January 16, 2013 10:19 pm

Replacing Trident will bankrupt the defence budget

From Mr Mark Campbell-Roddis.

Sir, Your excellent Analysis article on replacing Britain’s nuclear deterrent falls down by accepting the Ministry of Defence’s flawed line that a submarine-based cruise missile solution would be more expensive than like-for-like Trident replacement (“The price of deterrence”, January 10).

The reality is that a cruise missile-based solution could be achieved for around one quarter the cost of Trident replacement (for £5bn rather than £20bn-plus).

All three essential elements of a cruise missile-based submarine deterrent already exist (the missiles, the submarines and a basis warhead design). The Royal Navy’s “Astute”-class submarines are fully capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, without any need for a new class of submarine. The Americans already have a nuclear-armed variant of Tomahawk and selling these missiles to the UK (minus warheads) would be no different to the current situation where they supply (and service) the UK’s Trident missiles. Arguments on the cost of developing an indigenous UK warhead conveniently ignore the fact that suitable basis warhead designs exist, in terms of what was previously developed for the WE-177 free-fall bomb.

Proponents of Trident argue that in a limited (conventional) war a hostile nuclear state might mistake a conventionally armed cruise missile for a nuclear-armed version and respond in kind. But this scenario is no different to the case were an allied bomber to fly over their coast – they would not know for sure if it were nuclear-armed or not. The unpalatable truth is that any attack on a nuclear-armed state (with conventional weapons or otherwise) would run a significant risk of nuclear retaliation.

Much is made of the apparent ease with which cruise missiles could be shot down but this can be overcome by tactics. The real vulnerability lies in a Trident deterrent routinely based on a single operational submarine, with no maritime patrol aircraft and insufficient submarines to properly “delouse” it. Cruise missiles could be placed on as many (or as few) of the seven “Astute”-class submarines as circumstances dictate, with deployment patterns varied to provide a deterrent that is much less prone to compromise than Trident.

There is a fundamental difference between a simple nuclear strike capability and a push-button deterrent capable of obliterating entire nations at minutes’ notice. The former, not the latter, is all that Britain needs and is all that it can afford. By rushing blinkered and headlong into a like-for-like Trident replacement, all that will be achieved is bankruptcy of the UK defence budget and gross neglect of our conventional defences.

Mark Campbell-Roddis, Dunblane, Perthshire, UK

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