Renewing Trident

In the Times of 23rd April General Sir Hugh Beach queries the logic of the UK’s having nuclear missiles The answer is much the same as for the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council namely having deliverable nuclear weapons is the ultimate guarantee that no other state will use nuclear weapons against themselves. It is also the de facto guarantee of a permanent seat in the Security Council itself which it is very much in Britain’s interest to maintain.

Sir Hugh is not alone in raising questions about the purpose and character of any Trident replacement for which design studies are well under way. Sir Hugh cites a number of current or recent situations including the present day imbroglio on the Korean peninsula where the use of nuclear weapons is probably ruled out by the powers including the USA. Indeed 62 years ago when the USA had a monopoly of deliverable nuclear weapons, the US President of the day (Truman) sacked the UN Commander-in-Chief MacArthur for threatening the Chinese with the much lower yield atom bomb during the Korean war.

By far the biggest cost of a Trident replacement is the cost of the submarines. Here there is room we believe for new thinking in their deployment. The ballistic missiles do not have to be armed exclusively with high-yield nuclear bombs; they carry dummy warheads anyway. High explosive (HE) warheads could be carried on some of the missiles for deployment against a distant enemy where the threatened use of nuclear bombs would not be credible. The force projection obtained thereby would be as great as that which will be obtained from the new carrier(s) and complementary to them.

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One Response to “Renewing Trident”

  1. Ageing Albion says:

    Sadly I fear that the carriers – if they ever get finished and get planes to fly – will be white elephants, absurdly expensive vanity projects for admirals, given that any useful function could be carried out much more cheaply. The navy has two primary purposes in the modern world. The first is a sort of international coastguard, fighting low level enemies such as pirates and drug smugglers, search and rescue, and supplying aid to natural disaster scenes. None of these requires billion pound warships or fast jets. The second is a possible “hot war” against a rogue state. One hopes these sorts of adventures have come to an end, but allowing for the possibility, the question of carrier vulnerability is something Western analysts seem reluctant to face up to. In any sort of littorial environment such as the Persian Gulf carriers would be painfully vulnerable to supersonic cruise missiles, supercavitating torpedoes, sustained small boat attacks or a combination of all of the above. They are not needed to defend the Falklands – a single nuclear submarine and a decent land based garrison would suffice. Submarines, by contrast, are and are likely to remain undetectable and therefore effectively invulnerable, and Horatio is therefore correct to say that they can provide the sort of long distance strike power carriers do. Surface ships for the other roles can be much cheaper and in many cases converted merchant ships, carrying drones, helicopters and light self defence weapons, sufficient for seeing off low level attackers.

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