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 34.

    Nick would have us defending our shores with bin lids and peashooters if he had his way.
    He is developing a new weapon to use against our enemies, its called a benefits bomb!
    Simply bribe any aggressors and promise to give them visa's and access to state benefits.
    It has been tested over the last few years and is ready for rollout once we get rid of trident.

    There was me worrying! silly boy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    We, like, totally need the deterrent cuz, like, the other day I saw these Russian fighter jets patrolling the eastern seaboard. It was dead scary, man. I like thought about the detterent and thanked god for it man because, dude, they could of blowed us up write there without the deterrent stopping them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    We still bomb the world claiming others can't have nukes whilst funding this.

    Disgusted to be British.

  • 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 68.

    Why build any? The US has the most powerful military on earth as well as the biggest nuclear reserve, yet in pretty much every post 2nd World War conflict they have been involved in they have had the backsides kicked - generally by peasants carrying Kalashnikovs. Have enough Kalashnikovs and small arms ammunition to defend the country and sell the rest to pay for education, healthcare and housing.


Comments 5 of 477


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.