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Trident (UK nuclear programme)

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Trident, also known as the Trident nuclear programme or Trident nuclear deterrent, covers the development, procurement and operation of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom and their means of delivery. Its purpose as stated by the Ministry of Defence is to "deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be done by other means".[1] Trident is an operational system of four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, able to deliver thermonuclear warheads from multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). It is operated by the Royal Navy and based at Clyde Naval Base on the west coast of Scotland, 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Glasgow. At least one submarine is always on patrol to provide a continuous at-sea capability. Each one carries up to eight missiles and forty warheads, although their capacity is much larger. Although the missiles are American, drawn from a common pool, the submarines and warheads are of British design.

Trident
HMS Victorious MOD 45155638.jpg
HMS Victorious, a Trident missile-armed Vanguard-class submarine leaving its base at HMNB Clyde on a training exercise in 2013
Type of project Deployment of Trident ballistic missile submarines
Country United Kingdom
Established 1980

The British government initially negotiated with the Carter administration for the purchase of the Trident I C-4 missile. In 1981, the Reagan administration announced its decision to upgrade its Trident to the new Trident II D-5 missile. This necessitated another round of negotiations and concessions. The UK Trident programme was announced in July 1980 and patrols began in December 1994. Trident replaced the submarine-based Polaris system, in operation from 1968 until 1996. Since the tactical WE.177 free-fall bombs were decommissioned in 1998, Trident has been the only nuclear weapon system that is operated by the UK.

NATO's military posture was relaxed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Trident's missiles were "detargetted" in 1994 ahead of the maiden voyage of the first Vanguard-class boat, meaning that the warheads are not aimed at specific targets but await co-ordinates that can be programmed into their computers and fired with several days' notice. Although Trident was designed as a strategic deterrent, the end of the Cold War led the British government to conclude that a sub-strategic—but not tactical—role was required.

A programme for the replacement of the Vanguard class is under way. On 18 July 2016 the House of Commons voted by a large majority to proceed with building a fleet of Dreadnought-class submarines, to be operational by 2028, with the current fleet completely phased out by 2032.

Contents

BackgroundEdit

During the early part of the Second World War, Britain had a nuclear weapons project, code-named Tube Alloys,[2] which the 1943 Quebec Agreement merged with the American Manhattan Project to create a combined American, British, and Canadian project. The British government expected that the United States would continue to share nuclear technology, which it regarded as a joint discovery, but the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (McMahon Act) ended technical co-operation.[3] Fearing a resurgence of United States isolationism, and Britain losing its great power status, the British government resumed its own development effort.[4] The first British atomic bomb was tested in Operation Hurricane on 3 October 1952.[5] The subsequent British development of the hydrogen bomb, and a favourable international relations climate created by the sputnik crisis, facilitated the amendment of the McMahon Act,[6] and the 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA), which allowed Britain to acquire nuclear weapons systems from the United States, thereby restoring the nuclear Special Relationship.[7][8]

During the 1950s, Britain's nuclear deterrent was based around the V-bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF), but developments in radar and surface-to-air missiles made it clear that bombers were becoming increasingly vulnerable, and would be unlikely to penetrate Soviet airspace by the mid-1970s.[9] To address this problem, the United Kingdom embarked on the development of a Medium Range Ballistic Missile called Blue Streak,[10] but concerns were raised about its own vulnerability,[11] and the British government decided to cancel it and acquire the American Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile.[12] In return, the Americans were given permission to base the US Navy's Polaris boats at Holy Loch in Scotland.[13] In November 1962, the American government decided to cancel Skybolt.[14] The President, John F. Kennedy, and the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, then negotiated the Nassau Agreement, under which the US would sell to the UK, Polaris systems for UK-built submarines.[15] This was formalised in the Polaris Sales Agreement.[16]

The first British Polaris ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), HMS Resolution, was laid down by Vickers-Armstrongs at its yard at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria on 26 February 1964.[17][18] She was launched on 15 September 1965, commissioned on 2 October 1967,[17] and conducted a test firing at the American Eastern Range on 15 February 1968.[19] She was followed by HMS Repulse, which was completed by Vickers-Armstrongs on 29 September 1968;[20] and two boats built by Cammell Laird in Birkenhead: HMS Renown, which was completed on 15 November 1968;[21] and HMS Revenge, which was completed on 4 December 1969.[22] The four Resolution-class boats were based at HMNB Clyde at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde, not far from the US Navy's base at Holy Loch,[23] which opened in August 1968. It was served by a weapons store at nearby RNAD Coulport.[19] HM Dockyard, Rosyth, was designated as the refit yard for the 10th Submarine Squadron, as the Polaris boats became operational.[23]

Polaris proved to be reliable, and its second-strike capability conferred greater strategic flexibility than any previous British nuclear weapons system; but it had a limited lifespan, and was expected to become obsolete by the 1990s.[24] It was considered vital that an independent British deterrent could penetrate existing and future Soviet anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities. A powerful ABM system, the ABM-1 Galosh, defended Moscow, and NATO believed the USSR would continue to develop its effectiveness. The deterrent logic required the ability to threaten the destruction of the Soviet capital and other major cities.[25] To ensure that a credible and independent nuclear deterrent was maintained, the UK developed an improved front end codenamed Chevaline, which replaced one of the three warheads in a Polaris missile with multiple decoys, chaff, and other defensive countermeasures.[26] Chevaline was extremely expensive; it encountered many of the same issues that had affected the British nuclear weapons projects of the 1950s, and postponed but did not avert Polaris's obsolescence.[24]

NegotiationsEdit

 
Margaret Thatcher visits President Jimmy Carter on 17 December 1979

The Cabinet Secretary, Sir John Hunt briefed Cabinet on Polaris on 28 November 1977, noting that a possible successor might take up to 15 years to bring into service, depending on the nature of system chosen, and whether it was to be developed by the United Kingdom, or in collaboration with France or the United States.[27] With the recent experience of Chevaline in mind, the option of a purely British project was rejected. A study of the options was commissioned in February 1978 from a group chaired by the Deputy Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Sir Antony Duff, with the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Sir Ronald Mason.[28] The Duff-Mason Report was delivered to the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, in parts on 11 and 15 December.[29] It recommended the purchase of the American Trident I C-4 missile then in service with the US Navy. The C-4 had multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, which was needed to overcome the Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences.[30][31]

Callaghan approached the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, at a summit in Guadeloupe in January 1979, who responded positively, but non-committally. The Carter administration's main priority was the SALT II Agreement with the Soviet Union, which limited nuclear weapons stockpiles. It was signed on 18 June 1979, but Carter faced an uphill battle to secure its ratification by the United States Senate.[32] MIRV technology had proved to be a major loophole in the 1972 SALT I Agreement, which limited numbers of missiles but not warheads. During the SALT II negotiations the US had resisted Soviet proposals to include the British and French nuclear forces in the agreement, but there were concerns that supplying MIRV technology to the UK would be seen by the Soviets as violating the spirit of the non-circumvention clause in SALT II.[33]

Callaghan was succeeded by Margaret Thatcher after the general election on 3 May 1979,[34] and she discussed the issue with Carter in October, who agreed to supply C-4, but asked that the UK delay a formal request until December to get SALT II ratified.[35] In the meantime, the MDA, without which the UK would not be able to access US nuclear weapons technology, was renewed for five more years on 5 December, and the MISC 7 cabinet committee formally approved the decision to purchase C-4 the following day.[note 1][38][39] When Thatcher met with Carter again on 17 December, he still asked for more time,[40] but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on 24 December ended all hope of Senate ratification of SALT II, clearing the way for the sale to proceed.[33]

The British government hoped that Trident could be secured on the same terms as Polaris, but when its chief negotiator, Robert Wade-Gery, sat down with his American counterpart, David L. Aaron, in March 1980, he found this was not the case. Instead of the 5 per cent levy on the cost of equipment supplied in recognition of US research and development (R&D) costs that had already been incurred that Kennedy had agreed to, which came to about $100 million,–a 1976 law now required a pro rata fixed fee payment, which was around $400 million.[41][42]

 
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on 26 February 1981

The law could be waived if the President determined that it was in the interest of the United States to do so, but for that the Carter administration wanted undertakings that the UK would raise defence spending by the same amount, or pay the cost of US forces manning Rapier batteries and Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) sites in the UK. On 2 June 1980, Thatcher and the United States Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, agreed to $2.5 billion for the C-4 missile system, plus a 5 per cent R&D levy, British personnel for the Rapier batteries, and an expansion of the US base on Diego Garcia, which had assumed great importance since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[41][42] The Secretary of State for Defence, Francis Pym, informed Cabinet of the decision to purchase Trident on 15 July 1980, and announced it in the House of Commons later that day.[43] The agreement was effected by amending the Polaris Sales Agreement, changing "Polaris" to "Trident".[44]

However, on 4 November 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president. Part of his election platform was to modernise the US strategic nuclear forces. On 24 August 1981, the Reagan administration informed the UK government of its intention to upgrade its Trident to the new Trident II D-5 missile by 1989, and indicated that it was willing to sell it to the UK.[45][46] Despite the name, the D-5 was not an improved version of the C-4, but a completely new missile.[46] Its purchase had already been considered in the Duff-Mason report, but had been rejected, as its additional capability—the extended range from 4,000 to 6,000 nautical miles (7,400 to 11,100 km)—was not required by the UK, and it was more expensive. Exactly how much more expensive was uncertain, as it was still under development.[44][47] At the same time, the British government was well aware of the costs of not having the same hardware as the US. Nor did the Reagan administration promise to sell D-5 on the same terms as the C-4.[45] To pay for Trident, the UK government announced deep cuts to other defence spending on 25 June 1981.[48]

Negotiations commenced on 8 February, with the British team again led by Wade-Gery. The Americans were disturbed at the proposed British defence cuts, and pressed for an undertaking that the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible be retained in service, which they felt was necessary to avert trouble over the Belizean–Guatemalan territorial dispute. They accepted a counter-offer that Britain would retain the two landing platform dock ships, HMS Fearless and Intrepid, for which the Americans reduced the R&D charge.[49] Under the agreement, the UK would purchase 65 Trident II D-5 missiles that would operate as part of a shared pool[50] of weapons based at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in the United States. The US would maintain and support the missiles, while the UK would manufacture its own submarines and warheads to go on the missiles.[25] The warheads and missiles would be mated in the UK. This was projected to save about £500 million over eight years at Coulport, while the Americans spent $70 million upgrading the facilities at Kings Bay. The sale agreement was formally signed on 19 October 1982 by the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Oliver Wright, and the United States Secretary of State, George Schultz.[51]

The Trident programme was projected to cost £5 billion, including the four submarines, the missiles, new facilities at Coulport and Faslane and the five per cent contribution to Trident II D-5 R&D. The option for a fifth submarine (allowing two to be on patrol at all times) was discussed,[52] but later rejected. Trident's future was secured the following year when the Conservative Party won the 1983 general election, defeating the Labour Party, which had pledged to cancel Trident.[53]

UK nuclear policyEdit

 
The trigger used to launch a Trident missile on HMS Vigilant

The Trident programme was initiated during the Cold War, and its capabilities were designed to deter powerful Warsaw Pact forces. By the time of the first Vanguard patrol in December 1994, the Soviet Union no longer existed, and the government adjusted its nuclear policy in the years to follow.[25]

The final decision on firing the missiles is the responsibility of the prime minister, who, upon taking office, writes four identical letters of last resort, one of which is locked in a safe on board each of the Vanguard submarines. If contact with the UK is lost, the commanding officer of a submarine has to follow the instructions in the letter if they believe that the United Kingdom has suffered an overwhelming attack. Options include retaliating with nuclear weapons, not retaliating, putting the submarine under the command of an ally or acting as the captain deems appropriate. The exact content of the letters is never disclosed, and they are destroyed without being opened upon the election of a new prime minister.[54]

Under the terms of the arrangement, the United States does not have any veto on the use of British nuclear weapons, which the UK may launch independently.[55]

Cold WarEdit

The Trident system was designed to provide an ongoing independently-controlled deterrent against major threats to the security of the UK and its NATO allies, including threats posed by non-nuclear weapons.[56] In the 1980s, the most serious threat to the West was perceived to come from the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies in Eastern Europe.[25]

To provide an effective deterrent, the Trident system was intended to "pose a potential threat to key aspects of Soviet state power" while being invulnerable to a surprise or pre-emptive nuclear strike. As with Polaris, Trident was owned and operated by the UK but committed to NATO and targeted in accordance with plans set out by the organisation's Supreme Commander in Europe, who is a senior figure in the United States military. The system would be used to defend the UK only if "supreme national interests" required it.[57]

Post-Cold WarEdit

NATO military posture was relaxed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Trident's missiles were "detargetted" in 1994 ahead of the maiden voyage of the first Vanguard-class SSBN.[58] The warheads are not aimed at specific targets but await co-ordinates that can be programmed into their computers and fired with several days' notice.[1][25]

Although Trident was designed as a strategic deterrent, the end of the Cold War led the British government to conclude that a sub-strategic—but not tactical—role was required; the 1994 Defence White Paper stated: "We also need the capability to undertake nuclear action on a more limited scale in order to … halt aggression without inevitably triggering strategic nuclear exchanges". A later statement read: "We also intend to exploit the flexibility of Trident to provide the vehicle for both sub-strategic and strategic elements of our deterrent … as an insurance against potential adverse trends in the international situation".[59]

On 19 March 1998, the Defence Secretary, George Robertson, was asked to provide a statement "on the development of a lower-yield variant of the Trident warhead for the sub-strategic role". He replied, "the UK has some flexibility in the choice of yield for the warheads on its Trident missiles".[60]

Design, development and constructionEdit

Vanguard-class submarinesEdit

 
HMS Vanguard leaves HMNB Clyde in Scotland.

Four Vanguard-class submarines were designed and built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, now BAE Systems Submarine Solutions, the only shipbuilder in the UK with the facilities and expertise to build nuclear submarines. Even so, £62 million worth of new shipbuilding and dock facilities were added for the project,[61] with the Devonshire Dock Hall built specially for it.[62] The initial plan in 1980 was to build new versions of the Resolution-class, but then the decision was taken in July 1981 to incorporate the new Rolls-Royce PWR2 pressurised water reactor. From the outset, the Vanguard submarines were designed with enlarged missile tubes able to accommodate the Trident II D-5. The missile compartment is based on the system used on the American Ohio class, although with capacity for only 16 missiles, rather than the 24 on board an Ohio boat. The boats are significantly larger than the Resolution class, and were given names formerly associated with battleships and aircraft carriers, befitting their status as capital ships.[63] An important consideration was the depth of the Walney Channel, which connected Barrow to the Irish Sea, which limited the draft to 27 12 feet (8.4 m), while the Ohio-class boats had a draft of 33 feet (10 m).[61] Each boat is 150 metres (490 ft) long and 13 metres (43 ft) in diameter, and carries a crew of 150 officers and ratings.[64]

The submarines use a tactical-information and weapons-control system called the Submarine Command System Next Generation.[65] This system was developed in collaboration with Microsoft,[66] and is based on the same technology as Windows XP, which led the media to give it the nickname "Windows for Submarines".[65][67] In addition to the missile tubes, the submarines are fitted with four 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes and carry the Spearfish torpedo,[68] allowing them to engage submerged or surface targets at ranges up to 65 kilometres (40 mi; 35 nmi). Two SSE Mark 10 launchers are also fitted, allowing the boats to deploy Type 2066 and Type 2071 decoys, and a UAP Mark 3 electronic support measures (ESM) intercept system is carried. A "Core H" reactor is fitted to each of the boats during their long-overhaul refit periods, ensuring that none of the submarines will ever need re-fuelling.[69]

Thatcher laid the keel of the first boat, HMS Vanguard, on 3 September 1986,[62] and it was commissioned on 14 August 1993. She was followed by her sisters, HMS Victorious, which was laid down on 3 December 1987 and commissioned on 7 January 1995; HMS Vigilant, which was laid down on 16 February 1991 and commissioned on 2 November 1996; and HMS Vengeance, which was laid down on 1 February 1993 and commissioned on 27 November 1999.[69] The first British Trident missile was test-fired from Vanguard on 26 May 1994, and she began her first patrol in December of that year. According to the Royal Navy, at least one submarine has always been on patrol ever since.[70]

WarheadsEdit

 
Black re-entry vehicles containing the warheads on a Trident missile at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in New Mexico

In 2006 the UK revealed that it had a stockpile of 160–225 nuclear warheads of variable yields.[71][25] Every year, the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) manufactures new warheads to ensure the safety and longevity of the Trident programme. Old warheads are dismantled and refurbished.[72] Warheads have been assembled at the AWE facilities near Aldermaston and Burghfield, Berkshire, since 1992. They are transported to the armaments depot 720 km (450 mi) away at Coulport by heavily guarded convoys.[73] Between 2000 and 2016 the vehicles were involved in 180 incidents, ranging from delays and diversions because of accidents, protests, or bad weather, to a sudden loss of power in one of the lorries, which halted a convoy and caused a double lane closure and a tailback on the M6 motorway. The incidents have been more frequent in recent years.[74] The convoys often use the motorway through the centre of Glasgow, where an accident leaking radiation could affect hundreds of thousands of people, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; the MoD does not foresee this happening.[75]

Under the 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement the UK is allowed to draw upon US warhead design information, but constructing and maintaining warheads for the Trident programme is the responsibility of AWE. The exact number of warheads carried on patrol at any given time is classified information.[25] An article by the Federation of American Scientists argues that British nuclear warhead is based on US W76 warhead engineering design,[76] a conclusion that the Defence Select Committee concurred with in 2006.[25] The National Audit Office recorded in 1987 that most of the warhead development and production expenditure was planned to be incurred in the US. Additionally much of the nuclear materials for the warheads was purchased from the US on cost grounds.[77][78] US President George H. W. Bush authorised the transfer of nuclear warhead components to the UK between 1991 and 1996.[79]

Each warhead is housed in a cone-shaped re-entry vehicle made in the United States.[80] This shell protects it from the high temperatures experienced upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.[81] The Trident warhead's fusing, arming and firing mechanisms are carefully designed so that it can only detonate after launch and ballistic deployment.[82]

Trident II D-5 missilesEdit

 
Test launch of a Trident II D-5 SLBM

Trident II D-5 is a submarine-launched ballistic missile built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, California, and deployed with the US Navy and the Royal Navy.[83] The British government contributed five per cent of its R&D costs under the modified Polaris Sales Agreement. The development contract was issued in October 1983, and the first launch occurred in January 1987. The first submarine launch was attempted by USS Tennessee in March 1989. This attempt failed because the plume of water following the missile rose to a greater height than expected, resulting in water being in the nozzle when the motor ignited. Once the problem was understood, simple changes were very quickly made, but the problem delayed the entry into service of Trident II until March 1990.[84]

Trident II D-5 was designed to be more sophisticated than its predecessor, Trident I C-4, and has a greater payload capacity. All three stages of the Trident II D-5 are made of graphite epoxy, making the missile much lighter than its predecessor.[85] The first test from a British Vanguard-class submarine took place in 1994. By February 2012, there had been a total of 137 successful test flights conducted by the two navies since 1989.[86] The missile is 13 metres (43 ft) long, weighs 58.5 tonnes (129,000 lb), has a range of 11,300 kilometres (7,000 mi), a top speed of over 21,600 km/h (13,400 mph) (Mach 17.4) and a circular error probable (CEP) accuracy to within "a few feet".[87] It is guided using an inertial navigation system combined with a star tracker, and is not dependent on the American-run Global Positioning System (GPS).[1]

The theoretical capacity of the four Vanguard-class submarines is 64 missiles and 768 warheads; however, the UK decided to purchase only 58 missiles from the United States and each submarine carried only 48 warheads.[88] In 2010 this was reduced to a maximum of 40 warheads, split between eight missiles.[64] The UK missiles form a shared pool with the Atlantic squadron of the United States Navy Ohio-class SSBNs at Kings Bay. The pool is "co-mingled" and missiles are selected at random for loading on to either nation's submarines.[89][90]

In June 2016, a Trident II D-5 missile "veered off in the wrong direction towards America" after being launched from Vengeance off the coast of Florida.[89][91] The incident was not revealed until January 2017; the Sunday Times reported that Downing Street had "covered up" the incident "just weeks before the crucial House of Commons vote on the future of the missile system."[92] Subsequent media reports said the delay was at the request of the United States.[93] Successful Royal Navy test firings had occurred in 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2012. They are infrequent due to the missile's £17 million price tag.[94] In total, there have been 161 successful test flights of the D-5 missile since design completion in 1989, the most recent being from USS Maryland in August 2016.[95] Fewer than 10 test flights have been failures,[96] and the Royal Navy is not known to have had a previous failure.[97]

CostEdit

In the 1990s, the total acquisition cost of the Trident programme was £9.8 billion, about 38 per cent of which was incurred in the United States. In 2005–06, annual expenditure for the running and capital costs was estimated at between £1.2 billion and £1.7 billion and was estimated to rise to £2bn to £2.2 billion in 2007–08, including Atomic Weapons Establishment costs. Since Trident became operational in 1994, annual expenditure has ranged between 3 and 4.5 per cent of the annual defence budget, and was projected to increase to 5.5 per cent of the defence budget by 2007–08.[98][78] As of 2009, each missile cost the United States government nearly £16.8 million ($29.1 million) to build.[87] An important factor in the cost was the exchange rate between the dollar and the pound, which declined from $2.36 in September 1980 to $1.78 in March 1982.[63]

OperationEdit

 
HMS Vanguard at Faslane

The Trident system is currently made up of 58 Trident II D-5 missiles, four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines,[99] and fewer than 120 operationally available nuclear warheads, together with command-and-control and other supporting infrastructure. Each submarine is armed with 8 missiles and a maximum of 40 warheads of variable yields.[1] Trident has been the UK's sole nuclear weapons system since the retirement of the WE.177 tactical nuclear weapon following the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, which also decided to limit the number of missile bodies to the 58 already purchased or under order, and not receive the final seven missiles previously planned.[100]

PatrolsEdit

The principle of Trident's operation is known as Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD), which means that at least one submarine is always on patrol.[101] Another submarine is usually undergoing maintenance and the remaining two are in port or on training exercises. During a patrol, the submarine is required to remain silent and is allowed to make contact with the United Kingdom only in an emergency. It navigates using mapped contour lines of the ocean floor and patrols a series of planned "boxes" measuring several thousand square miles. A 1,000-metre-long (3,300 ft) aerial trails on the surface behind the submarine to pick up incoming messages. Intelligence is constantly relayed to the vessel, giving details of shipping movements and potentially hostile aircraft or submarines in the area. Most of the 150 crew never know where they are or where they have been.[102] The 350th patrol commenced on 29 September 2017.[103][104]

 
Officer of the watch aboard HMS Vanguard

Command and controlEdit

Only the prime minister or a designated survivor can authorise the missiles to be fired. These orders would likely be issued from the Pindar command bunker under Whitehall in central London. From there, the order would be relayed to the CTF 345 operations room at the Northwood Headquarters facility in Hertfordshire, the only facility allowed to communicate with the Vanguard commander on patrol.[105] Two personnel are required to authenticate each stage of the process before launching, with the submarine commander only able to activate the firing trigger after two safes have been opened with keys held by the ship's executive and weapon engineer officers.[106]

At the end of the Cold War, the United States Navy installed devices on its submarines to prevent rogue commanders from persuading their crews to launch unauthorised nuclear attacks. These devices prevent an attack until a launch code has been sent by the chiefs of staff on behalf of the President of the United States. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) chose not to install equivalent devices on Vanguard submarines on the grounds that an aggressor might be able to eliminate the British chain of command before a launch order could be sent.[107]

BasingEdit

Trident is based at HMNB Clyde on the west coast of Scotland. The base consists of two facilities — Faslane Naval Base on Gare Loch near Helensburgh, and an ordnance depot with 16 concrete bunkers set into a hillside at Coulport, 4 km (2.5 mi) to the west. Faslane was constructed and first used as a base in World War II. This remote location was chosen as the base for nuclear-armed submarines at the height of the Cold War because of its position close to the deep and easily navigable Firth of Clyde. It provides for rapid and stealthy access through the North Channel to the patrolling areas in the North Atlantic, and through the GIUK gap between Iceland and Scotland to the Norwegian Sea. Also based there are Astute-class nuclear-powered fleet submarines (SSNs).[108][109] RNAD Coulport is used to store the nuclear warheads and has docking facilities where they are loaded onto submarines before going on patrol and unloaded when they return to the base.[110] Repair and refit of the Vanguard-class submarines takes place at HMNB Devonport near Plymouth, Devon.[111]

EspionageEdit

Cuts to the UK's maritime patrol fleet in the 2010 Security Defence Review potentially allowed Russia to gain "valuable intelligence" on the country's nuclear deterrence according to senior RAF officers. Subsequently, plans to buy eight Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton drones were moved forward considerably.[112][113] As of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, there are no stated plans to purchase the MQ-4C.[114]

ControversyEdit

 
Anti-Trident demonstrators in Parliament Square, London, July 2016

Pro-independence Scottish political parties—the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish Green Party, Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and Solidarity—are opposed to the basing of the Trident system close to Glasgow, Scotland's largest city and the UK's third largest city.[115] Some members and ex-members of those parties, such as Tommy Sheridan and Lloyd Quinan, have taken part in blockades of the base.[116] For a major House of Commons vote in 2007, the majority of Scottish members of parliament (MPs) voted against upgrading the system, while a substantial majority of English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs voted in favour. The house backed plans to renew the programme by 409 votes to 161.[117]

Faslane Peace Camp is permanently sited near Faslane naval base. It has been occupied continuously, albeit in different locations, since 12 June 1982.[118] In 2006, a year-long protest at Trident's base at Faslane aimed to blockade the base every day for a year. More than 1,100 people were arrested.[119]

ReviewsEdit

Royal United Services InstituteEdit

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a British defence and security think tank, released a paper in July 2010 assessing four possible options for maintaining both an effective nuclear deterrent and also reducing costs in light of anticipated budget restrictions.[120] These proposals were motivated by the fact that funding for the Trident renewal programme now had to come from the core MoD budget.[121] Four alternatives were considered: Trident submarines on continuous patrol; Trident submarines not on patrol continuously; attack submarines armed with nuclear cruise missiles; and land-based nuclear weapons.[120] The paper concluded that "given the opportunity costs for conventional capabilities that current plans for Trident renewal are due to incur over the next decade...there is now a growing case for a re-examination of whether there are less expensive means of pursuing this objective. A key element of such a review is likely to be a reconsideration of the need to maintain a commitment to CASD in strategic circumstances that are now very different from those in which it was first introduced."[122]

Trident Alternatives ReviewEdit

The product of an 18-month study led by the Cabinet Office, the 2013 Trident Alternatives Review was aimed at establishing whether or not there exist credible alternatives to the UK's submarine-based CASD in the context of the wider national debate around Trident. Accordingly, the review analysed a range of combinations, delivery systems, and warhead designs as possible alternatives to the current system in an attempt to test their effectiveness against potential targets as well as to discern their affordability.[123]

Ultimately, the Trident Alternatives Review came to the conclusion that there exist alternatives to Trident that "would enable the UK to be capable of inflicting significant damage such that most potential adversaries around the world would be deterred", although no alternatives would "offer the same degree of resilience as the current posture". The review asserted that whether or not cruise missile-based systems offer a credible alternative to the current nuclear posture would be contingent upon a political judgement on whether the UK could accept a "significant increase in vulnerability" and a reduction in who it could deter.[123]

The publication of the report was met with a mixed and varied reception from different political parties and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the field of non-proliferation and disarmament. While it was welcomed by David Cameron as having confirmed the necessity of like-for-like replacement of Trident, Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Danny Alexander deemed it a demonstration of the fact there are "credible and viable alternatives to the UK's current approach to nuclear deterrence." NGOs including the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), a non-proliferation and disarmament think-tank, criticised the report for its limited scope and its failure to engage with a wider array of considerations related to nuclear weapons, including environmental and humanitarian considerations.[124][125]

The Trident CommissionEdit

In 2011, BASIC launched an independent cross-party Commission to initiate a deeper national debate on the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons policy and examine questions around the contentious issue of Trident renewal. The Commission operated under the chairmanship of former Labour Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Browne of Ladyton; former Conservative Defence and Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind; and Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Shadow Foreign Secretary.[126]

After three years' of deliberation, the Commission released their final report on 1 July 2014 and suggested, with a number of important caveats, that the UK should retain a nuclear deterrent. Most notably, the conclusion acknowledged the significance of the UK's role in disarmament, asserting that, "it remains crucial that the UK show keen regard for its position within the international community and for the shared responsibility to achieve progress in global nuclear disarmament."[127]

BASIC's interpretation of the report also focused on this point, emphasising that the commissioners "agreed that the health of the global strategic environment, particularly nuclear non-proliferation, is critical to national security and is a central consideration. They talk of the need for Britain to maintain its 'glide path down towards disarmament,' to ensure that the renewal decisions the next government will be taking have consistency with the trajectory set by successive recent governments, and that the UK should continue to be 'at the forefront of the multilateral disarmament process.'"[128]

RenewalEdit

 
The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the #StopTrident rally at Trafalgar Square on 27 February 2016

2006 Defence White PaperEdit

The Vanguard-class submarines were built with a 25-year life expectancy, taking them into the 2020s. Trident II D-5 missiles are expected to continue in service until at least 2040 following an upgrade.[129] A December 2006 Ministry of Defence white paper, entitled "The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent", recommended that the nuclear weapons should be maintained and outlined measures that would do so until the 2040s. It advocated the currently preferred submarine-based system, as it remained the cheapest and most secure deterrence option available. Costs for this option are estimated at £15–20 billion based on:

  • £0.25 billion to participate in US Trident D-5 missile life extension programme.
  • £11–14 billion for a class of four new SSBNs.
  • £2–3 billion for refurbishing warheads.
  • £2–3 billion for infrastructure.[130]

These 2006/07 prices would equate to about £25bn for the Successor-class submarines; the 2011 Initial Gate report confirmed estimates of £2-3bn each for the warheads and infrastructure.[131] These cost estimates exclude the Vanguard five-year life extension and decommissioning, and it is unclear if new Trident missiles will need to be purchased for the life extension programme.[132] Running costs would be about £1.5 billion per year at 2006 prices.[132] The paper suggested parts of the existing Trident system be refitted to some extent to prolong their lives. However, the relatively short (five years) life extension potential of the Vanguard class meant that a new class of SSBNs should replace it in the early 2020s. The first boat of the new SSBN class would take 17 years to be designed and built, making a five-year life extension of the Vanguard class necessary.[130]

Parliamentary supportEdit

On 14 March 2007, the Labour government won House of Commons support for the plans to renew the submarine system. The proposals were passed by the House of Commons by a majority of 248.[133][134] Despite a clarification that the vote was just for the concept stage of the new system, 95 Labour MPs rebelled, and it was only passed with the support of the opposition Conservative Party.[133][135] It was the first time MPs had been given the chance to vote on whether the UK should remain a nuclear power, and the biggest rebellion since the beginning of the 2003 Iraq war.[133]

The Labour government proposed that the final decision to manufacture should be made in 2014.[136] The new 2010 coalition government agreed "that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money." Research and development work continued with an Initial Gate procurement decision, but the Main Gate decision to manufacture a replacement was rescheduled for 2016, after the 2015 General Election.[note 2][136] The vote on whether to replace the Vanguard-class with the Successor-class was held on 18 July 2016 in the House of Commons; the motion passed with a significant majority,[138] extending the programme's life until at least the 2060s. Although 48 Labour MPs voted against it, 41 did not vote, and 140 Labour votes were cast in favour of the motion.[139]

 
Leanne Wood speaks at the #StopTrident rally on 27 February 2016. She was arrested on 8 January 2007 for protesting against the UK's Trident nuclear missile programme at Faslane.[140]

2010 Strategic Defence and Security ReviewEdit

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review concluded that the Successor-class submarines would have eight operational missiles carrying no more than 40 operational warheads between them. This would allow the UK to reduce its stocks of operational warheads from 160 to 120, and the overall stockpile from no more than 225 to no more than 180.[131] They would be carried in a 12-missile common missile compartment designed in collaboration with the US Common Missile Compartment, which could accommodate the current Trident II D-5 missiles and any replacement missile once the D-5 reaches the end of its expected life in the 2040s.[131]

Expert opinionEdit

Two non-representative polls of experts from the Royal Institute of International Affairs (commonly known as Chatham House) and the RUSI were conducted in 2010. The first found a majority for RUSI of those that think the benefits of Trident outweigh the costs (53%) compared to those that think the costs outweigh the benefits (13%) or are evenly balanced (34%). The Chatham House poll found a minority in favour of Trident replacement (22%), more in favour of replacing with a cheaper system (43%) with 29% saying the UK should not replace Trident at all.[141]

Public opinionEdit

In April 2015, a YouGov poll found that 38% of people thought that Trident should be replaced in full, 28% wanted to replace it with a cheaper system, 19% thought the UK should completely give up its nuclear weapons, and 15% did not know.[142] In September 2015, a Survation poll found that 29% agreed that Trident should be reformed to make it cheaper, 26% that it should be renewed in full, and 18% that it should be scrapped. 27% did not know.[143] Nuclear weapons are not the nation's biggest issue, with just 2% of people saying that it was nation’s biggest worry in May 2015, compared to 21% in June 1987.[144]

Dreadnought-class submarineEdit

In February 2016, BAE Systems began design work on prototypes of the new submarines, provisionally known as the Successor class.[145] A vote in the House of Commons on 18 July 2016 determined that the UK should proceed with construction of this next generation of submarines, with 472 votes in favour of the replacement to 117 against.[146][147] The Successor class was officially named the Dreadnought class on 21 October 2016.[148][129] The submarines were expected to become operational starting in 2028, with the current fleet phased out by 2032.[149][150] At the time of the Commons vote, there was already some urgency to move ahead because some experts predicted it could take 17 years to develop the new submarine to replace the Vanguard class.[151][152]

The final cost of replacing the Vanguard class will not be known until the project has been completed. In October 2015, Reuters claimed it would cost £167 billion over its 30-year lifespan, or £5.56 billion per year; this figure was disputed by the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon.[153] The MoD put the cost of building, testing and commissioning the replacement vessels at £31 billion (plus a contingency fund of £10 billion) over 35 years, or about 0.2 per cent of government spending, or 6 per cent of defence spending, every year.[1] Crispin Blunt, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, estimated in July 2016 that the programme would cost £179 billion in total over its lifetime.[154]

For the 2018/19 financial year the National Audit Office found that spending on the nuclear deterrent will cost £5.2 billion, or 14% of the defence budget, with £600 million of contingency funding used. Costs were projected at about £51 billion over the following 10 years, £2.9 billion above the projected budget which already anticipated finding £3 billion of savings, which the Daily Telegraph described as a £6 billion shortfall.[155][156]

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ In the UK system, most of the day-to-day work of the cabinet is carried out by cabinet committees, rather than by the full cabinet. Each committee has its own area of responsibility, and their decisions are binding on the entire cabinet. Their membership and scope is determined by the Prime Minister.[36] During the post-Second World War period, in addition to standing committees, there were ad hoc committees that were convened to handle a single issue. These were normally short-lived. Each was given a prefix of GEN (general) or MISC (miscellaneous) and a number in order of formation.[37]
  2. ^ The business case presented at Initial Gate includes the programme plan and costing for the procurement. The Main Gate business case is a key deliverable from the assessment stage. The process and products are similar to those used at Initial Gate but with a higher degree of maturity expected at this stage to inform the decision on whether or not to proceed with procurement.[137]

NotesEdit

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  5. ^ Jones 2017, p. 25.
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ReferencesEdit