Trident and Defence Policy

Key Facts and Data for UK General Election 2015

“In the whole field of defence expenditure Trident provides by far the greatest value for money in terms of the physical safety and international interests of the United Kingdom.”

Some thoughtful people have been known to query the purpose and cost of the Trident ballistic missile system.  The relevant facts are as follows:

1          Five countries have thermonuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems to deliver them.  These five are Britain, France, China, Russia and the USA.

2          These five states are permanent, veto wielding, members of the United Nations Security Council.  The USA, Britain and Russia (as successor to the Soviet Union), as the three victors in the Second World War in 1945, are the original three members, to which were later added France and the People’s Republic of China as successor to Nationalist China.

3          The Security Council of 15 members is the only executive arm of the United Nations and it is therefore of the utmost importance that the UK should retain its permanent seat.

4          A veto from any of the five permanent members is decisive in stopping any resolution and action by the United Nations.  Resolution 502 requiring Argentina to withdraw from the Falklands passed because the Soviet Union did not exercise its veto.  Had it done so, it would have been impossible for Britain to muster support for international sanctions against Argentina.

5          Once launched, after a few minutes, ballistic missiles are impossible to stop because of their speed and upper atmosphere trajectories.  They can be tracked by a complex system of satellite and radar communications, all of which are programmed into the missiles themselves and earth stationed tracking stations.  The USA and the UK systems are essentially interconnected.  Of special importance are the systems for identifying friend from foe and from rogue signals.

6          Other Nuclear Powers

Besides the five ballistic nuclear powers there are four countries – India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel with the power to deliver (smallish) nuclear weapons from land-based aircraft and/or from sub-ballistic missiles such as cruise.  These missiles are inherently vulnerable to a defender’s own missiles and in any case require constant updating of both missile guidance and tracking systems.

7          There is simply no comparison between these weapons and Trident in terms of delivery, destructive power and invulnerability to detection before launch.

8          Trident missiles do not have to have all nuclear bomb warheads.  The missiles already have separately targetable warheads – some of which are decoys.  Clearly an HE warhead could be delivered against an enemy for demonstration purposes as a low risk response to someone threatening UK national interests.

9          If the UK were to give up or fail to replace its Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile system, it would forfeit its UN Security Council Permanent Seat leaving France as the sole permanent European power in the Security Council and the dominant military power in Europe.  To all intents and purposes Britain would have surrendered any claim to a significant influence on other nations in the world and exposed itself to coercive force by some of these powers – even nominally friendly ones.


1          The chief cost is replacing, because of old-age, the four nuclear submarines which carry the ballistic nuclear missiles.

2          Wild claims are bandied about by Nicola Sturgeon, leader of Scottish National Party, and other Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament people – £100 billion is the latest figure, increased in her head from £50 billion since just before the Scottish Referendum last September.

3          In so far as there is any reality to these wild claims, they are for maintenance over the whole 40-50 year life of the new submarines, i.e. until 2060.  On the same basis, the defence budget would come out at £1,800 billion, i.e. the whole of the UK’s current Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

4          The likely equipment costs are around £20 billion for 4 new submarines and some updating of the D5 missiles.  These costs will be incurred over a ten year building period – £2 billion per annum or 5% of the likely defence budget – by BAe Systems at Barrow and Faslane and thousands of firms in the supply chain.  Maintenance, refitting, and refuelling costs will be about £1 billion a year thereafter for a 45 year life.  This gives the £50+ billion being bandied about – about one tenth of the cost of the British Army in the period.

5          In the whole field of defence expenditure Trident provides by far the greatest value for money in terms of the physical safety and international interests of the United Kingdom.

6          Should the SNP push the Scottish people to a vote in favour of separation, it should be made clear that the submarine base Faslane and the bomb store at Coalport would have to be UK Sovereign Base areas like Akrotiri in Cyprus, as a condition for a friendly separation.

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