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?

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??