Q&A: Trident replacement

Trident nuclear submarine

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The government has published a report looking at the future of the Trident nuclear weapons system.

The Conservatives have long argued that replacing Trident in its current form is the best option, but the Lib Dems say alternatives, including a slimmed-down, arguably cheaper version, should be considered.

What is Trident?

A sea-based nuclear weapons system. It was acquired by the Thatcher government in the early 1980s as a replacement for the Polaris missile system which the UK had possessed since the 1960s. Trident then came into use in the 1990s.

There are three parts to Trident - submarines, missiles and warheads. Although each component has years of use left, they cannot last indefinitely. The current generation of four submarines would begin to end their working lives some time in the late 2020s.

Work on a replacement cannot be delayed because the submarines alone could take up to 17 years to develop.

Only one submarine is on patrol at any one time and it needs several days' notice to fire.

What is the case for UK nuclear weapons?

Supporters say Trident is indispensable for protecting the UK's security.

They argue that new threats, both from rogue states and terrorist groups, could emerge at any time and a minimum nuclear deterrent is needed to help counter them.

Despite progress in global counter-proliferation and multilateral disarmament, supporters point out that countries continue to acquire nuclear capability and the UK's global influence would be diminished if it unilaterally gave it up.

The nuclear defence industry is also a major employer. Some estimates suggest that up to 15,000 jobs may be lost - as well as considerable expertise - if a new batch of submarines is not commissioned.

Is the renewal going ahead?

As we stand, yes, but the final decisions have not been taken yet.

Since 2007, when MPs backed plans to renew Trident by 409 to 61 votes, "conceptual" work has been going on considering potential designs for replacement submarines, propulsion systems and other key components.

The "Initial Gate" phase, consisting of £3bn in procurement of important items, has also been approved.

But in October 2010, the government decided to delay the ultimate decision on whether to proceed and how many submarines to order until 2016, after the expected date of the next election.

The delivery date for the first submarine was also put back to 2028 while the number of operational missiles carried will be cut to eight and the number of warheads to 40.

What are the politics involved?

David Cameron has always maintained the UK needs to keep its nuclear weapons, calling it as "insurance policy" against attacks. Replacing Trident was a Tory manifesto pledge in the 2010 general election.

But the Lib Dems have always been sceptical about a like-for-like replacement and insisted on a value for money review.

Trident graphic

The review suggested there are alternatives to the current posture but the current continuous-at-sea arrangement based on four submarines was the most "resilient" and could guarantee the promptest response.

The Lib Dems say reducing submarine numbers from four to three would maintain a "credible deterrent" while adapting it to the post Cold War strategic environment.

Labour supports Trident renewal, saying it has been a "cornerstone" of peace and security for nearly 50 years - although a number of MPs on the left of the party have historically opposed it.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the SNP, which governs in Scotland, is opposed to Trident and if it wins an independence referendum next year, would seek to remove all nuclear weapons from Scottish soil.

Downing Street has rejected reports the UK could retain a Scottish naval base - such as Faslane where the Trident submarines are currently based - as sovereign UK territory if there is a yes vote.

How much will a replacement cost?

The government has put the bill at between £15bn and £20bn but campaign group Greenpeace claims it will run to at least £34bn once extra costs like VAT are factored in.

The Lib Dems say ordering fewer submarines would save up to £4bn in the long term but Conservatives have rejected this - saying the savings made would be "trivial" in respect of the Ministry of Defence's annual £34bn budget.

What are the arguments against a replacement?

The cost issue is particularly salient at a time of extensive government spending cuts, set to continue beyond 2015.

In terms of defence, the main argument is that the old Cold War threat from the Soviet Union no longer exists and therefore the UK no longer needs nuclear weapons, or does not need a submarine-based system designed for the Cold War era.

Critics say nuclear weapons are useless in that they could never be used and would not combat the new threats from international terrorism.

Finally, there is the question of Britain's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament argues if some states renew their arms it encourages proliferation elsewhere.

What are the alternatives?

Trident's ballistic missiles have a long range, of up to 7,500 miles.

One alternative that has been suggested is using cruise missiles based on different submarines. But cruise missiles have a far shorter range, of over 1,000 miles, and are slower and vulnerable to being shot down.

The government review concluded this would actually cost more than renewing Trident in its current form, since the UK may have to bearing all the research and development costs of its own programme.

Others have suggested using a land-based delivery system, to avoid the cost of building new submarines.

That has been rejected in the past as too vulnerable to attack and impractical although the review said this could potentially be mitigated by having fewer "silo" sites that were more strategically located.

Some say it would be cheaper to launch missiles from a long-range aircraft. However, the shorter range would again be an issue - and the aircraft could be brought down. The review said "much more work" would be needed on such an idea.

Is Trident independent?

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

However, critics argue Britain is technically so dependent on the US that in effect Trident is not an independent system. For example, the British Trident missiles are serviced at a port in the state of Georgia and warhead components are also made in the US.

As part of the renewal, common missile compartment systems that could be fitted into both UK and US boats are set to be developed as a means of saving money.

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    16:48: Kaz Majcher

    I was five years old when the great man died but I remember the day as if it was only yesterday. Last Sunday I took my two teenage children to his resting place in Bladon, as a mark of respect, it was a very moving experience for all of us. My father came to England after the battle of Monte Casino fighting with the free Polish Army, he made England his home until he died in 1988... and told me that no one should underestimate what Churchill did for the greater freedom of Europe he was a very inspirational man.

     
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  52.  
    16:18: Paul Jenkins

    At the time of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral on the 30th January 1965, I was a pupil at Churchill's old prep school, Brunswick in Sussex. I have a clear memory of the entire school (100 boys) sitting cross-legged in complete silence on the floor of the Main Hall watching the ceremony live from start to finish on television.

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  53.  
    16:01: Malcolm King, Surrey

    emails: I remember watching the funeral on television and to this day it is one of the most moving occasions I have seen. I have never seen such perfection in the military precision from the marching to ceremonial coordination. Seeing Jeremy Paxman's review was very emotional.

     
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  56.  
    15:39: Frances Bingham

    emails: This must be one of my earliest memories. My parents lived in Morpeth Terrace, beside Westminster Cathedral, so the funeral procession passed quite close and we walked from home to join the people watching. I have a very vivid visual memory of seeing the gun carriage pass, which is the only image I recall, but I didn't understand what it was, or that there was a coffin under the union jack. I was lifted up to see it pass slowly by, and sensed the solemn atmosphere in the crowd. The importance of the occasion must also have been explained to me; my grandfather Cedric Worsdell was one of Churchill's election agents in the 1950s and admired him very much.

     
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  58.  
    15:22: John Davies, Marietta Georgia

    emails: I remember it well, I was apprenticed at a printer in London, one of my first jobs there was to work on a magazine supplement for the funeral. My job was to put the pictures and type together to make the cylinders to print the magazine.

     
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  60.  
    15:09: Steve Gove-Humphries, Birmingham

    emails: I was just 11 years old at the time of the funeral. We were told about Churchill by the Head Master and were all very excited at the prospect of a day off school for the funeral. We watched the funeral on a TV in the library I recall. The huge TV was wheeled in & we sat in almost complete silence as the service went on.

    It has been fascinating to hear the BBC back stories on the ceremony. The evocation of the past and our history is something that still I find moving. We will not see its like again I think.

     
  61.  
    15:05: Kay-Lesley Hallam Black, Belper

    emails: I am 68 and have been glued to my TV since 9am this morning, watching black & white film of Churchill's State funeral as I watched 50 years ago with my beloved father sitting quietly weeping as he acknowledged this great but flawed man as his saviour and the Lion who gave the roar & inspired the nation in the war years!

    On the 30th of January 1965 he watched and wept in gratitude at the passing not just of this great Briton and inspirational leader of the nation. He thanked God for Churchill's 90 years and at that time his 50 - and I too have kept faith with that again today thanks to your extensive and comprehensive coverage! Only we British can put on a ceremony with such superlative solemnity and dignity!

     
  62.  
    @TweetUKElection 14:56: UK Elections

    tweets: This shows the number of votes cast for each party at By-Elections from 2005-2010.

     
  63.  
    14:41: Adrian Chojnacki

    @ChojnackiAdrian tweets: Now Churchill and Bevan. That was a Great War coalition. Pity the current coalition is but a mere shadow of that example #Churchill2015

     
  64.  
    14:37: Childhood memory
    Sir Winston Churchill funeral barge

    Martyn Best tells us: "I was there as a nine year old with a camera given to me by my father who was a professional photographer. A family friend was an architect working for Taylor Woodrow who were constructing a new building next to the Tower of London. We stood on an open floor of the incomplete structure and I took the attached picture. I had also attended the lying-in-state and remember having to get up at about 5am to get the train up to London from Hertfordshire, walking past the coffin in Westminster Hall and then getting back home in time for school. It is all a very clear childhood memory."

     
  65.  
    14:30: 'Gave the roar to the British lion' BBC News Channel

    Historian Warren Dockter says Churchill's state funeral was a "major and global event" and it is important to commemorate it today. He singles out the wartime leader's "remarkable will". "It's famously said he gave the roar to the British lion and that's definitely true," he says.

     
  66.  
    14:23: Georgette McCready

    @GeorgeTMcCready tweets: @FleurHitchcock #Churchill funeral is my first memory of watching television. Black, white and grainy. My parents stood - out of respect?

     
  67.  
    14:21: Funeral flotilla recreated

    Missed the funeral flotilla recreated for the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill's state funeral? Watch the Havengore make the trip from the Tower of London to the Palace of Westminster where a special service took place.

    The Havengore - which carried Winston Churchill's coffin, returns to the the Thames
     
  68.  
    14:16: John Drake

    emails: I was living in Middleburg in Holland on the day of Churchill's funeral. It seemed to me on that day that Holland came to a standstill to honour the great man.

     
  69.  
    14:10: Robin Pyman

    emails: I was at school in Oxford. A large number of us went down to the railway line that ran alongside the Oxford canal at the bottom of our playing fields and stood alongside the track, bowing our heads as the great man's train passed by, taking him to his final resting place. We were all in awe. He was our hero.

     
  70.  
    13:56: Ina Holmen

    emails: My entire elementary school in Canada was brought into the gymnasium where the funeral procession was viewed on an elevated television placed near the stage. I remember it being similar to Remembrance Day with speeches, flags, and dignitaries from veterans groups present.

     
  71.  
    Tweet @BBC_HaveYourSay 13:53: Jan Shoesmith

    @4TBookworm tweets: Amazing to think Churchill's funeral was 50 yrs ago today. it's the first news item I ever remember I was 5 & had measles #Churchill

     
  72.  
    13:44: Westminster Abbey

    Westminster Abbey will host a ceremony from 18:00 GMT, with flowers laid at the green marble stone placed there in memorial to Churchill.

     
  73.  
    13:43: Havengore on the move

    The Havengore is back on the move again.

     
  74.  
    Email talkingpoint@bbc.co.uk 13:35: Send us your comments

    Rosemary Pettit emails: On the day of his funeral I was a know-it-all undergraduate with arrogant ideas, determined not to pay homage to an imperialistic war leader. So I ignored the whole thing but couldn't resist turning on the radio for the occasion. Sharing the top floor of a flat high in Hampstead I was quite unprepared for the fly-past which, like a thunder-clap, roared straight over my head. Suddenly, the superciliousness evaporated, the tension fell away and I felt united with all the good people who had lived and breathed during the war, and were even now gathered by St Pauls and the Thames, round their televisions and all over the world. Thank you RAF for bringing me to my senses.

     
  75.  
    13:24: Havengore comes to rest
    The Havengore outside the Houses of Parliament

    The Havengore comes to rest near the Houses of Parliament, where Churchill served as an MP for 60 years, and a brief service is now being held on board.

     
  76.  
    13:15: John Phillips

    emails: As I watch the re-run of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral I can remember the events quite clearly... Winston Churchill was my 'hero'. My mother, who came from Forest Gate, had endured the Blitz and had always maintained huge respect for "Mr Churchill", had told me countless stories of the war and how he had inspired the nation to victory.... To our disappointment when we got to London, the queues were enormous. However that fact in itself made me realise just how much loved Churchill was and we comforted ourselves with the thought that this had made the enterprise worthwhile.

    We got back around 2 am and the next day, morning school was cancelled so that we could all watch the funeral of the 'Greatest Briton' as Mo Mowlam later called him.

     
  77.  
    13:11: "Sombre and quiet"
    Barry Barnes recalling Churchill's funeral

    Barry Barnes, who witnessed the flotilla in person in 1965 and captured some of the day's images on film, recalls that the mood on the day matched the weather. "It was fairly sombre and very quiet", he tells the BBC.

     
  78.  
    13:07: Watching from the Millennium Bridge
    The Havengore passes under the Millennium Bridge in London

    The crowds may not be of quite the same size as in 1965 but there are new vantage points that weren't available 50 years ago.

     
  79.  
    13:04: Watching the funeral

    Brian Giles emails: Churchill's funeral will always be remembered by me, as on the Thursday before the funeral we had bought our first television from Radio Rentals, it was black and white and I watched the funeral on it with my parents.

     
  80.  
    13:03: Churchill's hearse

    Christopher Meeking emails: My grandfather, Charles Meeking, drove the hearse that took Winston Churchill's casket from the Festival Hall Pier to Waterloo Station as he was the senior driver for Kenyon's Funeral Services in London. My father had a picture from a broadsheet newspaper of the hearse and my grandfather clearly visible through the windscreen - it may well still be in the loft at my mother's house.

     
  81.  
    13:00: Havengore from above
    Havengore passing underneath Blackfriars Bridge

    An aerial shot of the Havengore passing under Blackfriars Bridge.

     
  82.  
    12:56: John Emmerson

    emails: My Dad took me to see the funeral procession, I was 10 years old and we travelled from Warrington down to London on a coach. I fell asleep on the way back and woke up in Wigan!

     
  83.  
    12:54: Michael Smith, Ottawa

    emails: As a 17 year old I had gone to the abbey to pay my respects to Churchill the night prior to the funeral. After a five hour or longer slow walk with what seemed like thousands of other mourners that crossed the Thames twice I finally passed the great man lying in state. To this day I respect Winston Churchill as the greatest Englishman ever and we were lucky to have had him.

     
  84.  
    12:54: The Havengore passes HMS Belfast

    The Havengore passes HMS Belfast, a major military landmark on the Thames. Tourists on board the famous warship wave as the smaller vessel passes by, the BBC's Duncan Kennedy says.

     
  85.  
    12:51: Paul Sayles, Misawa, Japan

    emails: I was living in Dunoon, Scotland at the time and watched the entire event on TV. I think all of my family was moved by the rendering of honours by the crane operators as Sir Winston passed the docks on his way home. I still remember the feeling 50 years on as if it was that day.

     
  86.  
    12:49: On its way
    Havengore

    The Havengore makes its way down the Thames, with those on board including pipers and volunteers reprising the role of pallbearers.

     
  87.  
    12:45: Tower Bridge opens
    Tower Bridge

    Tower Bridge is opening its gate as a mark of respect as the Havengore makes its way down the Thames.

     
  88.  
    12:44:

    emails: I was seven at the time of the funeral, and we had not long had a television. It was switched on for the early part of the ceremony, but, unfortunately, we were in the middle of moving from Cheshire to Shropshire, and had to go house-hunting on that day, it being a Saturday. Consequently, much as I wanted to stay at home and watch the funeral, I couldn't. I've regretted this for fifty years - I am looking forward to seeing the recording later!

     
  89.  
    12:43: 'Lovingly restored' BBC News Channel

    The BBC's Ben Brown says the Havengore has been "loving restored" by its current owner from a stage when "grass had been growing through the deck" a few years ago.

     
  90.  
    12:42: 'Fitting tribute' BBC News Channel
    The Havengore recreating Winston Churchill's funeral cortege

    The BBC's Duncan Kennedy, on board a boat on the Thames, says it was a "fitting tribute" that Churchill's coffin was placed on the front of the Havengore boat and carried down the river because of his role as naval secretary.

     
  91.  
    12:39: Labour NHS debate Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Asked about the internal debate within Labour about health policy and the role of the private sector, shadow minister Steve Reed tells the BBC that the opposition backs "what works". Pressed on this, he says the NHS must be reformed to give more control to the people who use it rather than "privatised".

     
  92.  
    12:29: 'Proud day' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Asked if it is a "sad day" for his family, Rupert Soames says it quite the contrary. "It is a proud day. It is a triumph he is still remembered," he tells the Daily Politics. "What could be better."

     
  93.  
    12:24: 'In gratitude'
    Message on wreath reading: 'From the nation of today, and the youth of tomorrow - in gratitude'

    Relatives and politicians left messages on wreaths during the service at the Houses of Parliament earlier.

     
  94.  
    12:22: Peter

    emails: I remember, age 11, seeing his funeral on TV. My mum had turned it on. Even then, I knew he was special, but the scale of his funeral made that clear. Now, having read his books, and others, I realise he was a complex and fallible man, who became an extraordinary leader when put under extreme pressure.

     
  95.  
    12:18: 'A great Briton'
    David Cameron at Churchill ceremony

    Earlier, David Cameron paid tribute to "a great leader and a great Briton" after laying a wreath at the feet of the statue of Churchill in Parliament. "He knew that Britain was not just a place on the map but a force in the world, with a destiny to shape events and a duty to stand up for freedom," he said in the shadow of the famous bronze sculpture of Churchill.

     
  96.  
    12:17: 'Great reforming home secretary'

    Rupert Soames, one of Churchill's grandsons, says he was one of the few people in the country who was "cross" on the day of the funeral because, as a five-year old, he was deemed too young to attend. Mr Soames, who remembers sitting on his grandfather's knee during weekends in the country, tells the BBC's Daily Politics that Churchill should be remembered as more than a wartime prime minister - adding that he commissioned the Beveridge Report in the 1940s and was "one of the great reforming home secretaries" before World War One.

     
  97.  
    12:15: Tony Guise

    emails: Although I lived in Aston, Birmingham, I so clearly remember the monochrome coverage from the BBC, as my parents and other family members gathered around our tiny television. I was seven-years old and shall never forget the sense of an historic moment. Never thought that memory would still be with me 50 years later!

     
  98.  
    12:14: Colour-coordinated wreaths
    Leaders of UK political parties with wreaths at Houses of Parliament

    Labour leader Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron laid appropriately-coloured wreaths during the service at the Houses of Parliament.

     
  99.  
    12:08: John Simpson on Churchill

    The BBC's world affairs editor John Simpson examines how an all-too-human politician became a great wartime prime minister.

    Winston Churchill giving V-for-victory sign
     
  100.  
    12:01: Tories 'rule out post-election deal with UKIP'

    Conservative chairman Grant Shapps has ruled out any post-election deal with UKIP should there be another hung parliament. Speaking at a campaign event, Mr Shapps said May's election was set to be "incredibly close" and his party was solely focused on gaining power in its own right.

     

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