Posts Tagged ‘First Sea Lord’

If we believe in a British nuclear deterrent, Trident is our only option

24/07/2012, 07:00:06 AM

by Alan West

The debate over the future of Trident is coming to the public fore. This is an emotive issue and our starting point must be to respect the strength of feeling on all sides.

It is important, however, that the debate is based in fact and evidence.

This leads me personally to conclude that maintaining the present Trident ballistic missile system is the best option if UK is to remain a nuclear weapon state. Numerous studies over the past 40 years have reaffirmed that.

I have been involved in a couple of those studies.  Having looked at other options in detail it is quite clear that none of them are as cheap or practical as their supporters claim.

Recently the benefits of going for a cruise missile option carried in Astute class submarines have been articulated.

The first thing to remember about this is that no appropriate cruise missile exists. The UK would have to develop, test and bring into service a new weapon. Even allowing for the “triumph of optimism”, such a programme would be complex, fraught with risk (we have not developed such a missile before) and extremely expensive.

We would have to embark on a new warhead development programme for a nuclear package that would be capable of fitting into other weapon delivery systems. The design and production of completely new warheads would be hugely expensive.

The new missiles and weapon system would have to be regularly and rigorously tested on all measures of performance. This would involve the development of further new technologies and new associated assets. At present the US provide all the facilities for Trident test firings, so all of this would be a further cost to our exchequer.

We then come on to the operational issues.

What range should these missiles have? How many missiles should we have? How many cruise missiles should each Astute carry? Should all Astutes carry nuclear tipped missiles? How many Astute class submarines would be required?  The answers to these questions have implications for cost and capability which I do not see evidence of having been thought through by proponents of this model.


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