back to article Never mind Brexit. UK must fling more £billions at nuke subs, say MPs

The Ministry of Defence has too many bigshots and not enough grunts – or cash – to reliably keep Britain’s nuclear deterrent hiding beneath the ocean waves, according to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. “At a time when, across the Enterprise, major organisational and governance changes have still to take full effect, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We could make wooden ones and just pretend, do think anyone would notice ?

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      That was Jeremy Corbyn's actual genuine suggestion.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        "That was Jeremy Corbyn's actual genuine suggestion."

        No, his suggestion was worse. He suggested not having nuclear weapons, but still building the expensive and otherwise useless massive submarines that house them.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          >No, his suggestion was worse.

          Agree, particularly if you remember that no one actually could or would confirm or deny whether the nuclear missiles deployed to Greenham Common did or didn't possess nuclear warheads...

  2. 45RPM Silver badge

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some close neighbours, who were (broadly speaking) culturally aligned with us, who weren’t led by some dangerously unstable toddler, and who represented one of the worlds largest economic superpowers - around $20trillion GDP should be enough - so that we could share this expense? Neighbours who’d demonstrate their willingness to give us a hand when we capriciously dispose of some perfectly good sub-hunter aircraft, and so do the job for us.

    Then, perhaps, we wouldn’t need quite so many subs. Perhaps we could also save money on border checks for goods as well, and a great many other things.

    Or maybe Teresa May really has found the Magic Money Tree. Which will also be used to eradicate poverty and homelessness on this island, providing more aid to Africa than any country evarh (including China), rebuilding the NHS - and, I’m sure, a great many other things besides.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some close neighbours, who were (broadly speaking) culturally aligned with us, who weren’t led by some dangerously unstable toddler, and who represented one of the worlds largest economic superpowers - around $20trillion GDP should be enough - so that we could share this expense?"

      If you are talking about the EU, have a look at their defence budgets and then come back and say if you think they would be useful and reliable partners. The reality is, the rest of the EU relies on the UK and France (and the US, of course) to defend it. Even after Brexit, their expectation is that the UK taxpayer will dig into his increasingly empty pockets and pay for EU defence.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        @ DavCrav

        "Even after Brexit, their expectation is that the UK taxpayer will dig into his increasingly empty pockets and pay for EU defence."

        Merkel unashamedly said as much that even if we hard brexit we should maintain our security cooperation.

      2. BanburyBill

        Military expenditure seems a bit of a slippery number. SIPRI has France: $57.8bn, UK: $47.2bn, Germany: $44.3bn, Italy $29.2bn. So, is the UK is the military giant that dwarfs the rest of the EU? And as Brexit tanks the pound and the rest of the economy into the ground, we'll continue to go backwards militarily. Except in our imaginations. Cue yet more WWII docos.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge
          Meh

          Lies &Statistics

          Uk Govt. doc says we spend $52Bn, French $47Bn & Germans $38Bn. It depends on what & how it's being counted.

          But it is known the Germans don't have much working hardware at the moment.

        2. DavCrav Silver badge

          "Military expenditure seems a bit of a slippery number. SIPRI has France: $57.8bn, UK: $47.2bn, Germany: $44.3bn, Italy $29.2bn."

          I'd say that French number is steaming bullshit. If it were true, France would be well over its 2% GDP target for military spending, As it is, even they admit it's about 1.8%.

          1. Lars Silver badge
            Happy

            The GDP for France was $2,836,000,000,00 2017 est. and if the 57,8 is also 2017 then it's 2.0% while the GDP for the UK was $2,914,000,000,000 2017 est. and with the $47.2 the % would be 1.6.

            SIPRI has a table regarding the NATO 2% here from 2016.

            https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/Media-backgrounder-current-military-spending-vs-NATO-2-per-cent.pdf

            The World Factbook:

            Military expenditures:

            France 2.26% of GDP (2016)

            The UK 2.2% of GDP (2016)

            Go figure, however, more or less all EU countries spend money on the military, and quite a lot together.

            A former Polish defence minister, Radoslaw Sikorski has some points about it here.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI54yarKz_o&t=561s

            1. DavCrav Silver badge

              "SIPRI has a table regarding the NATO 2% here from 2016."

              SIPRI are a bit lying. They are including in the French budget the money spent on the Gendarmerie, because they are sort-of a military force.

              Here you go.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                You mean the French still fund their police? How passé.

                1. DavCrav Silver badge

                  "You mean the French still fund their police? How passé."

                  They don't need to, I guess. They appear to just let anyone turn up and start bashing heads, no contract or payment required.

              2. Lars Silver badge
                Happy

                "A gendarmerie or gendarmery is a military component with jurisdiction in civil law enforcement. In France and some Francophone nations, the gendarmerie is a branch of the armed forces responsible for internal security in parts of the territory (primarily in rural areas and small towns in the case of France) with additional duties as a military police for the armed forces".

                Do you claim that the cost of the military police is not included in British defence spending?. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gendarmerie

                1. DavCrav Silver badge

                  "Do you claim that the cost of the military police is not included in British defence spending?. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gendarmerie"

                  We don't have a quasi-military organization enforcing civilian law in the UK. I am very happy about that fact.

                  1. John R. Macdonald

                    @DavCrav

                    There is no civilian police force in rural France. The Gendarmerie fill that role (but not all gendarmes have police powers). Actually it's a bit more complicated than that but I'll let you do your own research.

                    Concerning "We don't have a quasi-military organization enforcing civilian law in the UK. " Doesn't some of what the SAS does, or has done, come pretty close to that?.

                    1. phuzz Silver badge

                      Doesn't some of what the SAS does, or has done, come pretty close to that?

                      As far as I know they're not deployed on UK soil. The famous Iranian Embassy siege would be considered Iranian soil technically.

                      They were deployed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles though (along with the regular army), but I don't think they were enforcing civilian laws so much.

              3. John R. Macdonald

                @DavCrav

                Of course because the Gendarmerie ARE military.

              4. Potemkine! Silver badge

                SIPRI are a bit lying. They are including in the French budget the money spent on the Gendarmerie,

                Gendarmerie is part of the armed forces, Gendarmes are soldiers

          2. Potemkine! Silver badge

            This 2% GPD target is a nonsense. UK reaches this level, and Army, Air Force and Navy is crumbling, unable to intervene outside the borders without the US doing the main job.

            Diverting taxpayers's money into private pockets can't be considered as an adequate mean to provide efficient military capacities - the ones that matters.

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        "Even after Brexit, their expectation is that the UK taxpayer will dig into his increasingly empty pockets and pay for EU defence."

        <sarcasm>

        Don't really why you are taking issue, as we kept being told by the Brexit nutters, the UK willingly and overwhelmingly voted for this state of affairs...

        </sarcasm>

      4. Ucalegon
        Go

        "If you are talking about the EU, have a look at their defence budgets and then come back and say if you think they would be useful and reliable partners. The reality is, the rest of the EU relies on the UK and France (and the US, of course) to defend it. Even after Brexit, their expectation is that the UK taxpayer will dig into his increasingly empty pockets and pay for EU defence."

        I think a useful framing of that would be to look at China's spending on defense versus the EU. Roughly the same figure in 2016. Looking at the direct conventional threats the Chinese face, assuming the toddler over the pond is held in check, the EU face around 10 times less capability than the Chinese.

        So, I'd surmise the EU probably don't need to look to the UK's billions to keep them safe regardless of our contribution. Clearly I have no idea who's about to declare war on the EU but that's my potted analysis of global, conventional threats.

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      "providing more aid to Africa than any country evarh (including China)"

      China doesn't provide aid to Africa. China provides loans at commercial rates with inflated price tags (i.e., corruption), to get Chinese companies to build infrastructure, that they will eventually convert into owning all of the country. Already happening in Sri Lanka, Zambia is next (expect the Zambian state power company to be handed over to China as part payment for the dodgy loans), and then the dominoes will fall.

      1. 45RPM Silver badge

        @DavCrav

        A fair point - and one doesn’t have to go as far as Africa. Consider the suspiciously reasonable investments made in the UK by China. Not that I blame them, you understand. We’re letting it happen. And Brexit will just make matters worse.

      2. phuzz Silver badge
        Trollface

        China doesn't provide aid to Africa. China provides loans at commercial rates with inflated price tags (i.e., corruption), to get Chinese companies to build infrastructure, that they will eventually convert into owning all of the country.

        The nerve! Why can't they just march in there and colonise it like any normal country?

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          "The nerve! Why can't they just march in there and colonise it like any normal country?"

          Well, the African countries all have flags now, so you cannot do that any more.

  3. @JagPatel3

    The Role played by Contractors in Delays and Cost over-runs

    The share of blame attributed to people at the Ministry of Defence for delays and cost overruns has been documented extensively over the years. But what is the role played by MoD’s other half of the partnership, namely Defence Contractors, in this epic tale of failure?

    This question is especially relevant given that 97% of contracts on the Defence Nuclear Enterprise are held by just four prime contractors.

    The risk that new equipment procurement programmes will fall behind schedule is driven by three significant factors – all of them, entirely within the control of the Contractor:

    (a) Work allowed to commence without the full complement of Task Performers being assigned to the project performance team, right from the start.

    (b) Task Performers arbitrarily (and clandestinely) re-assigned to other priority work during the term of the Contract.

    (c) Task Performers, who are typically on one month’s notice corresponding to pay in arrears, abandon their posts for a better paid job elsewhere.

    The practice of switching the most capable and smartest people (the ‘A’ Team members) from existing project commitments, to working on other contracts running concurrently which have gone ‘critical’, or to producing bid phase deliverables for ITT responses, is very common within Defence Contractors’ organisations – because the need to continually bring-in money or win new business takes priority over everything else, a foremost characteristic of for-profit organisations.

    Indeed, such is their obsession with future income (and Share Price) that, once they have got a new Contract in the bag, their attention immediately shifts onto chasing the next one – at the expense of compromising performance on the Contract they have just won!

    This all too familiar scenario is further compounded by the fact that:

    (a) Contractors at every tier of the Defence Industry have mandated enforcement of a minimalist staffing policy of being just ‘one man’ deep in many of their specialist core functions, with no slack or succession plan – which unfortunately, also denies defence workers the opportunity to associate with like-minded people in the work environment, severely impeding their professional development.

    (b) In their desperation to quickly build-up their project performance teams to full strength following down-selection for the first Contract performance phase, Contractors have been less than honest with new employees (particularly those originating from the Public Sector) about their individual role in the project performance team, the job content and near-term prospects – because they are not bound by a ‘Code on Ethical Behaviour in Business’. Consequently, these newcomers have no choice but to align their personal and career goals with those of their new employer on the basis of what they are told. It is the disappointment of discovering a substantial gap between the reality on the ground and what they were led to believe at interview that causes these new starters to leave – creating yet more vacancies and disruption!

    (c) Instead of looking upon people on their payroll as human beings with hopes, fears and insecurities, individuals are treated like ‘economic units’ by Contractors – to be bought and sold like commodities, at will, in the free market to serve their own narrow commercial interests.

    (d) Recent years has seen the working relationship between Indirect and Direct labour types to be strained beyond breaking point on account of:

    i. The latter (who are all Task Performers, adding value by producing deliverables which attract payment from MoD) being compelled by the former to partake in activities which are contrary to their professional, ethical and moral convictions. In turn, this has led to Direct labour types to accuse Indirect labour types of ‘living off their backs’ by charging MoD a ‘tax surcharge’ on their labour – creating even more bitterness and division.

    ii. The duplicitous policy enforced by Indirect labour types of making bold pledges in Management Plans, and then promptly rescinding on these work commitments during the follow-on Contract performance phase has had the effect of disenfranchising Direct labour types, because they think this is thoroughly deceitful behaviour.

    iii. The burden of responsibility for executing the resultant grossly under-scoped Programme of Work falling on Task Performers, instead of those people on overheads who made the false, exaggerated claims about the maturity of the proposed Technical Solution in the first place.

    Even more disturbingly, in the interests of furthering their careers in today’s mobile labour market, many defence industry workers especially those possessing highly marketable skills (the crème de la crème) are now willing to extend their commitment and loyalty only, as far as the next pay packet – having adopted this tactic from observing, at first hand, the behaviour of their own employers who have, for many years demonstrated their willingness to provide a service to MoD which extends only as far as the next milestone payment! Worse still, whereas every Contractor has got a Staff Recruitment Policy, none has a Staff Retention Policy.

    So, when a programme in the Contract performance phase suffers a loss in personnel on the project performance team (usually those most difficult to replace), work on producing deliverables to schedule comes to an abrupt stop – leading to delays and ultimately, cost overruns.

    A risk and associated cost burden that has traditionally been borne by the Ministry of Defence!

    So, it is not only defence procurement officials who are to blame for the malaise afflicting defence procurement – Defence Contractors are equally culpable in creating a procurement culture which has failed to deliver equipment to the Armed Forces that is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life.

    @JagPatel3

    1. Ledswinger Silver badge

      Re: The Role played by Contractors in Delays and Cost over-runs

      @JagPatel3

      Some great points that look well informed (and supported by posting history), but you've got to break it down to avoid TL;DR syndrome.

      Having many years ago worked in the system, I'd say the contractors are not guilt free, but their behaviour is driven by MoD's fuckwit behaviours. Faced with a customer this stupid, what would you do?

      By all means, hold BAES to account when MoD can find their own arse with both hands unassisted, but we could be in for a long wait before the condition is fulfilled.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: The Role played by Contractors in Delays and Cost over-runs TL;DR version.

      They're not called Defense Con-tractors for nothing.

      And they will go on separating the MoD from taxpayers money until someone does something serious about it.

      So probably not in my lifetime.

  4. SeanEllis
    Stop

    Simplistic solution to two problems

    Scrapping Trident leaves a serious employment problem in Faslane and the surrounding area.

    But the skills already there are in precision engineering, specifically small nuclear systems in portable pressure vessels. So don't shut down the yards; we need low-carbon energy. Retool to create a production line for small modular nuclear reactors.

    Saves jobs. Keeps skills. Gives us things and expertise to export. Reduces our carbon emissions and our reliance on imported energy.

    Doubtless this is overly simplistic. Any submarine engineers out there to point out why?

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

      I see what you're thinking, but the way to low-carbon energy doesn't involve creating nuclear waste. Similar skills (good engineers) could be utilised to develop and manufacture tidal, wind and solar power. Scotland is already a world leader in research, and an excellent location for tidal. Let's make it a leader in actually making the things!

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

        who cares about carbon. if it's cost effective, make nuclear reactors. if it's not, don't.

        in the case of submarines, a sub's nuclear reactor is a bit different than a civilian one that's designed only to make electricity. One is the cost of refueling. Whereas a civilian reactor a) doesn't have to change power levels radically in a short period of time, b) doesn't have to take odd 'angles and dangles', and c) doesn't have to have "that kind of power density", a civilian reactor can ALSO typically take a MUCH higher fuel load with less enrichment and is a LOT easier/cheaper to refuel because of it. Submarine reactors are typically constructed in a way that's more reliable, but relatively difficult to refuel. however, a sub ALSO may go its entire life without refueling (so it's not really a problem so much).

        Anyway, just my $.10 worth.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

          if it's cost effective, make nuclear reactors. if it's not, don't.

          Depends a lot on how you define cost effective. Historically costs have excluded decommissioning and processing waste because if they did private industry wouldn't touch it.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

            >Historically costs have excluded decommissioning and processing waste because if they did private industry wouldn't touch it.

            But part that problem was down to politics.Back in the 50's and 60's scientists were seemingly making huge strides, so there was natural expectation that they would also be able to resolve the decommissioning and waste problem, however, this viewpoint failed to take account of politicians and their need to be popular if they are to get re-elected. Thus with the rise of the anti-nuclear movement, they couldn't be seen to invest in nuclear and so nuclear research got under-funded, which has resulted in the current mess.

            I think with our society being addicted to energy, cheap'ish and plentiful, we will be making nuclear reactors; alternatively - but we might be doing this in any case, we turn the clock back a few centuries...

      2. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

        "I see what you're thinking, but the way to low-carbon energy doesn't involve creating nuclear waste. Similar skills (good engineers) could be utilised to develop and manufacture tidal, wind and solar power. Scotland is already a world leader in research, and an excellent location for tidal."

        Tidal, wind and solar power were shit in the past, are currently shit, and will always be shit. None of them can provide baseline power, their deployment is expensive, difficult and limited to a select number of locations, their reliability is questionable to begin with and production often involves lots of pollution to begin with.

        Small Modular Reactors on the other hand can be deployed pretty much anywhere, provide clean and reliable power and can be made walk-away safe. Nuclear waste doesn't have to be nearly so much of a problem as it is currently because a lot of the volume we produce today is easily reduced to only a small amount of highly radioactive (and thus short lived) material and a large amount of fresh reactor-ready fuel grade uranium. It's because of radiophobia and misunderstanding that people oppose fuel recycling, which in turn causes a lot of the problems we have these days.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

          Tidal, wind and solar power were shit in the past, are currently shit, and will always be shit.

          Nonsense. In the right places they have great yields and are relatively inexpensive to maintain. The problem is, as you point out, baseload but this is as much a problem with the network as anything else. The larger the network, the greater the likelihood that conditions in one place will to some extent balance out those elsewhere. The move is from baseload to transitory backup, which can come from storage or gas.

          Clean nuclear has been just around the corner for years. And still hasn't arrived. Meanwhile we have to deal with the legacy of decades of nuclear power and the, mericfully few but still very real, catastrophic accidents there have been.

          1. EvilDrSmith

            Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

            Not entirely.

            On-shore wind appears to be particularly sensitive to variations in the wind speed, and the UK does get weather systems big enough to blanket the island, where no wind somewhere = no wind everywhere.

            Off-shore is more dependable, and the turbines tend to be bigger, so it offers the potential for significant energy supply. However the development of these large offshore turbines in large off-shore wind farms is taking these machines to much harsher environments: long term durability of these big turbines in harsh conditions is still uncertain. Anything that needs to be maintained that far from shore in the conditions of the North Sea or North Atlantic is neither easy nor cheap to maintain (I don't, however, no how much maintenance these things actually need, so possibly the costs are low in relative terms).

            Solar is relatively good for 'trickle-charge' type applications, but is unlikely to be a significant energy source for the UK - peak energy demand is, I suspect, on cold, dark, days in winter, when solar will struggle to generate much.

            Solar panels on every new property would be useful for reducing demand from the grid - but there is environmental damage in actually creating the panel which needs to be considered.

            Tidal has, in my opinion, real potential, but is nowhere near mature yet. Tides are predictable and reliable (and also vary slightly in timing around the coast). But the best tidal energy locations are where the tidal flow is highest, and sticking a tidal generator in these tidal flows is difficult - the same energy that you are drawing out of the water to create electricity is also trying to rip your tidal generator from it's anchorage and send it bounding along the sea bed, breaking its expensive bits in the process. And as with wind turbines, tidal turbines are in a harsh environment, where long term durability is going to be an issue.

            Tidal lagoons offer a potential solution, but these are large scale structures - expensive, and with a heavy footprint on the environment.

            Additionally, all these 'green' energy sources have to be built, installed, and the electricity brought to the grid, which makes for lots of vehicle movements shipping components, transporting to site, possible energy loses in transmission, etc There are direct environmental impacts (wind turbines emit noise, are visually intrusive, and kill migratory birds, etc). There has been little attempt at decommissioning any of these types of generators (what do you do with a 100-year old wind farm in the north sea, where the existing foundations are not strong enough to carry the load of your 22nd century mega-wind turbine? Can you recycle pv panels? etc)

            There is also the issue of what effect these techniques have on the environment - these are not generating energy, they are taking it from the natural system. I suspect that the energy drawn from the wind by even the largest wind farm is insignificant on the resulting wind patterns. But then, the CO2 put into the atmosphere by burning coal was insignificant until it wasn't.

            All three of these energy sources (Wind/solar/tidal) have potential, but solar is unlikely ever to be a major source of electrical energy in the UK, and tidal power is some years away from being a practical proposition.

            1. Cragganmore

              Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

              Large scale energy storage needs more investment as a solution for bridging those days of zero wind or darkness. Plenty of good (and not so good) ideas:

              - pressurised air stored within disused salt mines.

              - free-fall weights in disused coal mines (short term power peaks)

              - molten salt (as a very high thermal storage density)

              - electrolysis to generate O2 and H2.

              - reverse hydro (as in Llanberis, Wales)

              I'm sure there are more crackpot (i.e. interesting/novel) ideas out there!

          2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            " In the right places they have great yields and are relatively inexpensive to maintain. "

            Wrong.

            UK on shore wind is hoped to run 26% of the time.

            Offshore maybe it hits 30% of the time.

            At least one UK onshore turbine hit (over a year) about 3% usage.

            Things like tidal, biogas and micro hydro are reliable (but complex) to understand.

            OTOH they can hit 90%+ availability.

          3. DavCrav Silver badge

            Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

            "The larger the network, the greater the likelihood that conditions in one place will to some extent balance out those elsewhere. The move is from baseload to transitory backup, which can come from storage or gas."

            This, unfortunately, is not true. There are several days a year where the entirety of Western Europe has no wind.

      3. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

        ... and the Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal range in the world, but the government still scrapped the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. It seems the DUP took the last of the magic money trees...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Simplistic solution to two problems

      "Retool to create a production line for small modular nuclear reactors."

      Those jobs are already in and around Derby, surely? (Specifically, Raynesway).

      Or did that change earlier this year, when RR had yet another re-organisation and re-branding and rationalisation, and they just haven't told the outside world yet?

      https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/business/60m-nuclear-subs-deal-secures-1564857

  5. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Useful rule of thumb

    When your SSD/HDD is getting full, you look for a few large, unwanted files to delete, rather than thousands of tiddly ones.

    So, and I'm thinking out loud here, if we don't have a magic money tree and need to cut back, perhaps dropping a few large items of unnecessary expenditure could help to balance the books. As a start we could save £53 billion by dropping the WMDs, and god knows how much by dropping the National Plan for Economic Suicide. Oh yes, and no more magic bungs. More sensible than closing lots of public toilets and care homes.

    Then we probably COULD spend £350m a week on the NHS. Curing people not killing them.

    Oh yes, and of course, go for an independent England so there's no need to 'subsidise' Wales, Scotland and NI any more.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Useful rule of thumb

      @Pen-y-gors - you advocating Brexit as well? Sounds similar to me...

      /me runs away after saying the 'B' word

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Useful rule of thumb

        > @Pen-y-gors - you advocating Brexit as well? Sounds similar to me...

        > /me runs away after saying the 'B' word

        Naaah, he's saying let England break off from the EU on their own, and leave the other UK countries within Europe, without those stuck up elitist english idiots dragging us down (with apologies to the many non stuck up not elitist non idiotic english)

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Useful rule of thumb

      "As a start we could save £53 billion by dropping the WMDs [...] Then we probably COULD spend £350m a week on the NHS. Curing people not killing them."

      Unfortunately the numbers don't add up. £350m/week is roughly £18bn/year. The total UK defence budget in 2016/17 (quickest numbers I could find) was £35bn (don't believe the £45bn figure you might see: this includes foreign aid). You would have to halve the defence budget in order to pay for the recent increase in the NHS budget announced by the PM.

      In general, government only pays for four things: NHS, education, welfare (including pensions), everything else. The figures are, roughly:

      NHS: 152bn

      Education: 88bn

      Welfare: 280bn

      Misc: 295bn (this is: defence, transport, 30bn law and order, 50bn debt interest, etc., and 60bn is accounting adjustments)

      You would do well to more or less ignore anyone who says that you can find significant sums for the NHS from cuts to Misc, given that once you take out accounting adjustments and debt interest (which you cannot cut), the size of Misc is roughly the same as the NHS.

      Most of welfare (about 160bn) is pensions. Retirement age increases and means testing of benefits like free TV licences, winter fuel payments, etc., would save a bit, but it's a big expenditure and only going to get bigger.

      You should also go ahead and ignore most estimates for the cost of Trident replacement, unless you can see their methodology. The most popular estimate in the media at the moment was worked out as follows:

      1) It currently costs n% of defence budget to look after Trident.

      2) The Government spends 2% of UK GDP on defence.

      3) UK GDP should grow at m%/year.

      4) Trident replacement should last 40 years.

      5) Therefore the total cost is (n%)*(2%)* (sum i from 1 to 40 of UK GDP *(1+m)^i).

      Now. I'm not saying that's a bad methodology. But I think that, maybe, an eight year old might see some problems in how that number is reached. Once the child reaches nine or ten they might have enough confidence to declare the number "utter bollocks".

      1. JEDIDIAH
        Devil

        Re: Useful rule of thumb

        This feels like a bit of deja vu. A certain subset of Americans like to tell themselves that we spend all of our money on guns and that if we just gutted the defense budget they could get everything they always wanted and not pay any extra taxes.

        Although ditching the boomers still might be a good idea.

        I feel the same way about our own carriers. Not sure we need so many. We could lose a few and still have more than the rest of the world combined.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who knew introducing university fees would cause a drain on skilled people?

    It's like people are looking at the debt versus the wage and realising it doesn't add up or isn't worth the time.

    It's further compounded by people not taking science A-Levels because why bother when you won't get to use it? There's also not enough people with the aptitude for it from the people that can actually afford it.

    Not sure how you fix it other than to scrap the fees and have a means tested system but then that increases social mobility and we can't have that.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Scotland?

      Of course, Scottish students don't pay any tuition fees if they study in Scotland.

      Damn that evil SNP!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Scotland?

        Indeed but the schools are probably that crap hardly anyone takes it up.

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Scotland?

          3 of the top 100 universities globally are Scottish, and even the many lesser ones attract hordes of foreign students. Especially from the EU nations who don't also have to pay but also from nationals that do have to pay - your Chinese, Americans, - and English.

          They are so many foreign students that it's causing a bit of a problem in Edinburgh with great venues being closed to redevelop into student accommodation.

          Feel free to make a jibe about deep-fried Mars bars but truthfully I've only seen foreign students buying them.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Scotland?

            @Danny 2

            I wasn't knocking Scottish schools, schools in general in the UK are crap but thanks for confirming my point about no Scottish kids going to Scottish Universities. Very sad state of affairs for all of us.

      2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: Scotland?

        We'd have free tuition in England too if only we could get a sugardaddy to pay for it.

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Scotland?

          "We'd have free tuition in England too if only we could get a sugardaddy to pay for it."

          Aye, and Scotland would have a US$1 trillion oil fund just like Norway does if our pimp hadn't stolen it from us.

          England had free education just like Scotland, BEFORE the oil flowed and spluttered, so I guess England just don't prioritise free education.

          This is a wee bit off topic so I'll bring it back to the article. I am so grateful that the UK (Westminster) government forces Trident to HMNB Clyde against the wishes of Scots simply because England doesn't have a deep water port.

          I hate to make predictions because I am not a conjurer, but suspend disbelief for a moment and indulge me.

          Let's say England votes to leave the EU, Scotland votes to stay in, and Westminster mucks up the negotiations.

          Maybe Scotland will leave the UK (and maybe even rejoin the EU).

          Where does Trident go when an independent Scotland rejects it? It goes to France, maybe, or more likely the USA, Georgia probably. And England pays for it.

          1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

            Re: Scotland?

            You pretend that the SNP's map of where England and Scotland would split was true.

            It wasn't.

            According to international law governing these things, Northern England gets a massive chunk of "Scottish" oil.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Scotland?

            Back to farming sheep for you, if you leave England. You will have no other exports with out the money from the city for investment.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      >Who knew introducing university fees would cause a drain on skilled people?

      I suggest you take a look at Germany, where University is free, but they also have a problem retaining skilled people...

  7. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

    How surprising - lots of schoolkids saying we should abolish our nuclear deterrent and rely on France to defend us. I remember when El Reg used to be for grownups.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here We Go Again.....

    Quote: "....some £51bn will be spent on Britain’s nuclear deterrent..."

    *

    This is the MOD which spent billions on an aircraft carrier....with no aircraft (now somewhat remedied).

    This is the MOD which doesn't have the equipment to form a carrier group (required) with aforesaid aircraft carrier.

    This is the MOD with multiple frigates which are OFTEN "dead in the water" because the cooling system for the gas turbines "just packs up".

    *

    Now it's interesting to consider that BAE, Babcocks and Lockheed Martin all have their snouts in this expensive and useless trough....allegedly "keeping us safe".

    *

    What am I missing here?

    1. Mark Dempster

      Re: Here We Go Again.....

      The MOD fully expected to have aircraft for the carriers. They were postponed by the Tory defence review in 2010, when they also sold our entire fleet of Harriers (which could have operated from them in the meantime) to the USA for £1

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Here We Go Again.....

        Govt. - we need save £1 now / Expert - it will cost £10 to get it back later / Govt. - That's the next Govts. problem.

        The Astute problems all stem from not building any subs at all for a long time, the (world leading) knowledge just evaporated, similar problems are why it's taking nearly 3 years to bring the Q-E carrier up to full operational status even with the very senior staff having done it with the Invincible class. A few more years and it would have taken us as long as China has spent to get things going again.

        Faced with the same issues around keeping skilled engineers in place (Navy shipbuilding yards have been closing just like in the UK over the years) the US navy instituted a very sane policy of ordering hulls at a rate the keeps the yards and upstream suppliers ticking over at a constant level. This appears to be providing the benefit that task repetiton always brings - people get better at doing the job, costs reduce and timetables don't slip.

        Also a much tougher contract model with penalties would help reduce the trough gouging.

        Doubling the number of subs the RN have would bring it back to the level it had during the '80s when the Russians were arguably being no less unfriendly.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "The Astute problems all stem from not building any subs at all for a long time,"

          Really?

          I rather thought it was something to do with the fact that

          1) Coach built, mostly by hand welding. Why rely on the predictability of an (expensive) solid welding jig when you've got "Shugg" whose got twenty years experience, and only gets it wrong occasionally.

          BAe tried to reverse-engineer a coach built aircraft to build the jigs with Nimrod MR4. What a f**kup that turned out to be.

          2) Barrow-in-Furness is a bit of a s**thole to move to.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: "The Astute problems all stem from not building any subs at all for a long time,"

            > Why rely on the predictability of an (expensive) solid welding jig

            Well with a jig you could set up a production line: 50? 100? 2? what! it will cost more to build the jigs than it would having them coach built.

  9. 0laf Silver badge
    Mushroom

    When we stamp out of the EU in a geriatric tantrum we'll need our big nuclear sticks to wave at other countries so they'll take us seriously and speak to us. a bit like a West European version of North Korea.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Dear Papua New Guinea

      Please, please give us a free trade agreement on good terms or Port Moresby gets turned to glass.

      Love n hugs

      L Fox

      You know, it might just work. Well, more likely than his other plans

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      stamp out of the EU in a geriatric tantrum..bit like a West European version of N. Korea.

      Yes that sounds about right.

      Right down to the age group who voted for the lunacy.

  10. Danny 2 Silver badge

    X Berth safety consultation

    I was at the 2002 X Berth safety consultation for Broadford Bay in Skye, where the Royal Navy informed a packed hall of locals about the navies plans for a nuclear emergency there. It did not instil confidence to say the least.

    An exclusion and evacuation zone was shown on a large map, and a senior officer told us that any casualties would be taken to a nearby hospital. An old man chipped in, "But son, that's the hospital near the centre of the danger zone" - a fact the Royal Navy had missed. Maybe they can't read land maps, given that two of their subs including one nuclear armed Vanguard had crashed into the Isle of Skye.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: X Berth safety consultation

      every Monday morning the nuclear alarm is tested at HMNB Devonport. If you have visitors onsite you quite often have to explain what the help the siren is that's going off! Quite a few subs currently moored in a basin at Devonport, something like 15 or so most of which are still fuled, and all these are hunter killer subs at around 5,000T each compared to nearly 20,000T for a Vanguard boat, so yep space is tight can't really see where they'll find the space to moor them

  11. lee harvey osmond

    "the Atomic Weapons Establishment stores at least some of its data on the public cloud."

    Call me irresponsible, but I'd like to make a public cloud with at least some of the fissile material the Atomic Weapons Establishment stores. Over 100 tons of separated plut, apparently

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the Atomic Weapons Establishment stores at least some of its data on the public cloud."

      There's a fat bloke in North Korea had a similar vision - that's not you is it by any chance?

      At least he seems to have had second thoughts recently, or likes us to think he has.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What amazes me is that...

    ...up to and including the moment I am writing this, nobody discussing the "who will pay for defending the UK/EU/Madagascar/..." topic in this thread has not mentioned NATO. You know, that military alliance that in theory constitutes a system of mutual defence of its members and which has got nothing to whatsoever with the EU? Or has it really (I've heard people say this) become completely irrelevant to the world's current affairs?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: TL;DR

    Why not just drop the old submarines in the mariana trench?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: TL;DR

      I believe that would be a modification of the Russian method. I.e. we were just innocently towing this retired submarine when the rope broke and it sank in this quite deep bit of ocean. Oh well, nothing we can do now.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: TL;DR

      Because then the new submarines will have to fight Godzilla.

  14. WibbleMe

    What about thinking of non nuclear ICBM such as Hydrogen based, much less to worry about it goes boom and playing round with a uranium demon.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "What about thinking of non nuclear ICBM such as Hydrogen based, much less to worry about it goes boom and playing round with a uranium demon."

      Do you mean just put a load of hydrogen in a balloon and float it to the target? Or do you mean a thermonuclear (hydrogen) bomb? If it's the latter, that uses a fission bomb to start it off.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Happy

        I assumed he was referring to the new "Green Nuke" - which is powered by hydrogen and the only pollutant it emits is water. You launch it at an enemy city, and it explodes with a squeaky pop and a pretty flame.

        Soon to be replaced by the hydrogen sulphide bomb, which doesn't kill the people but makes the buildings uninhabitable. The reverse of the neutron bomb.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is going to cause a war

    England is no longer nation building. There is no use for these weapons of war. It's no different than giving a gun to every drunk slob at the pub. Politicians screw up everything they touch. How many wars could have been avoided if England had no weapons. Sure maybe they would have lost the war to Germany, but maybe Germany wouldn't have had to go to war if England wasn't invading everyone. Stop the insanity and disarm yourselves.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: This is going to cause a war

      "How many wars could have been avoided if England had no weapons. Sure maybe they would have lost the war to Germany, but maybe Germany wouldn't have had to go to war if England wasn't invading everyone. Stop the insanity and disarm yourselves."

      Well, given that England has been in more or less every war, almost all of them. Of course, it probably wouldn't have stopped us being invaded and slaughtered though, so on balance we'll keep our weapons, thanks.

      And I'd love to hear which oh-so-peaceful country you come from, which has never invaded anyone.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is going to cause a war

        >Well, given that England has been in more or less every war, almost all of them. Of course, it probably wouldn't have stopped us being invaded and slaughtered though, so on balance we'll keep our weapons, thanks.

        Why not get rid of the weapons not needed for defending our shores. Save £billions on nukes and use it to properly supply the armed forces with sufficient conventional ships, planes, tanks, etc to repel a significant force.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: This is going to cause a war

      >How many wars could have been avoided if England had no weapons. Sure maybe they would have lost the war to Germany, but maybe Germany wouldn't have had to go to war if England wasn't invading everyone.

      Interesting twist on history, pray tell us the untold truth about the English invasions that precipitated WWI and WWII.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is going to cause a war

      LOL all but 2 of you completely missed the point - sarcastic cynicism. A lot Brits are all gung ho about bashing countries like the US about people owning guns, but when it comes to your own, you don't want to give it up - just proved my point. By the way, how is that GIANT jump in rape since your guns were taken away going.. Ask your daughter before you reply.

  16. EvilDrSmith

    The problem with that is in the year after you scrapped the Nuclear capability, you would have lots more money for your conventional forces. But after about 5 years, you'd have a reduced defence budget, and your conventional forces are back at the level they were when you had the Nukes. Only now, you don't have the Nukes.

    Plus actually having sufficient conventional ships, planes tanks etc is quite expensive - buying the kit, storing the kit, operating the kit, and most importantly employing the large number of people to operate the kit.

    Plus having Nukes is partly about deterrence (if the Russians/French/N Korea threatened to Nuke us, could we rely on the US to say no? If the US threatened to Nuke us, could we rely on the French to say Non?), and partly about diplomacy - we have nukes/we are on the UN security council/we something else, yar-de-dar, therefore we are important...

  17. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    Let's cut the BS. It's about the UK's self image as a "World" power.

    IE A massive willy waving exercise.

    ICBMS did not "deter" the IRA (or any other colonial liberation group the UK fought in the 40's,50's,60's or 70's)

    ICBM's did not stop Argentina invading the Falkland Islands.

    So, aside from handing a few 10s of £Bns to BAe (again) what's the f**king point of this exercise again?

    I will note the UK is an island and keeping the sea and air routes to it secure would seem to be a key priority for any long term goal of whatever military structure is chosen.

    1. EvilDrSmith

      Re: Let's cut the BS. It's about the UK's self image as a "World" power.

      "IE A massive willy waving exercise"

      To a large (but not entire) degree, yes.

      But by your examples, you appear to misunderstand the principle of deterrence. Deterrence applies to any/all weapon systems, but only works if the weapon system is credible and the person to be deterred believes that you will use it.

      Fairly obviously, you do not deter terrorists that are hiding within your own cities with city-destroying weapons (ICBM is not a credible weapon for use in this case, therefore cannot be considered to be a deterrent for use in this case)

      However, deterrence worked perfectly in the case of the Falklands - hence there was no Falklands War of 1977, when the Argentines made all the same moves to invade the Falklands as in 1981/82, and the British response was to park a SSN in the south Atlantic. This left the Argentine junta in no doubt that the UK would defend the islands, and they were deterred from invading (since the weapon systems deployed to deter them were credible as a means of destroying the invasion fleet, and the Junta believed the UK government would use them).

      In 1981/82, the British response to aggression from Argentina was to continue with the plan to sell off both carriers, scrap both the amphibious assault ships, and withdraw the Falklands guard ship without replacement. The logical interpretation was that the UK weren't prepared to fight to stop the islands being annexed. Therefore, the weapons possessed by the UK were irrelevant: the Junta believed there was no political will to use them.

      A similar example of deterrence succeeding / failing due to political will would appear to be the invasion of Kuwait: the Iraqi invasion of 1961 didn't happen because the UK chucked in troops and made it clear to the Iraqis that we would fight to defend Kuwait, whereas in 1990, the US (the new 'outside power' dominant in the area) failed to make clear politically their view, and failed to deploy troops, so failed to deter, with the Iraqis thus assumed the US would do nothing.

      Whether the UK needs a nuclear deterrent is certainty a point for discussion, however, there would appear to be a political/diplomatic advantage (willy -waving isn't entirely without impact).

      It might also be noted that Litvinenko was poisoned by Polonium, an action which is generally held to have been the actions of the Russian state, and this year there has been a reported small scale chemical weapons attack against civilians in the UK, again the action of the Russian state. Given that the current Russian government has been prepared to use two classes of weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons and radiological weapons) against targets in the UK (though only in very small scale volumes, and has attempted to do so covertly in both cases), one could conclude either:

      (i) our deterrent has failed, and is useless

      (ii) our deterrent is vital, and possibly the only thing stopping the use or the threat of use of a nuclear warhead against civilian target in the UK

      (iii) we were never going to launch a nuclear warhead against an attack of such a small scale, so the deterrent was never relevant in either case, but the world is dangerous and unpredictable, so it might be a good idea to hang on to it, just in case.

      So those are at least some possible points of the exercise.

  18. aqk
    Terminator

    Need quick cash? Sell the old subs to CANADA!

    Hey it's simple, you dopey limeys! Need some extra cash to pay for the new subs? Brexit got you down?

    Easy financing is available!

    Just sell four more of your old subs to Canada! Like you did before. We are suckers for these deals. You think Theresa is dim-witted? Hah!

    But Canada, with our Liberal gov't, may balk when we hear that these things are nuclear-powered.

    NUCLEAR?? EEK! That stuff is EVIL!

    So? Just retrofit the old leaky subs with oil-burning diesel engines, and to hell with the pollution! And hope they don't catch fire or sink halfway across the Atlantic, like one of the previous ones did.

    We ARE CANADIAN! Hewers of wood and drawers of (sometimes salt) water!

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Need quick cash? Sell the old subs to CANADA!

      So? Just retrofit the old leaky subs with oil-burning diesel engines... We ARE CANADIAN! Hewers of wood

      Doesn't quite go, perhaps if we made them wood burning then Canada would have a use for all that wood hewing

  19. NIck Hunn

    Deterrent?

    By the time any of these subs are built most of the nuclear powers will have tracking technology which tells them exactly where each submarine is, so the whole premise of the policy disappears. But with £50 billion at stake, no-one in the industry seems keen to point that out.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "By the time..these subs are built most..nuclear powers will have tracking technology

      which tells them exactly where each submarine is"

      In a word, no.

      Anti submarine warfare is a very secretive field but the whole purpose of using submarines is they operate in 3 dimensions in a very deep landscape of constantly shifting physical properties. A signal could be a sub, or a shift in the marine environment.

      Hence the ongoing need for hunter/killer subs to carry those sensors close enough to know it's not the environment, but an actual sub that's moving.

      1. JEDIDIAH
        Devil

        Re: "By the time..these subs are built most..nuclear powers will have tracking technology

        ppppffffft.

        We could track your subs in the 80s.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          We could track your subs in the 80s.

          No, he means to within a few 10s of metres.

          That tracking is within a few 10s of Kilometres.

          And in a hot war those passive sonar arrays (and their shore bases) would be some of the first casualties.

          "Under Siege" maybe a laughable Steven Segal shoot-em-up but it's quite realistic about that.

  20. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Nuke Florida

    In 2016 the UK RN fired a test unarmed Trident II D5 missile off the coast of Florida towards the coast of Africa. Except it went the other way though, towards Florida and so had to be detonated.

    The UK government kept this quiet to parliament during the votes on renewing the subs and missiles, a fact which both democrats and anti-nuclear campaigners took as deception.

    To give the British government the benefit of doubt, I came up with a third theory - it wasn't a failure and was a deliberate warning shot aimed at Mar-a-Lago.

  21. Aodhhan Bronze badge

    Hard solutions

    First problem is career politicians who want to politicize the military.

    Second: Stop worrying about the rest of EU. They don't care. So UK can't depend on them. The EU is so crooked, I wouldn't count on them to deliver diapers to the poor in Brussels.

    Third: The bulk of Russia's sub/naval force is housed at Polyarny. meaning, to get to the Atlantic, they are going to traverse the North Sea. So, to protect the UK, there needs to be a strong and stealthy naval defense force. So get it done politicians... or perhaps, we should do better at voting out career politicians.

    Fourth: Because UK doesn't have enough subs to do a proper in/out rotation, sub crews are forced to go on longer deployments. Which means you will have retention problems.

    Fifth: Dismantling ships and disposal of nuclear propulsion systems. This is a problem because career politicians only worry about themselves at this moment; they'd rather push off things to the next person in office (especially when the opposing political party is likely to be in power in the future). So they aren't forward thinking... and dismantling and disposal isn't typically something they can speak on to get votes.

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