UK could afford to cut Trident submarines, report says

A Trident submarine At the moment there is always one nuclear armed submarine on patrol

Related Stories

The UK could cut back its Trident submarine force and save billions of pounds "without sacrificing" its nuclear deterrent, a report suggests.

The paper, by military think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said Britain did not always need to have at least one nuclear submarine at sea to be sure of deterring an attack.

The UK currently operates a continuous at-sea nuclear weapons system.

Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond said he did not back a part-time deterrent.

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.

'Huge gamble'


This Rusi paper reflects a growing debate among politicians and defence experts about Britain's nuclear deterrent posture.

At the moment there's always one nuclear armed submarine on patrol. But after a round of deep defence cuts in conventional defence forces can Britain really afford it?

Where is the specific threat coming from now that the cold war is over? These are legitimate questions.

Hugh Chalmers's contribution shows that a "like-for-like" replacement of four submarines is not the only option. But he also acknowledges that abandoning the continuous patrols could create "unnecessary risks".

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond insists there's little point in having what he calls a "part-time deterrent". Ditching CASD would be a brave political decision. France and America are not ditching theirs.

The Conservative Party is currently committed to a like-for-like replacement for the existing four-boat fleet needed to maintain round-the-clock patrols - at an estimated cost of £20bn - if they win the next general election.

Labour also supports a continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD) system.

But the Liberal Democrats are in favour of reducing the number of Vanguard submarines from four to three, arguing the existing system was designed for the Cold War era.

A government review published in July - which had been requested by the Lib Dems - set out possible options for replacing the UK's Trident nuclear system, and a final decision on the issue is to be made in 2016, after the next election.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has criticised the Lib Dem proposals as "naive", warning the party against taking a "huge gamble" with national security.

He said: "Our submarine-based continuous-at-sea deterrent, provided by the Royal Navy for almost 50 years, is the ultimate safeguard of our national security.

"No alternative would be as effective at deterring threats now or in the future and that is why we are progressing with our commitment to a like-for-like replacement. We will not put the nation's security at risk by downgrading to a part-time deterrent."

However, the Rusi paper - by analyst Hugh Chalmers - said that even if there was not always a submarine on patrol, Trident would still represent a powerful deterrent to aggressors.

It said the mere existence of submarines - whether active or inactive - would have the desired effect of dissuading a potentially hostile state from threatening or blackmailing the UK, if those potential enemies believed the UK's nuclear forces could be deployed "in a crisis".

Trident submarine

The Rusi paper acknowledged that abandoning CASD could create "unnecessary risks" at a time of "strained" defence budgets, but it maintained the system should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis.

It also went on to say that, while the UK remained a member of Nato, it would retain the ability to flex considerable nuclear strength.

"In this case, if the UK can implement a flexible structure in which to operate a non-continuous nuclear force without sacrificing any financial or political gains it hopes to make, a step away from CASD could be one of several legitimate pathways in the UK's nuclear future," it added.

Liberal Democrat Sir Nick Harvey MP said: "I very much welcome Rusi's report today. It's pleasing to see this well-respected and expert organisation coming to this issue with an open mind.

"The report concludes that a step away from CASD is a legitimate option, which is quite right: the Lib Dems have long argued that the nuclear status quo is unnecessary and unaffordable."

He added: "We need to come down the nuclear ladder in a way that is consistent with the world today. We no longer need to be able to fire on Moscow at a moment's notice. We cannot escape uncertainty, but we have finite defence resources and a Cold War nuclear capability has little relevance to the range of security challenges we're likely to face in the future."


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    151. I'm sure the thousands of workers that will be out of a job will love that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I would imagine that a lot of military equipment is barely used for purposes for which it is designed and, hence, is more about deterrent. When you look at the inter war period, one of the biggest criticisms of Britain was disarmament and the length of time it took to re-arm. It doesn't mean WWIII is around the corner, but we are better being prepared on all types.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Reducing the nuclear fleet may be an option today. But once it's reduced, the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty prohibits it ever being reinstated. Nobody can predict the future deterrent needed, it's best to retain an effective deterrent than dilute it, hoping its 'good enough' to be an effective deterrent in the future. Should North Korea launch a nuclear fleet, a reduced deterrent is ineffective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    They should sell them off to any taxpayer or group of tax payers with the money to buy them.

    I mean, we are trying to get an economic recovery on the go... what better way than to sell of national assets to the highest bidder AND do one of the worlds largest arms deals ever at the same time. Our reputation as a bad boy at the UN will go through the roof.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    I for one like knowing that our armed forces have the kit they need to protect us. I am fed up with the LibDems constant sniping at Defence. The last time we had such wishy washy leadership the world was plunged into a world war. You can't trust them ! And with the world being even more hostile than ever, I'm quite happy to continue paying my tax to support our Forces.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Everyone knows that the only circumstance under which we can use it is after a major nuclear attack when the country would no longer exist in any meaningful sense. Better to spend the money on forces that can attack "the other sides" weapons before they're used rather than only after its all over

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Can't wait till we in Scotland vote for independence and unburden ourselves from 1. The cost of this abhorrent weapons system and 2. Have it relocated to hopefully somewhere like Canary Wharf, where the out of work Bankers will no doubt jump at the chance for work. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Estimated cost = £20bn that means actual cost probably £30bn+.

    Even if we stick with the £20bn estimate - spending 20% of that on the armed forces could provide a significant improvement that would act as more of a deterrant than a redundant submarine carrying WMD (didn't we invade Iraq for having those?) and probably save many redundancies too.

    Is it possible the human race will ever disarm?

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Against who is the deterrent aimed? Terrorists and 'rogue' nations would not care, 'civilised' nations would not use them due to concern about the actions of other nations if they showed they were willing to use them first. Three is a reasonable compromise - one at sea, one maintenance one ready to go. More sensible than losing troops, aircraft and ships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    A defence strategy must first outline the potential threats.
    The defence review failed to do this.

    Defence strategy is now a mess: army to rely on part time volunteers, navy with carriers but no aircraft, Harriers sold off to the US etc.

    I see many potential threats, a nuclear standoff isn’t one.

    Better to fund rapid deployment forces, counter insurgency and aircraft carriers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    @132 will123bay

    "If North Korea were to launch one? Would we send one back? No as it would kill millions of Chinese & South Koreans too"


    That's one hell of a nuke you're sending back. I'm not sure I know of a nuke with a kill radius of 130 miles

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    130. veop
    "Yes, but I'm sure that nice Mr Salmond will pay for it to be moved"

    Post Yes, if Westminster don't want to move the subs & nukes, it could be auctioned on eBay. As suggested already, Westminster would move it very rapidly in the hope of retaining their UNSC seat. Neither Trident nor Polaris had anything to do with real defence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    All the cabinet and rich business types can sleep safe in the knowledge that when the inevitable Balkans style civil war they have laid the groundwork for through social inequality and uncontrolled migration finally happens they can all escape to the Bahamas in the 4 nuclear powered life rafts they have built for them self. The Nazis had a similar plan involving U boats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    63.Rebecca Riot
    "Perhaps Trident should be finally retired along with that generation?

    My granny always thought that the reds were going to burst into her house then steal everything! She kept a poker at the ready in the umbrella stand just in case."

    Maybe you should have knocked before going into her house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    People moan about our shrinking Armed Force and how we should be focusing on protecting our shores and our interests. Yet people want shut of our biggest defence capability. A capability that qualifies us as a security player, and just just an insignificant little state. Its nothing to do with the cold war, its a worst case scenario deterrent. You'd demand it when you need it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    I cannot envisage a scenario where we would actually launch THREE warheads or an enemy in the next 50 years. IF we were to use nuclear weapons the deterrent comes from knowing we can hit ONE vital target.
    This means using cruise missiles launched through torpedo tubes of Astute class subs...Trident is a weapon system that has no role. Scrap it and spend half of the savings on conventional arms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    We will soon be walking around in hippy clothes with flowers in our hair, at the same time the wolves will be looking for signs of weakness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    As they don't deter anything in the first place undoubtedly an accurate if misleading headline.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    We have 160 nuclear warheads deployed and up to 225 stockpiled. I think that`s more than enough for any nation. The trouble is nuclear weapons are used by governments as a show of strength rather than an effective weapon. We all know they will never be used and if they were we wouldn`t know much about it anyway. I would prefer the money be used for something constructive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    117 - Peter_Sym

    Yes, agree with you generally & only as a layman I'm aware of the capabilty & design principle.

    My input was not really for or against, but I am sincere re how we generally perceive it,ie, weapon, or deterrent?

    I guess the simple analogy would be perception of a bomber as terrorist, or freedom fighter?

    Enjoy your posts as you are consistent in your views.


Page 17 of 24


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.