back to article Trident delay by the Coalition: Cunning plan, or bad idea?

The Coalition government, as part of its ongoing strategic review of UK defence, may decide to postpone replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent by five years. What would that mean? Immediately in practical terms it would mean that spending on the replacement systems would be pushed mostly back out of the ten-year …

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@Strum

"Military experience has no relevance to political decisions."

Yep, because the politicians have been bankrolling our guys so well in recent years. No shortage of kit under the previous Government that was only remedied through public outrage at articles in the media about soldiers not even having body armour on tour in the middle east.

Politicians should consult our military, that of our allies (for potential cost sharing) and maybe some independent advisers (military strategists etc not twats like Mandelson) then set objectives of what needs to be achieved and keep the f*ck out. It's pretty much how most departments should be run. Consult those that do the job, get some independent advice and put together the targets then leave them to it given most things pollies touch turn to shit.

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Stop

Oh no, not you again.

Another reasonably well written and yet completely bereft of sense column from the author of http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/05/dont_vote_lib_dem/

Much like the Audi TT my wife says I can't buy, of all the things we can't afford, an independent nuclear deterrent is the thing we can most afford to not be able to afford.

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Grenade

Cheese eating surrender monkey

You sir are wrong

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I respectfully disagree

And you are a grotesquely ugly freak.

</ChrisMorris>

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It's all in the delivery

The issue, as I see it, is not about nukes, just the way you deliver them.

If we want a guaranteed delivery system, we should just stuff them into a Federal Express box.....£ billions saved!.

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Go

Make that the oppinion of two...

I agree 100% with this analysis.

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Pint

Eurofighter

Reliable, that is a matter of debate, its usless and had its balls cut of before it was even made, hell it was doomed when some bright spark thought it a good idea to build the thing in a european style and do a bit in every country and then screwing up the unit conversions!

Yes the Eurofighter may well be reliable but so would the an airframe built in my back yard if it was never used properly.

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FAIL

Its what the public want.......

"Second, it is not the armed forces' money we speak of but ours. Defence chiefs grumble that the nuclear deterrent is imposed on them by politics, in other words by public opinion - this being a democracy. Of course it is, and so it should be: if the electorate want nukes instead of tanks or frigates or jets, that's what they should have."

Well thats one view, can we have an informed unpolitical debate followed by a national referendum on the subject where we can vote for the options with second preference.

Then we will know what the electorate actuually wants

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FAIL

What use if you need to ask the Amis ?

What use would a nuclear deterrent be if you need to ask the permission to use it from another country ? If it was a really British technology (like the French have) then why-not, the thing could be discussed, but another american handover ....

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Not quite...

We don't need permission to use our nuclear arsenal. Under the agreements made, the UK had to make assurances on the use of nuclear weapons, but the US have no veto on the actual use of, or the control, to stop a launch.

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Silver badge

Obvious Innit?

Delaying by five years brings us to the next election, also takes it out of the budget and when the shit hits the fan with all the public sector workers signing on (or trying to and getting pointless courses to attend) - there's a bit more money available to cushion the blow for a while.

Next election winners would either get Trident if it's Tories that win - you voted for it (again) or it's another mob who then get the onerous task of selling it to the public.

Sort of Win/Win for the boys in blue (coalition? what coalition?).

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Grenade

Another option

Why don't you pay a few billion, and I'll do the PR that tells the world that we have a replacement for Trident.

We know we aren't going to use it anyway, the value is only in people believing we have it.

Classic Yes Prime Minister nails it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX_d_vMKswE&feature=related

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Megaphone

Polaris

didn't holding back on the upgrade from Polaris to Trident costs huge amount of money in the end because the Yanks had moved on and they had to reopen all plants and assembly lines to support Polaris for us?? would be silly to make the same mistake twice

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Stop

I know why don't we spend all this money....

On a nuclear deterrent developed and manufactured in this country.

That way we get our deterrent (which I don't think we need) and can support some of our own top class industries and protect British Jobs.

Why do we have to buy an American deterrent and support American jobs?

Just an idea.

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Happy

our own nuclear deterrent

by 'our' here i take it you mean britain not readers of the register?

britain tried it before in the 1950s and 60s - it cost much more and never worked properly.

win win not.

so just stop sayin

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FAIL

Given that once I've been thoroughly irradiated, I won't care whether we have trident

and that the whole point of it is that nobody can find the subs...

Why not just TELL everyone we have them, for the deterrent side of things. No sane person would ever use them anyway. Fill some subs with blacmange, whatever.

We don't need trident, we never did, we never will. Isn't it about time the so called 'civilised' nations stopped the macho cock-waving posturing and gave up on wasting money on nuclear weapons that are of no practical use whatsoever?

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Sane?

You said it yourself, no _sane_ person would, no. But there's countless insane people that would love too.

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Anonymous Coward

...And my point remains

...once some nutjob has turned me into radioactive dust, why should I care whether or not the government of the radioactive wasteland that was my former county then has the capability to make said nutjob's homeland equally radioactive? By definition, and insane person is pretty unlikely to be swayed by any deterrent in the first place, and nobody in their right mind, reagardless of their faith or skin colour, is likely to want to start throwing nukes around for any one of a very large number of reasons. So we don't need them. End of.

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Thanks

Every time the Trident issue comes up someone always says "Well what if a nutter gets his hands on nukes!!! We will need a deterrent then!", they always fail to realise that a mad man will not care about a nuclear deterrent. I agree, I doubt I will care much as I float around as radioactive dust whether we have turned the people who did it into radioactive dust as well.

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Happy

we don't need no steenking delivery vehicle

This may be a daft question, but can't the nukes just be pre-positioned?

Just send the bits over in diplomatic containers, assemble in embassy basements (I'm sure plenty of Mt could fit in the lower floor of the average embassy car park - just build it big enough and there's no need to faff around renting houses next to military bases) and then leave them there.

Maybe use the consulates too if it's a big country.

When/if they're needed, the military attaché goes down to the basement, puts his code in, sets a timer, and everyone buggers off to somewhere outside the blast radius.

I think that 10% of the price of the replacement subs and contents would be fair; if the M.O.D. contact me I can provide my account number and sort code.

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Grenade

Brilliant ide

and when 100 nutters with AK47's take over a British embassy/consulate...

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they'd hire michael caine

Have you seen the 4th protocol? I thought it was quite a good film and not just because of the Escort XR3.

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Couldn't we just...

...replace them with Fake Trident ICBMs with flashing leds on the top?

Surely the EU is grown up enough to all club together and share a few nukes? The French get them on Mondays, The UK Tuesdays, Italy Wednesday, Spain Thursday, Ireland Fridays and Belgium and Luxembourg alternating weekends.

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Anonymous Coward

SIMPSONS

I take it you have not seen the Simpsons episode when Bart, Milhouse and Martin get the first issue of Radioactive Man. It did not end well.

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Happy

Zat

is just what they'd expect us to do.

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Headmaster

Really dumb political analysis

Saying that the Lib Dems didn't do well just because of Trident is just plain stupid.

There were any number of reasons that they didn't do well, electoral reform, closer ties with Europe, immigration, tax plans etc, the only Trident got any press was because the other parties were trying to paint them as being weak on defence.

Then of course there is all the tactical voting for the "Not Gordon" party, which favoured the Tories over the Lib Dems.

2/10 Must try harder

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(¯`·._.·(¯`·._.·(¯`·._.· TITLE ·._.·´¯)·._.·´¯)·._.·´¯)

I guess he has to put that in so we know he's just taking the mickey.

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Hear hear

Completely agree. I can't imagine the Trident issue had much of an effect on anybody choosing to vote or not vote for the Lib Dems. There were far more major election issues.

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disagree

I voted LibDem just to ensure that either Lab/Con got moderated in a coalition.

The nutters have been tempered to some degree - so I am at least less miserable than either gaining outright victory would have made me.

However, their anti-nuclear stance did make me consider them unelectable - were they to have any chance at a dominant role in British politics.

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Flame

Have to disagree here

"Even the mighty USA, after decades of effort and scores of billions spent on Star Wars and missile defence, cannot reliably defeat ballistic warheads hurtling far above the atmosphere. No other nation has even the ghost of a chance of doing so."

Easy Tiger, the reason why we have the missile defence treaty in the first place is that Moscow already got missile defence. It was a matter of choice. The yanks put the prototype around their reserve ICBMs of last resource while the Russians put it around their capital. So a missile defence system is already out there and has been there long before Star Wards. The reality is that nobody really knows how efficient it really is and frankly, I would rather not want to be around if someone tries to figure that out by trial and error.

I also would not be so sure about how many outdated ICBMs which do not have final approach evasive action mode can get past a deployment of S300. Both the upgraded Patriot and S300 can shoot down ICBM warheads on final approach and there are plenty of nations out there which have them or intend to buy them. To make matters worse these missiles are evolving and getting better. So in 10-20 years time by the time the Trident Replacement is operational they will be able to shoot down any ICBM warhead that does not "dodge" and deploy effective countermeasures.

So unless the Trident replacement price includes final approach evasive action similar to the Russian Bulava by the time it is delivered it will most likely be as effective as a cruise missile. Replacing Trident like for like may be the right choice today. I seriously doubt that this is a sane choice in a 20+ year timeframe.

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Grenade

(Current?) Anti-missile systems.

Do patriots now actually work?

I remember George Bush saying how great they were, but I remember a lot of SCUDs making controlled crash landings in Israel and how they defined a 'successful intercept'.

Didn't a scud land and take out a US camp or hospital as well?

Don't believe me?

Go on, ask an Israeli who was there at the time. They'll tell you how good they were.

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Pirate

Go and ask the Eastern Europeans

How they feel about nuclear weapons and what it is like to have a nuclear armed neighbour, called Russia, next door. They will tell you that the Russians have a nasty habit of saying, "we have nukes, you don't so do what we tell you." When you are a small country, knowing that you belong to a wider European organisation where some members have nukes and a logical attitude to their use is very reassuring. Yes, Europe are freeloading on the UK, US and French nuclear deterrents.

The same thing can probably be said about the Middle East and Israel. The Arab countries aren't happy about it, but at least they know the Isreali nukes are about defence, not power projection like the Russians or Chinese like to do. The point that should be made is that what 'WE' think about nukes is irrelevent, what other big countries think is the important point. Short asnwer is they think differently and the moment the UK gets rid of Trident is the moment the UK is no longer a big player on the world stage. A bit like the fall of the Roman Empire really, think of the UK as being a less stylish (and colder) version of Italy!

I could not find anything to disagree with in this article. The only thing I can add is that delaying Trident replacement means not having it in the future or it being unbelievably expensive because there will be no one around to build it as the engineers would have had to spend a few years on the dole! It is a have it and decide to do so now moment or consciously make the decision to publicly downgrade the UK from a Tier 1 world nation to a Tier 2 world nation. Stupid as this sounds, it really is that simple in the international world.

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I think you'll find that the Russians actually said:

We have lots of tanks, you don't, so do what we tell you.

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tanks are easier to use

tanks are easier to use than nukes, no east-european would have believed that the USSR are going to bomb them with nukes. But they DID know - Hungary, Tchekoslovakia - that they could be invaded and shot-at by tanks.

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Options

Our nuclear deterrent lacks the capability to be used as a first strike weapon against a major power, but could inflict very serious damage on one, in terms of cities destroyed, infrastructure wrecked and millions of mostly civilian deaths. Most governments want a functioning state and a population to rule, so the threat of thermonuclear heck might put them off nuking us first. That's why it's called a deterrent.

It could be used as a first strike weapon against a small nuclear power such as North Korea, Iran (in the future), etc, although politically and morally we would then be pariahs. Would it deter a fanatical government from nuking us? The answer might be "probably". Even fanatics want to know they are dying for a reason and the total obliteration of their cause/country might be off-putting.

Is it worth it? If you are going to have a nuclear deterrent, Trident is the Rolls Royce option, you get what you pay for. In this case a virtually undetectable submarine and missiles that can strike anywhere on the planet with a high degree of accuracy. There are cheaper options but they all have limitations.

If you think the UK should have nukes then Trident is as good as it gets, if not, then no system is suitable.

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Grenade

The bigger picture from an ex-rocket scientist

You're all missing the bigger picture. If they start building it now (2011ish) would they have to pay VAT at 20% on £25Bn *BUT* if we wait until 2015 when the economy has miraculously recovered, VAT with be 19.5%. 0.5% of £25Bn is not to be sniffed at.

And also by 2015 there will be intelligence* that Iran has nuclear-armed submarines patrolling in the Irish Sea.

*courtesy of the Tony Blair Foundation.

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Couldn't agree more

All this nonsense about "who will we use it against" misses the point of a deterrent. No one wants to use it, but in 10, 15, 20 years time we don't know who might be threatening us, and that could just as easily be Monaco or Djibouti as North Korea, France or China.

Various countries have developed or are developing both nuclear weaponry and delivery systems, many of them outside of the non proliferation treaty. Those countries will regard that technology not just as a useful bit of muscle on the world stage, but also as a very good revenue raiser. By selling the technology on to other countries which care not a jot about non proliferation, we could end up as one of the few countries without a deterrent if we get rid of it now.

The difference we would have is a navy capable of hiding our weapons offshore, where they can't be detected. That is not something that many countries can boast, but it seems to be under threat now. 2 coracles and a canoe do not a navy make, and we need to keep enough ships and subs at sea, not just to project power, but to protect ourselves.

The cost is minimal compared with the risk, not to mention the increased cost when we realise, too late, that the means to defend ourselves isn't there.

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Stop

Speaking of missing the point...

...I don't for a minute believe that there is anyone on this planet who is put off attacking us for the sole reason that we have trident. The IRA managed to blow stuff up quite effectively in the 70s and 80s, and the more recent terrorists, less so. We wouldn't nuke their home countries (particulalrly since, in many cases, that would be oursleves) and they know it. Ergo: no deterrernt.

Any nation attacking us in an aggressive war would instantly fall foul of the UN, which IIRC was set up to prevent wars of aggression after WWII (correct me if I'm wrong). So, unless the UN vanishes overnight, we don't need a nuclear deterrent, as all the other signatories of the UN convention would be legally bound to defend us.

So, the third possibility is that another nation attacks us in defense. For instance, if Iraq had somehow managed to retaliate against us after we invaded them. Again, they could be fairly confident that even faced with some sort of invasion force magicked up from nowhere, we wouldn't want to nuke them.

The only conceivable use would be in retaliation for a nuclear strike that had already taken place against us. There are two possibilities here: 1) The nation attacking us has a single nuke, in which case we should retaliate with conventional warfare. 2) The nation attacking us has many nukes, if we retaliate with nukes, we end up with MAD.

None of these scenarios ends in a situation where us having trident helps one iota, ergo we shouldn;t waste our money on it, especially when we have all those bankers' bonuses to pay out.

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Anonymous Coward

I disagree with lewis

I agree we need a nuclear deterrent, and clearly it must be effective which does rule out relying on cruise.

However we don't need a like for like deterrent based on the one we needed during the cold war.

A pair of ballistic missile subs would do the trick for deterrence against the big players such as the US, Russia, France etc. and a few cruise chuckers would be fine against those countries without a decent air defence system like Iran, North Korea, Wales etc. They could also be used to lob conventionally armed cruise around should the need arise.

Look at it this way, currently we (the UK) have enough nukes to effectively destroy the world many times over, add that to the effect of any retaliations means we have plenty enough boom-boom and then some.

But the real question is: how much do we really need? Remember the whole point of nukes is as a deterrent. We don't have them so that we can destroy the world we have them so that everyone else is afraid to set them off. They don't call it MAD for nothing. Chuck Norris and Ninja Steve Jobs would have to be polite and diplomatic with each other because no-one could afford the consequences if it turned violent - and it is exactly the same with nukes (except nukes are obviously not as dangerous as Chuck and Steve-san).

So what do we need? Well with respects to the lunatic fringes cruise should be fine, failing that a couple of ICBMs would do the job all peachy like. So what about the big boys, such as the USA or Russia?

The real question would be, what level of destruction would it become untenable for any US president or Vladimir Putin to be able to sustain? One city? A couple of cities? Disneyland Florida?

Joking aside, you would only need to be able to guarantee a dozen or so warheads to present an effective deterrent. Which would be a lot cheaper t buy and run than the current proposals.

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Wrong @ Lee

Having only two subs instead of four does not reduce the costs by anything that is meaningful. Per unit cost of each sub is less than £1bn I think, the whole deterrent is meant to cost £20bn once you factor in designing the thing, tooling the factories, training the people, and building the infrastructure. Plus the maintenance costs go up because you have two subs operating almost continously in salt water with little downtime (remember there has to be a sub out at all times for deterrence to work). Factor it all in and you save so little money it is not worth it.

As for cruise launched nukes, remember the subs have not been designed for this, the UK does not have nuke cruise missile designs or the people who know how to make them. That all costs money and ignores the fact that the UK would be technically inventing a new nuclear weapon which goes against the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. Nice idea, but it does not work.

A lot of clever people have studied all this (check out the RUSI reports) and it really does come down to an all or nothing option. Anything else is just deceiving yourself.

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Anonymous Coward

A Title

All UK subs now have the capacity to fire Cruise missiles. We buy them from the USA and they were originally designed to carry a nuclear warhead. Designing a new UK warhead variant to put in them would be quite within our capability.

Are a few cruise sub sonic missiles a sufficient deterrent against credible threats in the next 30 years? Possibly not, but supersonic cruise are starting to be developed, and we could afford to have far more of them than ICBM's at sea in times of crisis. So it is by no means certain that all could be stopped, that and the strong risk that our allies would join in should be sufficient to deter any nation that is able to be deterred. I’d argue that even the gold standard Trident would not be sufficient to deter a nation griped by an irrational religious motivation.

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WTF?

No Nuke Lib-Dems

"The Lib Dems, showing a lot of integrity, put clear blue water between themselves and the other two parties on nukes before the election - and took a beating at the polls. In most other respects you couldn't get a playing card between them and the other parties on policy, so a lot of those lost Lib Dem votes will have been lost by the failure to promise proper deterrence"

A completely fanciful view of the election results and voter rationale, so it just looks like plain, good old fashioned, Lib-Dem bashing because they hold a view Lewis doesn't subscribe to.

Lib-Dems were of course the only party in with a chance for people who don't agree with nukes, don't believe in a nuclear deterrent, or don't want to pay for such a thing, so I guess they got a couple of votes the other parties wouldn't have got. I don't believe the majority of voters put lack of nuclear deterrent very high up on their list when it came to deciding who to vote for. I can think of a lot more reasons people would not vote LIb-Dem than that.

I'd like to meet one of these "lost votes", someone who would have voted Lib-Dem if it were not for their anti-nuke stance.

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Joke

Trident vs Duke Nukem

Which will come first?

Both have been "just about ready" for nearly 3 millenium (Trident was subjected to the 'Yes Prime Minister' treatment in the 80's at least), and neither are anywhere delivered.

One thing is guaranteed though - both will be a massive anti-climax and woefully out of date whenever they get delivered.

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not even close

Take two knows how to deliver. Granted it with probably be first person GTA but still we will get the game. Off topic did the world really need horse jacking?

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Grenade

Stealthy IntelAIgent Design

andrews handle and lIsRT, front and centre, please, .... to collect your prize.

Oh, and Thanks for Classic Yes Prime Minister clip. Timeless.

And CyberSpace, which Controls and Fcuks with the Management of Human Perception, Really throws a spanner into the Trident works, and especially so if it is Servered from Abroad in Alien and Foreign Lands because of the Ignorant and Arrogant Dismissal of ITs Virtual Technology and Enigmatic Methodology ........ which will invariably be just a case of a Lack of Intelligence and Imaginative Vision/Future See, in those who are responsible for Running Blighty like a Third World country.

And the Offer has been made, for of course, All Communications on any such subjects are always Monitored for InterNetworking, or that is what we are led to believe. Novel Open Online Negotiations in Sublime Steganographic Text are a Challenge though, for Intelligent Community Analysts to Register and Counter without Source Engagement and Virtual Employment/Program Deployment.

[Quantum Communications BetaTest #XSSXXXX 1009161524]

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Anonymous Coward

Voter priorities

"The Lib Dems, showing a lot of integrity, put clear blue water between themselves and the other two parties on nukes before the election - and took a beating at the polls."

The only person to not vote Lib Dem because of this single issue presumably has the name "Lewis Page". Everybody else is quite likely to have (a) made their mind up over a mixture of issues, (b) made their mind up over a single "hot" issue like immigration, or (c) voted just as they, their parents, and their grandparents always did "because Labour/Tory is our party" in that classic Britard fashion of, for example, ignoring that Labour were approaching unprecedented levels of authoritarianism while clinging to their dated notions of, say, Labour being for the working man and social justice and not generally wanting to start wars (on other nations and on their own citizens).

And anyway, my vote counted for nothing in the stupid Britard electoral system, so even putting Trident at the top of the bill probably wouldn't give a great indication of whether people wanted it or not. Because of factor (c) - see above - my wasted vote ended up being converted into a mandate for someone whose position on Trident is probably "not really, but if there's more gravy coming my way then maybe yes". But I'm sure some people are happy with an idiotic electoral system if it produces the idiocy they prefer, regardless of whether Trident is idiotic or not.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC 14:34

"Both the upgraded Patriot and S300 can shoot down ICBM warheads on final approach and there are plenty of nations out there which have them or intend to buy them."

Hmm, aren't the operational success rates for patriot missile systems rather poor. Even the university of Tel Aviv suggests the interception rate against Iraqi SCUDs as less than 10% and they are the USA's bitch.

However US anti-missile systems have successfully shot down a Tornado and a couple of FA18s so I suppose that is something. Something bad I agree, but nevertheless something.

Pretty sure no-one has ever field tested a patriot or S300 against a real ICMB - I can absolutely guarantee you that if anyone could shoot down nukes they would make sure the rest of the world was well aware of that fact. Ignoring the fact that blowing up a nuke when it is above your cities and hurtling downwards would be only slightly less nasty than leaving the thing alone, obviously.

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Ehhh, not quite...

"""...the fact that blowing up a nuke when it is above your cities and hurtling downwards would be only slightly less nasty than leaving the thing alone, obviously."""

If by 'slightly' you mean 'a few orders of magnitude,' then sure, that can be a fact. A few kilos of radioactive material blown into relatively large chunks in the (hopefully) upper atmosphere is unlikely to kill anyone at all. The materials used to make nukes are relatively stable, and release their radiation slowly, if left to themselves. If you don't eat them or carry them around in your pocket, you'll be fine.

Compare that to an actual nuke detonation, which will kill plenty of people if it's anywhere near a population, and releases most of the radiation that would have been released over a few millenia instantly, plus creates ultra-fine radioactive powder which will be easily carried on the lightest breeze.

Don't see how that's a 'slight' difference by any measure.

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