Nick Harvey – “The idea that you should produce weapons of mass destruction in order to keep 1,500 jobs going in the Barrow shipyard is simply ludicrous,”
You hear some foolish statements on occasion, but considering this one comes from an ex MoD minister it is an absolute pearler! The Barrow jobs preserve the sovereign and strategic capability that is nuclear submarines, regardless of whether they contain ballistic missiles or not. And the British Defence Industrial Strategy regards nuclear submarines as a strategic industry over which we must retain sovereign control.
That said, foolish statement aside I believe he is on the money when he talks of “nukes in the cupboard”.
At least insomuch that if there is to be no like-for-like replacement of Trident, a leap is more likely than a shuffle.
[Article somewhat revised 10/10/12 - see italics for details]
From the Guardian article:
“I think you might struggle to persuade the British public to do that, but I think you might persuade them to go down to the penultimate step: you keep something for a rainy day, but putting it away and not having it as part of your everyday activity.”
“Believe you me there are very senior figures of all three services who are highly aware of that perfect storm of these costs, who don’t believe the Treasury is going suddenly ride to their rescue with a cheque and who are asking, ‘Is the opportunity cost of having another generation of nuclear weapons too high, in terms of of what it would prevent us doing on other fronts?’”
“To convince ourselves that the only point of having any deterrent at all is the capability of flattening Moscow is the wrong and distorting lens through which to view the debate.”
There really are alternatives as RUSI made clear two years ago when it outlined four possible options:
1. a ‘Normally-CASD’ Submarine Force, (three SSBN’s and therefore pretty expensive)
2. a ‘CASD-Capable’ Submarine Force, (two SSBN’s and therefore a bit less expensive)
3. a ‘Dual-Capable’ Submarine Force and (many SSN’s which have a few missile tubes)
4. a Non-Deployed Force. (warheads in Aldermaston, Jerry-rigged to whatever will fit)
Your author believes the choice will hinge on which solution gives us the most viable nuclear submarine industry into the future VS which solution absorbs the least amount of the defence budget on a purely deterrent function.
In short, the Malcolm Chalmers dictum: “If you end up going for an option which steps down the ladder but you don’t save any money it’s a political non-starter,”
What governs this calculation?
- a – DK Brown believed four is the optimal production run for a high-tech/high-cost item like an SSN
- b – The DIS requirement is for a new design every eight years in order to maintain design currency
- c – The DIS requirement is for a new boat to hit the water every 22 months to maintain manufacturing
- d – A fleet size that can meet “a”, “b”, & “c” without needing a service-life apt to give the Treasury apoplexy
Options number 1 & 2 fall foul of rule “a” and “b”
Option number 3 doesn’t generate significant medium term savings according to RUSI
Option number 4 is probably a step too far in public perception, and does nothing to assist the preservation of a viable strategic industry.
Rule “d” is important because the Treasury doesn’t want to have to pay for a billion pound boat only to retire it in twenty years whereupon it will be asked to break out the checkbook for a replacement billion pound boat. This is further emphasised by the choice of PWR3 for the reactor, with its higher price tag and service life than the PWR2+ alternative. Paying the extra only makes sense if you intend to make use of the extra service life (from 25 to 30 years).
This is why I am going to suggest that the chosen outcome might be a mix of three and four, not least because I don’t believe the review will consider cruise to be a credible deterrent, and the continued level of British investment in the Common Missile Compartment (CMC):
If the CMC is going to arrive in a four tube module – then we could opt for a “nukes in the cupboard” solution.
Why – because a four tube module would allow you to make a common class of SS(B)N that were not enormous, and not fantastically expensive.
You could then set about creating the most economically and technologically sustainable nuclear-boat industry we could hope to have: Twelve boats in classes of four with a twenty seven year service life providing a new design every nine years and a new boat rolling off the slips every twenty seven months.
All would have four tube CMC module which in day to day use could be kept ready for cruise or special-forces insertion.
In addition to this:
1. Aldermaston would create, store, and maintain, a number of warheads that would fit onto the Trident D6 missiles
2. We would lease, as we do now, just twelve Trident D6 missiles from the yanks. enough to roll a boat in for refit, one on tour, and one in workdown
3. A fleet large enough to maintain the SSBN function in currency, and possible even one boat ‘loaded’ so that there were always missiles in UK possession
It does rather hang on being able to adopt the CMC on a platform small enough that it can function as an SSN.
It has been suggested by El-Sid on thinkdefence.co.uk that:
even the US is increasingly attracted to a fighter-bomber submarine, so watch this space. Realistically a true fighter-bomber like the F/A-18 is less likely, I’d think more in terms of a Tornado F3/GR4 combination – lots in common but it’s obvious to outsiders which is the fighter and which the bomber.
If you felt you could get away with a new design every nine years, on a three year build schedule and classes of three you could get away with nine as the total number of boats and still keep the service life at a PWR3-justifying twenty-seven years. It is not for me to say whether this is in fact feasible, but if it is then RUSI’s option 1 (Normally CASD), with three dedicated SSBN’s closely related to the other six future SSN’s suddenly becomes an option……….
Personally, I cannot see how it would save much cash for the Treasury, and the uplift in deterrent capability would come at the cost of a reduced fleet capability and a greater per-boat industrial subsidy. It would fail the Chalmers rule, and I know which option I would rather go for.
Let’s hope we see the final report soon.
Update – 10.10.12 – Thanks to El-Sid at Think Defence:
For pointing out that basic mathematics demonstrates that long thin things (like missile tubes) can be positioned side by side across a cylinder (like a submarine) without increasing the cylinder’s diameter to any significant degree. Therefore, regardless of configuration (1×4 or 2×2) a single CMC module should fit just fine on a 400ft 10,000 tonne SS(B)N.
Please also read a very similar article from TD regular Gareth Jones on Libdemvoice.
Update – 08.11.12 – An excellent article from Gabbie on the replacement deterrent system.