrent within the next few years.

They are expected to use a review of Trident to say some of the UK’s four nuclear submarines should not be replaced after they are decommissioned.

But senior figures are now pushing to end Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrent even earlier, from 2016.

A decision about the future of Trident has to be made by that point.

This would mean that some of the existing Vanguard submarines would be confined to port with skeleton crews and used for spare parts to keep the remaining boats operational.

The hope among Lib Dems is that this would not just save billions of pounds but would also send a signal that it is possible for a nuclear state to reduce its arsenal while keeping some kind of a deterrent.

‘Kept in port’

This was hinted at last week when Lib Dem Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander said it was time “to move on from the Cold War postures of the past” with a credible deterrent that “can play a role in supporting disarmament in future”.

One senior Lib Dem MP said: “We are looking at ending continuous at-sea deterrent even earlier. We don’t have to wait until the subs need replacing. We could just keep them in port now.”

Another Lib Dem MP said: “If you thought that you could sustain a meaningful deterrent with two boats, then nothing would prevent you using the existing boats on the same principle.

“It would be reckless to scrap them but you could cannibalise them for parts.

The proposal is contained in an internal party policy paper on defence which is said to be at a “pretty late stage of development” and will be put to the Lib Dem conference in September.

Mr Alexander has chaired the government’s review of Trident which is sitting on David Cameron’s and Nick Clegg’s desks and will be published shortly.

It is expected to say that some of the potential alternative ways of delivering nuclear weapons – from land or from air – are either too expensive or too impractical. But the review is expected to consider the option of scaling back the current submarine-launched system.

Most military experts agree that it would be impossible to provide a continuous, around-the-clock nuclear deterrent with less than four Vanguard submarines. With training and repairs, there is frequently only one submarine on duty at sea.

‘Credible’

The Conservatives are committed to a like-for-like replacement of Trident which is estimated to cost as much as £20bn. But many Lib Dems believe that Trident is too expensive and distorts the defence budget.

They hope to argue that it would be better to spend the money on troops and kit.

Last week Mr Alexander told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that the review was seeking to answer whether like-for-like replacement was “the only way to protect our country in future”.

“And while the review doesn’t come to any conclusions, I think when we publish the results in a few weeks time people will see that there are choices available to this country, there are alternatives where we can move on from the Cold War postures of the past and try and set out a new future for this country with a deterrent that is credible but where this country can play a role in supporting disarmament in future.”

A Lib Dem spokesman said: “The Cabinet Office-led review into alternatives to Trident has now been submitted to the prime minister and deputy prime minister.

“The review’s findings will now be considered and an unclassified version will be published in due course.”

A senior Conservative source said: “Abandoning our continuous at sea deterrence, which has been the ultimate safeguard of our national security for more than 45 years, would be a reckless gamble.

“And leaving our nuclear-armed submarines rusting in port, and then seeking to deploy them at a time of crisis would not only put Britain’s security at risk, but would also risk escalating global tensions.

“Conservative policy is clear: we will safeguard Britain’s national security and maintain our continuous at sea deterrent.”

John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, said: “Unilaterally ending the commitment to keeping at least one nuclear submarine operational at all times will make no meaningful contribution to global non-proliferation, in fact it could have the opposite result by unsettling other countries who are currently under NATO’s umbrella of protection.

“The Liberal Democrats are finally admitting there is no alternative mini-deterrent that could save billions, but few will be taken in by their latest fallacy that a part-time deterrent could save lots of money and protect Britain adequately in the event of a threat in future decades.”

Source – BBC News

UK – MPs back submarine building in Barrow


Workers at Barrow’s BAE Systems plant in front of an Astute class submarine

MPs and members of the House of Lords met to show their support for the UK’s submarine building industry, a key employer in the North West.

Politicians met with key figures in the industry and representatives of the supply chain and trade unions, who wanted to illustrate the chain of jobs that sten form submarine construction in areas like Barrow.

The event was supported by BAE Systems and the Keep Our Future Afloat Campaign, a trade union organisation which campaigns to keep high-tech jobs in the North West and across the UK.

Philip Dunne MP, minister for defence equipment, and Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s shadow secretary of state, were among those who spoke at the event to show their strong support for Britain’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

All the speakers paid tribute to the cutting edge work of the firms forming the supply chain for the Astute-class submarines, currently under construction in Barrow, and stressed the importance for these firms of the Vanguard replacement programme.

John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, who hosted the event said:

“It was fantastic to see so many MPs and peers from every corner of the country and all political parties coming to meet representatives of the firms and workers who form the supply chain for Britain’s cutting edge submarines. They will have been left in no doubt of the importance of the submarine programme to supporting British manufacturing and rebalancing the economy, as well as to securing Britain’s security – I hope they will bear this in mind when the time comes in 2016 to make a decision on renewing our at-sea nuclear deterrent.

“I am particularly grateful for the strong political support given to the submarine programme by government and opposition frontbenchers, Philip Dunne and Jim Murphy, in their speeches – the 1,200 firms in the supply chain will have taken heart from what they both said.”

Source – ITV News

UK must defend against North Korea’s nuclear threat, says PM – video

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/video/2013/apr/04/uk-defend-north-korea-pm-video

The prime minister has stressed the need for the UK to retain its Trident nuclear deterrent, saying it would be “foolish to leave Britain defenceless” in the face of the growing threat posed by North Korea andIran.

David Cameron’s insistence on the need for an independent nuclear deterrent came as the US said it was moving a missile defence battery to the Pacific island of Guam as Pyongyang continued to ratchet up the rhetoric against South Korea and its American ally.

What did Cameron say?

Writing in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph, the prime minister said such “evolving threats” underlined the need for the UK to maintain the ultimate deterrent.

“We need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British government embarked on it over six decades ago,” he said. “Of course, the world has changed dramatically. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But the nuclear threat has not gone away. In terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased.”

Cameron said Iran was continuing to defy the will of the international community over its nuclear programme while North Korea may already be building a nuclear arsenal.

“The highly unpredictable and aggressive regime in North Korea recently conducted its third nuclear test and could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Last year North Korea unveiled a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach the whole of the United States.”

Were such a weapon to exist, he said, the whole of Europe – including the UK – would be affected.

The prime minister added: “Does anyone seriously argue that it would be wise for Britain, faced with this evolving threat today, to surrender our deterrent?

“Only the retention of our independent deterrent makes clear to any adversary that the devastating cost of an attack on the UK or its allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain.”

What do the PM’s comments mean for the future of Trident?

Cameron’s comments underline the Conservatives’ commitment to a like-for-like replacement for the ageing Trident submarine fleet, although their Liberal Democrat coalition partners are seeking a cheaper alternative.

The shadow defence minister, Kevan Jones, said that while it was “absolutely right and necessary” for the UK to retain an independent nuclear deterrent, the costs involved needed to be taken into account.

“World events demonstrate that in an unpredictable era our country needs the ultimate security guarantee,” he said. “The precise nature of the deterrent must be judged on meeting military capability requirements and cost.”

The prime minister attempted to head off such questions in his Telegraph article, arguing that national security was worth the price of the deterrent.

“Our current nuclear weapons capability costs on average around 5%-6% of the current defence budget,” he said. “That is less than 1.5% of our annual benefits bill. And the successor submarines are, on average, expected to cost the same once they have entered service. It is a price which I, and all my predecessors since Clement Attlee, have felt is worth paying to keep this country safe.”

How much would renewing Trident cost?

According to conservative estimates, renewing Trident would cost £100bn. The key choice on a Trident replacement will arise in 2016, when the government will need to decide whether to spend between £25bn and £30bn on replacing the four Vanguard-class submarines, which are due to be taken out of service in the mid-2020s, with a Successor class. If the government commits to replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent fleet, the cost could swallow 35% of the military equipment budget over the coming years at a time when the MoD is facing deep cuts.

Where do the political parties stand on Trident?

The Conservatives are committed to replacing Trident with a “continuous at-sea deterrent” in which, similar to current practice, nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles are carried on four Vanguard-class submarines.

The Lib Dems have raised the possibility of a land or air-based system or carrying smaller nuclear warheads on cruise missiles on board Astute-class submarines.

Labour has a long standing commitment to a like-for-like replacement to Trident but is believed to be rethinking it and is yet to state a firm policy.

The future of Trident is also likely to feature in next year’s looming Scottish independence referendum campaign, with the SNP insisting that it would not allow nuclear missiles to be based in an independent Scotland.

The timing of the Trident decision means it could be a major issue in the 2015 general election.

David Cameron says North Korea’s nuclear possibilities are a ‘real concern’ for the UK, after visiting a British Naval nuclear submarine in Scotland on Thursday. The PM took a tour of the submarine following the printing of an article he wrote in the Daily Telegraph, stressing the need for strong nuclear defences. At a question and answer session after the tour, Cameron says of North Korea’s weapons: ‘They can reach Europe. They can reach us too’

Source – The Guardian

UK – Labour party urged not to back downgrading of Trident

Labour frontbencher and former Gordon Brown aide say party would look ‘dangerously weak’ if it supported diluted deterrent

A Vanguard class nuclear submarine, carrying Trident nuclear missiles. The two pro-Trident MPs hope Ed Miliband will resist pressure to support the downgrade the deterrent.

As Labour embarks on an intense debate on the future of Trident, a former aide to Gordon Brown has joined forces with a frontbencher to declare that the party would look “dangerously weak” if it diluted Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

John Woodcock, who served as the former prime minister’s spokesman, and Angela Smith, the shadow deputy leader of the Commons, issued their warning as senior figures in the party urge Ed Miliband to use a government review of Trident to support a smaller deterrent.

But in a Guardian article Woodcock and Smith warn: “While the world has changed greatly since the 1980s, the political reality has not: we will appear dangerously weak as a future party of government if we are prepared to give up that insurance while the world remains so unstable.”

The pro-Trident MPs express the hope that Miliband will resist pressure for Labour to change tack. Labour has been a wholehearted supporter of Trident for the best part of 20 years after it resolved a bitter debate in the 1960s, 70s and 80s between advocates of unilateral and multilateral disarmament.

The two write: “The unilateralists and those pushing the mini-deterrent fantasy will be disappointed. Labour under Ed’s leadership would never hand a gift to opponents by opting for a plan that might look fine in a Liberal Democrat election leaflet but would create a credibility gap in the eyes of the electorate, and do major damage to Britain’s manufacturing base.”

The intervention by Woodcock and Smith comes on the day CND holds a rally against Trident at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment and after members of Labour’s anti-Trident wing recently briefed the FTthat the leadership is open to a downgrading of the deterrent.

The wing is hoping to seize on the government review led by the Lib Dem Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, which is examining alternatives to Trident.

The Lib Dems have raised the possibility of a land or air-based system or carrying smaller nuclear warheads on cruise missiles aboard Astute class submarines. The Conservatives are committed to replacing Trident with a “continuous at-sea deterrent” (CASD) in which, similar to current practice, nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles are carried on four Vanguard-class submarines.

The key decision on a Trident replacement, known as the “main gate”, has to be taken in 2016. This is when Britain will have to decides whether to spend between £25bn and £30bn on replacing the four Vanguard-class submarines, which are due to be taken out of service in the mid 2020s, with a Successor class. The Trident missiles are due to remain in service until at least 2042.

The timing of thate “main gate” decision means Trident could be a major issue in the 2015 general election. Labour opponents of Trident are hoping to find common cause with the Lib Dems.

Woodcock is MP for Barrow-in-Furness, where the Successor submarines would be built. Many of Smith’s Penistone and Stocksbridge constituents work at Sheffield Forgemasters, one of the companies that would make components for the new submarines.

The Labour leadership, which is wholly committed to maintaining Britain’s nuclear deterrent, is keen to take the Lib Dem review seriously. It could opt for a mild change such as agreeing that the Successor submarines would number just three, an idea suggested at one point by Gordon Brown.

The leadership may support reducing the number of warheads on board the submarines following reductions in 1999 and 2010. This would allow Britain to make a contribution to disarmament.

But it is wary of some of the most radical proposals being examined by the Lib Dems such as placing nuclear warheads on cruise missiles on the smaller Astute submarines.

Source – The Guardian