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?

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.

The nuclear button–the fallacy, the missing point

Since bearded, love-IRA, hate-NATO, love-Hamas (you get my drift) Corbyn was “elected” leader of the UK Labour Party and thus Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, there has been controversy almost every other day. One of the biggest was that over the UK’s nuclear deterrent, erroneously called “Trident” in British circles. Corbyn, a a certain BBC Today Programme, stated that “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I [Corbyn] am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons…” and the report claimed that “Should he get to Number 10, he said simply, he would not press the nuclear button…” (see this news report).

Fast foward to 4 October 2015 where Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron. Here’s the full transcript (I don’t have access to the BBC today transcript.) Andrew Marr asked:

Marr: You mentioned Jeremy Corbyn just now. He said, with admirable clarity and honesty, that there were no circumstances in which he would press the nuclear button. Would you say the same or would you say yes there are circumstances…

 

Cameron: …No his answer … The problem with his answer is that if you want to have…if you believe, like me, that Britain should keep the ultimate insurance policy of an independent nuclear deterrent, you have to accept there are circumstances in which its use would be justified. And if you give any other answer other than that, you are frankly undermining our national security, undermining our deterrent and making Britain in a dangerous world…

 

Marr: So you would press the button in short?

 

Cameron: I’ve given the answer, which is if you believe in the nuclear deterrent – as I do – you have to accept there are circumstances that justify its use.

My interpretation is that Corbyn would never increase the readiness level of the SSBNs or never issue the order to fire if the UK is under the threat of a state-led nuclear attack or has already been nuked, Corbyn as PM (ugh!) would not fire a Trident D5 missile in retaliation (since if he was PM he would have dismantled the SSBNs and their SLBMS). David Cameron and future possible conservative PMs would do the opposite: should the UK be under nuclear attack or nuked, they would increase the alert level of the deployed SSBN and fire back in retaliation if the UK was nuked.

Corbyn’s “I will never push the button” stated resulted in many media and social media “outrage” that he’s not a leader with any credibility on defence and is undermining defence and the nuclear deterrent. Mark Stout from War on the Rocks wrote pro-nuclear deterrent article attack dear bearded one and saying he should never be Prime Minister.

That’s find, people can be outraged. The fact of the matter is that Andrew Marr and media outlets created a storm with factually incorrect information. First, there is no “nuclear button” in the UK. Yes, it is known that UK command and control over its nuclear weapons in the past and present is not as stringent as in the US. Former WE, 177 bombs were only secured via so-called bicycle locks. Past and possible current SSBNs do not have the US “Permission Active Link” security system PAL as the MOD said, “The number of participants required to act in concert means that the ‘Permissive Action Link’ type safeguards found in other systems are not relevant in the SSBN domain” and “The UK took a decision not to install Trident CCDs or their equivalent on the grounds that an aggressor might be able to wipe out the British chain of command before a launch order had been sent”. (This matter of weak C&C will be discussed in another post.) Instead of having a so-called button, all UK Prime Ministers (possibly) go through a similar “two-man” rule, like the US POTUS does (should they want to start or add to doomsday). As Paul Beaver, a strong military analyst explained, the order (to launch a SLBM) has to go through several protocols I quote the news article:

A sequencing system ensures a printed code, stored in a secret Ministry of Defence location, has to tally with that kept in a safe on board the nuclear submarine. Two officers, extensively tested for their mental stability, sit in separate parts of the submarine and enter the code simultaneously into a computer, allowing the launch. The PM makes the decision, but several other people probably get involved at various points during the process, including the attorney general and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

The rest of the article talks about the “letters of last resort” which is more well known and written in open access publications. This two-man control has also been confirmed by RUSI analyst and nuclear proliferation expert Andrea Berger, who told yours truly that If PM inputs code in PINDAR he needs [a] second person (CDS I believe) to verify. Formally, order won’t go anywhere without it. (Pindar is the protected bunker under Whitehall–possibly–where the PM and staff would go in nuclear crisis or something of that sort). Beyond the two-man control (especially on board the submarine), former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Lord Guthrie says the Monarch of the day controls the armed forces so that even an irrational or lunatic Prime Minister won’t be able to easily start World War Three. (This claim may sound far-fetched though). The bottom line is that neither anti-nuclear weapons Corbyn no “yes I’ll fire” Cameron or any future (or past) UK Prime Minister can easily press. So end of ruckus please.

The second issue missing from the Marr and BBC question is the time frame that leaders to the decision. In both C and C’s claim, they won’t or will fire due to a threat or an attack to the UK. However, exactly what led up to this threat? Was there a total breakdown in relationships between the UK and a nuclear weapon state? Did negotiations fails? Did conventional war break out or large-scale proxy war? Was the UK acting aggressively or too passively? The whole conventional idea of the nuclear deterrent means that I won’t fire because I know you wold fire back. But about the time frame that may cause State A to still fire? This is the big question that people must ponder over.

 

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??