This week I attended a briefing session in the House of Commons on Trident and I wanted to share some of the information with you. Some of it is overly simplistic, however I believe we would all benefit from a deeper understanding of the current situation and what the prospects of replacing trident in the future are.
Trident is the colloquial term used for the UK nuclear deterrent which can also be referred to as weapons of mass destruction. Trident as a whole comprises of; four Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), Trident II D5 missiles and warheads which are routinely based at HM Navel Base Clyde. In-service maintenance happens at Faslane and deep maintenance or refits take place in Devonport. The nuclear warheads are built and maintained at AWE sites in Aldermaston and Burghfield.
Trident is the UK’s only nuclear platform. Each submarine deploys with 8 operational missiles with up to 40 warheads. Since 1969 the UK has operated a posture of continuous at-sea deterrence (CASD). Decision making is a sovereign matter for the UK and the system is operationally independent.
The Successor programme is about the design, development and manufacture of four new submarines. The first will enter service in the early 2030s and have at least a 30-year service life. It does not replace Trident or the warheads, which will be deployed aboard the new submarines in a Common Missile Compartment being developed with the US. The US Trident SLEP will extend the life of Trident until the early 2040s. Decisions on a next generation missile not required until 2020s and decision on replacing warheads not expected until the end of the decade.
So the decision to replace or scrap our missiles and warheads will be happening by the end of the decade and in order to prepare for this debate it is vital that we look at all the options in front of us now.
Traditional notions of deterrence are no longer credible against non-state actors like Al-Qaeda or more recently Daesh and especially now that we are in an age of modern, advanced warfare in which cyber-attacks and drone operations are increasingly becoming the norm.
As technology and specifically military technology evolves we are seeing an increased use of underwater drone technologies and cyber capabilities that could render submarine-based nuclear systems obsolete, a prospect that is highly likely within the lifetime of the Successor programme.
Scotland could act as a beacon for the world, disarmament would serve as a positive example to other nuclear capable states.
A great deal has been said about the cost however the bottom line is the cost is prohibitive and would better be spent on either improving the UK’s conventional military capabilities or in other areas such as health and education.
Lastly it is important to note that replacing the deterrent would breach customary international law and specifically the UK’s obligations towards disarmament under Article VI of the NPT.
There are viable alternatives such as moving towards unilateral disarmament which is not only an option but an obligation under the UK’s current disarmament commitments.
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