So in a pre-“Trident Debate” mode let me say…

1) The whole debate is about replacing the ballistic missile submarines (officially the SSBNs). Not the Trident D5 missiles (whose name is incorrectly used to describe the whole system), not the nuclear warheads, which are the ones which cause the devastation. Read this House of Commons research report. Another simple to read document is this one, yet another MOD publication

2) No one and no organisation (including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the Scottish National Party (SNP), the anti-“Trident” Labour Party members including Jeremy Corbyn) have come up with a sensible idea what to do if the vote falls against the motion. No one has said how to properly scrap the not-even-completed-Successor-class submarines, how to quickly retrain specialised skilled workers, what to do with the Royal Navy submariners destined for these submarines, the support personnel, the civilians who support these personnel, their families. Then what to do with HMND Clyde which is prepared or is preparing to house these submarines.

3) People forget (and in relation to point 1)) that even if the vote doesn’t go in favour, it does not mean the UK’s nuclear weapons are gone. With the vote just about replacing the SSBNs, the missiles (yeah of course they are American-made but British-leased) will still be there. The nuclear warheads will still be there. Again, in relation to point 2, no one has created an idea how to dismantle all of them safely and quickly without thinking about the astronomical cost. At the most, the Yanks (heh) will take back the missiles, AWE will have to prove they can dismantle the warheads (such cost still paid by the British (not just Scottish) taxpayer) and their whole company.

4) A removal of the submarines and then maybe the whole infrastructure (which the vote again is not about) WILL NOT reduce global nuclear weapons or create a spark for nuclear weapons reduction. The response will likely be: US (and France) will increase their warheads or delivery systems to match the loss of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Or Russia and China may also join the “replace the short fall” race. Or regional, non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear powers would increase their stockpile.

5) With the lack of any current feasible anti-ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, a total removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent would be the UK has no option should there be a nuclear threat (however so unlikely) or WMD or non-WMD missiles launched at British territories or interests. Of course, using a nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack has always been ruled out by British governments. However, the total removal of its deterrent means the door will be really open for threats. Can diplomacy and conventional forces subdue the threats?

6) The UK is a puny nuclear deterrent nation. The US has its triad (Bombers, ICBMs and SSBNs with SLBMs and tactical nuclear weapons–eek!), the French has two modes of delivery (SSBNs and via fighters (Rafales) launched by land or via their single aircraft carrier). The Russians have a less updated (maybe) triad which is being modernised. China (PRC) has some sort of triad. And then there are regional nuclear powers as mentioned in point 4. So a removal will mean a removal of the puniest nuclear weapons state.

7) The issue therefore is not about the Successor-class submarines or system of delivery but about reducing what is the real WMD–the warheads. At around 120 operationally available warheads and a stockpile of around 225 warheads, it is argued by pro-“Trident” pundits that is enough or not enough. I say there can be a slow phased reduction but simultaneously, there must be harder or more efforts placed on multilateral non-nuclear proliferation. The UK is right to maintain a minimum deterrent but not correct is being arrogant about it.

8) As the information charts say, this nuclear deterrent has never been set out to deter conventional, state or non-state based threats including terrorism. Yes, each terrorist or non-nuclear attack every day makes it hard to believe that the UK needs a deterrent. I bet the submariners, no some of them, are thinking, what the hell am I doing when London was attacked on 7 July 2005, or the latest Nice attacks. Or what’s happening in Syria. But again, don’t shut down all your electrical goods because you want to save energy. That’s too extreme….

9) Continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) does play another crucial role besides (attempting) to deter nuclear threats from state powers. It helps train submariners, from the chef to the captain, on submarine-based procedures. It’s not your holiday cruise but a military activity where crew members do get their “Dolphins”. Removing their vessels or boats means less ability to train them.

10) Back to point 2. What’s going to replace the SSBNs? There’s no such thing as money immediately going back to the government’s “bank” because you still need to spend it on dismantling the submarines and their infrastructure (as I pointed out), and probably more billions in safely removed the whole system. By then, would you expect government to say, hey, here are savings for the NHS and non-military means? Or military stuff?

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The dummies guide to the UK’s nuclear deterrent aka “Trident”

In this post, I present the A-Z guide for the UK’s nuclear deterrent, colloquially and erroneously called “Trident”.

A is for Atom. The Atom and the splitting on the atom is needed for two vital parts: First, to create the nuclear reaction for the reactor plant of the SSBN (the ballistic missile submarine that carries the missiles which carry the warheads) and second, the nuclear reaction that occurs in order to classify the warheads (and missiles) as nuclear-related weapons or if you like, weapons of mass destruction. A is also for Atomic Weapons Establishment, the facility in Aldermaston where UK nuclear warheads are built.

B is for Boat. A Submarine is a submarine, but the sailors and military people, call it a “boat”, NOT a ship. This is a common mistake in fiction novels and movies.

C is for Continuous-at-sea-Deterrence (CASD). CASD is not unique to the UK; The US, France Russia (to some degree) and now China, and India and possibly Pakistan (but not yet for North Korea) maintain SSBNs that patrol 24/7/365. The major difference between the UK and others is that only ONE, yes, ONE SSBN is on patrol 24/7/365. The three others are on training, maintenance or ready to deploy. This is because there are at maximum FOUR UK SSBNs and only four to maintain the “minimum credible deterrent.” C is also for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the full anti-nuclear weapons, anti-war, anti-military movement.

D is for Disarmament. The UK supposedly maintains its SSBNs but works to create multilateral disarmament. There have been a range of global nuclear disarmament talks such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty(ies) (which the UK was not a partner of) and recently, the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (not that such a topic is needed–everyone should know what a nuclear–fission or fusion–explosion would do). “Multilateral Disarmament” is just one means of reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles; there is unilateral disarmament, which some politicians advocate.

E is for Project E, a previous UK-US agreement to provide RAF bombers with nuclear weapons. One of the first UK-US nuclear agreements. Google it.

F is for the Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent White Paper, published in 2006. It was one of the first post-Cold War UK government papers to advocate retaining an independent nuclear deterrent through to the 21st Century.

G is for the Guidance System
. I’m not exactly sure if the UK version is the same as the US version which uses an “astro-inertial guidance” system. Does this mean the UK’s nuclear deterrent is 100% independent of the US and others? See “I”.

H is for Operation Hurricane, the very first UK atom bomb test.

I is for Independence. The UK is the only P5 member of the United Nations Security Council not to have its own delivery system. The Trident II (D5) UGM-133A missiles are American-made and shared through a “joint pool” with the US. The warheads (see W and A) are UK-built. With the missiles US-made, many claim the US “controls” the UK’s nuclear deterrent and a UK Prime Minister is unable to even set the launch without a US Presidential approval. Opponents say no, due to I, the UK has control over its missile launches. See this old FOIA release for how the UK’s weapons are independent.

J is for I guess, Justification for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent.

K is for Kiloton, the measurement in which some nuclear yields (see Y) is measured. The best public evidence on how large the tonnage for UK-built warheads in at least 100 kilotons.

L is for Legality. It is one of the major arguments for and against the UK having nuclear weapons or a nuclear deterrent. L is also for the Letters of Last Resort, the dreaded letter a British Prime Minister has to write when entering office. It tells the SSBN commander what to do if the UK has been nuked and Command and Control is limited or lost.

M is for the Ministry of Defence, where the full super Top Secret nuclear deterrence and launch scenarios are held. M is also for Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which is what nuclear deterrence is (if you hold that view.)

N is for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows the UK to be a nuclear weapon state and this may be considered as legality for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent. It also may cause question about the UK’s status and role, since it called for nuclear disarmament. N is also for Northwood where CTF 345 personnel will receive the order from the PM (and his team, UK doesn’t officially say if it has a two-man rule at that level) for strategic missile launch.

O is for Operational Control, again related to Independence. As stated in the FOIA states, UK and US and French nuclear weapons are assigned for NATO security. This was supposedly stopped after 1992 (see this evidence and this/a>).

P is for Polaris, the missile that came become Trident. Polaris is, as with Trident, erroneously referred to the whole UK nuclear deterrent. IT IS NOT. P is also for PINDAR, The top secret bunker beneath Whitehall where the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff would hide in during a nuclear crisis or attack and where they would issue the order for a UK strategic missile launch. Official name: Defence Crisis Management Centre (DCMC).

Q is for (yes) the Queen. Supposedly, according to Lord Guthrie, the Prime Minister of the day isn’t the final part of the fail-safe mechanism for nuclear missile launch. The Queen is the ultimate head of the armed forces and could stop a made PM from launching a nuclear missile or starting nuclear war.

R is for ROF Cardiff, a former nuclear weapons site. R is also for the Resolution-class submarine, which carried the Polaris missiles (see P).

S is for the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, which pledged to reduce the UK nuclear force to “ewer than 160 to no more than 120” warheads. (See page 38 of the 2010 SDSR). This was officially met on 20 January 2015. “All Vanguard Class SSBNs on continuous at-sea deterrent patrol now carry 40 nuclear warheads and no more than eight operational missiles”. S is also for Submariner, the personnel who man the SSBNs and who may lose their jobs if the whole system is scrapped.

T is for, of course, Trident. This as I stated, is the missile, NOT The entire nuclear deterrent!!! You can read about the whole missile here.

U is for Ulysses, an UK nuclear warhead. U is also for the 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement.

V is for Vanguard, the class of SSBN submarine which carries the Trident D5 missiles which carry the UK-made nuclear warheads. V is also for the V-Bomber force, which once carried nuclear gravity bombs.

W is for Warhead. As stated in K (kilton), the warhead is the main part of the whole system that delivers the thermonuclear explosion. The Submarine does not, the Trident missile just guides the warhead to the target. W is also for the WE.177 nuclear gravity bomb, which the UK had until it was removed it 1992 (Royal Navy depth charge) and 1998 (Royal Air Force). This removal is often hailed by politicians as the UK’s major unilateral disarmament, which no other nuclear power followed suit. Therefore, the UK still retained the submarine-launch nuclear deterrent.

X is for Weapon X, “an emergency capability ‘stop-gap’ laydown weapon intended to enable the Vulcan bomber force to operate at low-level for a few years, until the Royal Navy Polaris SLBM force became operational at the end of the 1960s.”

Y is for Yield, the nuclear yield.

Z is for Zodiac Mk3, another UK bomb.

Trident an election problem: A reply

The wekk lnown pro-nuclear weapons/pro-“Trident” defence site, recently wrote an article (not their first) titled Trident – An Election Problem. As with many typical “let’s keep the UK nuclear deterrent status quo” article, it is riddled with flaws. I always planned to write a larger article but this one gives me the opportunity to highlight the weakeness.

First:

Who Are We Kidding
We are not a leading world nation, a member of the G8, UN Security Council and NATO.

Oh, hang on, yes we are.

This means we have obligations, expectations and duties.

My Reply: The UN is not about maintaining nuclear weapons, it is more about peace and global/international development. I have not seen a UN resolution that explicitly says “have nuclear weapons, it is great.” Neither is the G8 about nuclear weapons. No G8 communique has ever said to the five or more nuclear weapons states, “arm yourself.”

It also means we are a target and if we actually want to ensure that Blighty never again is invaded, attacked or blackmailed by another nuclear power then the ultimate means of doing so is with the worlds ultimate weapon, nuclear weapons.

My reply: Again the usual sound bite. There is not substantiation about when and how the UK might be a target for a nuclear attack and even so, how does that justify nuclear weapons or Continuous at Sea Deterrence (CASD). Again, when will and when has the UK ever been blackmailed? I havve issued a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) and it says te UK has never been blackmailed.

We Can Downgrade the Posture
We are doing that to some extent anyway, Successor will carry fewer Trident missiles and each will carry fewer warheads from a smaller pool of warheads. The problem with going to non permanently deployed deterrent cuts to the heart of deterrence theory, that deterrent has to be credible.

It has to be on a hair trigger, always lurking, always unseen, always available.

My reply–that again does not give a reason for maintaining nuclear weapons which suck up a huge load of current and future defence spending. It is nice to have trigger-ready weapons, but who are we ready for? None of the current world events have been stopped by trigger ready CASD. Think Defence also gives the analogy of a having a fully armed cupboard of shot guns or simply guns. Yes you maintain a deterrent against your neighbour (who can change his or her views) but guns are not the same as nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons create an adverse fallout if used. Guns simply kill or may kill just the enemy.

here are Cheaper Alternatives
I am ALWAYS interested in looking at cheaper ways of doing things and I don’t buy for one minute the position that says we must have the best or nothing at all.

There are cheaper ways of delivering nuclear weapons.

We could put a Trident warhead on the back of a truck, we could buy a free-fall nuclear bomb or we could buy a nuclear tipped Tomahawk.

Unfortunately, all these suffer from a distinct lack of credibility (see points about credibility above) and either don’t exist or would need to be developed. The funny thing about this whole debate is the missiles already exist, all we are doing is buying a replacement vehicle to launch them from.

No cruise missile exists that is 100% survivable against modern integrated air defence systems and which has the range to enable launch from safe patrol areas against all target possibilities.

My reply: It is not about cheaper alternatives and the Trident Alternatives Paper was a waste anyway. We know all the big stuff you write above. It is about reality and utility.

We Can Invest the Savings in Conventional Capabilities and Deterrence
There is an argument that says Successor will distort the defence budget for several years and so there exists an opportunity to spend it on something else instead. Conventional deterrence is seen as having greater utility against the kind f threats we face. Of course we could buy some decent shiny new baubbles with £3b a year for the next several decades but in reality, would it tip the balance decisively in our favour in any future scenario, I doubt it, would those extra conventional capabilities offer the same kind of political clout that Trident does, I doubt it?

Would an extra carrier, brigade and squadron count for much when an aggressor has nuclear weapons, not in a gazillion years.

And in any case, would that money stay within defence?

My Reply: If the world is uncertain, why is is not uncertain that we can get alternatives from reducing or removing the golden boys–the nuclear deterrent? Can you tell me for certain that the UK or its overseas territories will be nuked the second there isn’t a SSBN and its might weapons around? If you throw the “world is uncertain and unpredictable” argument, I can throw it back at you.

The Morning After
This is one area of the debate that many seem to ignore.

Supposing the UK retires the Vanguard and Trident system next week, the week after there would pretty much be zero impact.

Defence would still be both under funded and wasteful, ISIS would still be exactly the same threat to the UK as they were yesterday (practically zero) and Freddo’s would still cost an extortionate amount of money.

But the months and years after the UK would pay a hefty political price, the world would certainly not suddenly follow the UK’s leadership on disarmament and one day, it would be us looking at someone else’s double barrel shotgun and ruing the day the steaming fetid pile of dogshit that comprises many of our political class traded the one system that guarantees our security to get a few extra votes and 5 years in power.

My Reply: The morning after South Africa removed its nuclear capbility, it’s neighbours didn’t invade. South Africa fought a border war when it had nuclear weapons. Iran risked fighting Iraq which had WMD then in the 1980s and risked having its armed forces gassed.

Finally, TD never addressed the issue of why “Trident” is an election problem–it never touched on the morality of people, the issue of risks and disasters, and the strain on resources, military and non-military.

Arguments against Trident: Beyond moral views and usefulness

The Nuclear Information Service, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and General (rtd) Sir Hugh Beach others have made a strong arguments against the retention and renewal of the ballistic missile system in the UK, colloquially known and “Trident” (after the US Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)). Their arguments can be found in this evidence paper.

Given the extensive arguments presented, I turn to cover another area not exactly mentioned. That is, the burden of keeping Continuous at Sea Deterrent or CASD. As the name implies, 24/7/365, there is at least one UK Vanguard Class SSBN “patrolling” somewhere in the ocean. A second is undergoing training (and ready to relieve the patrol boat when it returns), a third is under maintenance while a fourth is in reserve (may also be readying to relieve the patrol boat). This is drawn from page 7 of this research paper.

Such tight non-stop patrols means that Royal Navy submariners are tasked forever to fixed on the deadly duty of “deterring” others from other nations from launching nuclear/chemical/biological weapons against the UK. Each V-Boat is crewed by 135 sailors. And each V-Boat, unlike SSNs, has two crews to ensure unbreakable CASD–known as Port and Starboard crews. A look at an old Royal Navy Bridge Card for example, shows that at least Vanguard and Vengeance have two crews–I’m sure all four boats have. This means that 135×4=540 sailors are on nuclear deterrence. Given the need to deploy, train, maintain (and crews train while there’s maintenance) and be on reserve, it is highly unlikely the 540 sailors can be used for other tasks.

This means that this lot of “special” officers and ratings are kept forever from executing conventional duties. In recent increasing need for the Royal Navy to be even more global, 540 sailors aren’t able to contribute to normal patrols or respond to emerging crisis. It is even more than that considering that there are others in the operational management of the whole nuclear deterrent–for example, staff in Faslane, the MOD and elsewhere. Furthermore, in the latest era of cuts, this means that well, these 540 plus sailors and troops are sparred. That’s nice, but it also means that while you retrench other sailors, the 540 would be looked on jealously–“hey, we should have volunteered to be V-boat sailors, then we wouldn’t have been sacked!” In an opposite angle, retaining 540 plus sailors that cannot perform duties such as daily patrols, Fleet Ready Escort or even homeland resilence–helping with the floods.

Another angle is that the V-Boats do not just carry deadly Trident D5 SLBMs. They also have four torpedo tubes for firing Spearfish Torpedoes. With four tubes, this means that there are at least eight (or ten) Spearfish Torpedoes per boat. So at least 32 Spearfishes are with the V-Boats. This is alot and it means that the Navy cannot use 30 plus torpedoes. V-Boats are not attack submarines can cannot act like one. Even if one wants to (take away the SLBMs), V-Boats are not of the design to conduct SSN-like missions. And again, in the era of cuts and calls for making the RN stronger, well you have torpedoes in untouchable subs which you cannot withdraw them from.

Back to the personnel angle, with four boats, V-Boats or its successor, this means feeding and paying around 540 sailors (if by any luck the next class will require less manpower). Again, hundreds of foodstuff needed to feed sailors who frankly, do nothing except know they have doomsday devices that can be launched. The pay may be better than other Royal Navy sailors, but again, with budgets tight, it’s a unsaid ringfencing.

Thus, personnel torpedoes, food and payment. And you still wish to have four nuclear-powered submarines with weapons that should never be used??