Monday 17 May 2010

That Con - Lib Agreement (1): Trident

And so, as promised, we turn to that oh-so-cunning Agreement that has even Polly Toynbee (sic) and Billy Bragg (sic) swooning. Seriously, it is a clever piece of work, given the circumstances, though we may be sure that some parts will stand the test of time better than others.

We'll look at Energy later (incidentally, Energy is the biggest single section in the whole doc ! - one of several reasons why I identify the Hand of Letwin on the pen). For now, Trident's the thing.

It may be recalled that when, a full 3 weeks before it was published, we predicted in detail the feasibility of such an Agreement, Trident was one of the things I reckoned Cameron could give to Clegg by way of a symbolic concession: apparently of great magnitude but in practice of no consequence. How so ? Because Trident is not an independent deterrent. It is also formidably expensive.

So what does the Agreement say ?

"The Government will be committed to the maintenance of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money."

OK, all things to all men etc; but
I think we can read between these lines. As with nuclear power, (of which more anon) by what measure could Trident be viewed as value for money ??

An easy target. Scrap. Soon. And turn BAe loose - under a very tight contract, natch - to develop us a truly independent cruise-missile platform.

What do you think ?



Budgie said...

What I am afraid of is the Cleggerons scrapping Trident then scrapping the sort of independent nuclear weapon that you suggest - especially after spending large amounts of money on it. Cynical - moi?

Budgie said...

What would boost UK science, engineering and manufacturing is a space program, as an alternative to a home grown nuclear weapon. Or even as well as. The spin-offs in eduction and prestige would be enormous.

Steven_L said...

Why don't we just develop nasty biological weapons?

Wouldn't that be a cheap deterent?

Richard Manns said...

Errrm, cruise missiles fail on a number of reasons, not least of which because they're a) atmospheric and quite slow so can be shot down, and b) single-warhead.

If you want a nuclear deterrent that is anywhere, can reach anywhere, and you haven't the faintest chance of intercepting them unless you have broken major military codes or control several top-brass (in which case, we're stuffed anyway), then submarines are the way forward.

Anything less, it's not really a deterrent.

Electro-Kevin said...

Well we can't have the military AND the NHS now, can we.

Anonymous said...

It is a good point, we pay a huge sum to maintain what amounts to an extension of the US arsenal. That made more sense in the Cold War, but not now.

I was watching a documentary the other night about the UK H-bomb program. 50 years ago we had a genuine bomb of our own, dropped by aircraft. But it appears the whole thing was just used by the tory govt as a bargaining chip to get renewed access to the US weapons prog. Thereafter British nuclear bombs were just customised US weapons (the fact they were US was a secret) and so on until the advent of Polaris making the arrangement public.

So, in reality the only truly independant British H-bombs were those detonated at Christmas Island. After that - nothing.

Interestingly I also learnt that our first H-bomb explosion...wasn't. It was a super massive A-bomb but we said it was an H-bomb! Apparently the largest eer detonated.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Ever since Blue Streak, Black Knight and all the other aborted weapons programmes we have lacked the capability - but most of all we do not have the money to develop an independent nuclear platform. Lacking an empire, we don't even have anywhere to do test missile firing of any consequence.

All of which is a good reason for being honest about our dependence on the Yanks, dropping Trident entirely, and sheltering under the U.S. umbrella. In the meantime we could take some of the savings and develop our conventional forces. We shall need them in our back pocket for the coming confrontations with Brussels. Sovereignty is taken, not given - and as a fully armed sovereign state we can do what we like.

Anonymous said...

The trouble is when a civil servant shows a picture of a submarine the minister just has to say ..
"Cool! Lets get some of these. We could sneak up on the Argies again!
BOO! Ha! Great ..get ten... How much? Ok , Just get two..but get some fast patrol craft with the change.They are cool too."

hatfield girl said...

When President Obama and President Medvedev agreed on the reduction in nuclear weapon stockpiles and proliferation restriction renewal a short while ago I did wonder if the Scottish-based system was given the chop. It wasn't announced as such - jobs, elections, lack of 'transpairency' etc., but it's an obvious candidate, particularly after the crash with the French submarine.

Designing and building a UK Trident would be a better use of resources than the aircraft carriers. We certainly need to have something.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"...a good reason for being honest about our dependence on the Yanks...and sheltering under the U.S. umbrella."

Do you think the Americans are happy to continue to meet all the defence needs of Western Europe, while we spend our (borrowed) money paying for Greeks to get 14 months' wages for 12 months' "work" and retire at 55?

You think that looks like good value to Obama? That it advances the interests of the US?

If you believe those things, I have a bridge you might be interested in buying.

Old BE said...

I agree with WY - either we should admit that we cannot afford to be a nuclear power anymore and withdraw with good grace or we should stump up the cash for a truly independent system. We can't just piggy-back off the Americans - it's not right for either side.

David said...

Why don't we just develop nasty biological weapons?

Because they are in practice impossible to weaponise. Even the Soviets, who spent vast sums trying to develop BW, failed utterly to produce a viable weapon.

All that nonsense people routinely trot out about "the poor man's nuclear weapon" ignores this crucial stumbling block.

Nick Drew said...

great debate, a load of excellent points

the way I see it is:

- no way we can ever square up to Russia or China alone; the issue is the second division rogue players (list changes over time**), against whom we definitely need something meaty ...

- ... but the weapon need not be ultra-sophisticated

- independence is vital: something costly and dependent is really, really crass

- submarines must be part of the mix (vide Richard Manns above), as must be flexibility; & the beauty of cruise is that they can be launched from subs and indeed anything else

BTW independence isn't easy because cruise missiles depend on SatNav and we all know who could switch that off ... which, if an insuperable problem, may speak to an unsophisticated, short-range sub-launched ballistic missile

= = = =
** but France is usually on it... only kidding, Sarko

CityUnslicker said...

We should develop Nucs with France as a viable option too. Both of us instead of carriers.

I personally am not that keen on the Nucs really. When we say take on the Ruskies, if it gets to the point where they are firing nuclear weapons at us then its all over for humanity anyway.

tactical Nucs with bombers to threaten iran etc is different, we need those but can buy them off the yanks very cheaply. We could also put cruise missiles into attack subs, after all a few warheads is all you need for the threat.

Budgie said...

With a space program you get the military benefits as a spin-off.

Anyone who says our (name your) weapon is not "truly" independent because it was originally designed/supplied by the Yanks does not understand engineering. Everything in technology is copied, as long as you have the capability of copying.

Nick Drew said...

budgie - nothing to do with design, I agree with you, it's the dual keys and codes, plus the guidance

(NB earlier point on SatNav)

Anonymous said...

An independent space program is the only long term realistic option. You need good detection for launch cycles (as well as monitoring capabilities which we already have, but can always be improved). You also need to be able to hit an ICBM either in the launch cycle (preferable) or as it moves to earth orbit. Once it has achieved re-entry it's game over.

A sub can loose off a few missiles before it is destroyed, so you could argue that it's game over if it gets to that point anyway, but we would be dependent upon the US giving us the codes, so we have to worry not only about our our ppl having the guts to fire, but also a senior US military official(s).

Submarine tracking has also progressed significantly in the time since the Astute class was designed - google "The Farvater mechanism" for more info.

As has been said, developing the space program would drive many areas of innovation in the UK. The US still derives many benefits, financially as well as product innovation from it's Apollo program.

Space is the new frontier for warfare - the Chinese and US have already demonstrated a willingness to publicly show their capabilities of satellite destruction. If we were to move into that sector we can still be a big player and regain much of the advantage we have acceded to other countries - not in jingoistic johnny foreigner sense, but purely in terms of being able to defend UK plc and provide for its future.

Having just submarines means the UK effectively stands still development-wise and maintains a M.A.D agreement with any other player, whereas with a space program we move forward development-wise and progress towards mitigation of another player's nuclear arsenal.

All the best, Anon.

Budgie said...

Anon 1:23

Thank you.

Will Sheward said...

How about 'delay'?

This is a decision that simply does not have to be taken at the moment. The Vanguard subs are assumed to have a 30 year lifespan, their US counterparts (Ohio class) are assumed to have a 44 year lifespan. The Vanguards a good boats and, given a reactor core replacement, could last just as long as the Ohios (the Ohios are worked harder, more time at sea).

The *only* reason a decision is being pushed now is to keep up the drumbeat of sub building (to avoid the skill loss problem that occurred before the Astutes were built). Building a couple more SSNs, which we actually need, would do that just as well, a lot cheaper.

Oh and as for the independent nature of the deterrent .... ours is just as independent that the French one and a lot better. It is technically feasible for both of us to take an independent launch decision. It is politically difficult for either of us to make an independent launch decision.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

@Weekend Yachtsman: "Do you think the Americans are happy to continue to meet all the defence needs of Western Europe..." etc.

Can you imagine the US allowing a local thermonuclear war in Europe? Of course not. The mere existence of the US nuclear arsenal prevents the Russians or Chinese attempting to achieve hegemony through nuclear blackmail. Ergo we shelter under that deterrent. Having our "own deterrent" was always a total nonsense, as we can only operate it with US permission anyway; it was always a politicians vanity symbol to guarantee a seat at the UN security council, that's all. As for local defence needs... give me strength. That's why I suggested using the savings from scrapping Trident to give us credible conventional forces. So keep your bridge, thanks all the same.

Regarding a space programme... we are actually very good at building satellites in this country, and the European Ariane rocket is a linear development of our nuclear weapons programme of the 50s/60s. When we finally cancelled Blue Streak in 1972 we gave it to the French for nothing - I repeat, for NOTHING - because the genius PPE graduates who run Whitehall couldn't see the commercial possibilities of space, despite the fact that commercial satellites were already being put up. Instead we waste our time as bit part players in the ESA when we have the capability to do it ourselves. What a missed opportunity.

The whole Blue Streak/Ariane episode shows in microcosm the tragedy of British society. We live in a technological age but the bulk of our intelligent youth is educated in an outdated system which prizes essay writing over scientific achievement. Socially we see scientists and engineers as tradesmen, barely to be tolerated in polite society. We consider advertising as "creative" - when building a ship is not, it's just sunset heavy industry. Otherwise intelligent people in this country who would be bitterly offended to be accused of being illiterate quite happily own up to being functionally innumerate. You don't see this in the USA, Germany or China, I can tell you.

Not that I am bitter, you understand, but it seems to me our societal values are just wrong, and that is really what needs fixing.

Anonymous said...

It is independent. The issue of guidance assumes that the missiles require the use of the american GPS system - but this is only required for accurate targeting and without it thew missile could still be operated. The issue of codes referred to the GPS system which originally was believed to require special codes to use that were only available from the american military - these codes are clearly not required anymore, since the system is used by car satnav. The whole issue was exploited by CND to indicate the deterrent was not independent, but in effect it most certainly is.

Cruise missiles DO NOT rely on SatNav.

We do not need to test nuclear weapons - they are usually modelled by computer. Testing bombs isn't particularly helpful for obvious reaons.

We have previously had a large range of tactical nuclear weapons, some of which could principally be carried on cruise missiles, which are officially no longer in service since the end of the cold war.