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– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
UK Takes Initial Steps to Replace Trident
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Robert Golan-Vilella

The United Kingdom has approved the preliminary investment in its next generation of Trident nuclear submarines and selected a design for the submarines, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the House of Commons last month.

This “initial gate” investment represents the first of two decisions that must be made for the replacement to go forward. The second (“main gate”) decision to begin constructing the submarines is scheduled for 2016, as the British government outlined in its strategic defense review last October. (See ACT, November 2010.)

In a May 18 speech, Fox said the new fleet of submarines “will be powered by a new generation of nuclear propulsion system,” which “will allow our submarines to deliver our nuclear deterrent capability well into the 2060s if required.” The government also agreed on the outline of the submarine’s design and the amount of material and parts that will need to be purchased prior to the main gate decision, he added.

Fox explained the United Kingdom’s continued need for a nuclear capability by saying that “we cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the U.K. might re-emerge.” In remarks to the House of Commons that same day, British Prime Minister David Cameron called London’s nuclear weapons “the ultimate insurance policy against blackmail or attack by other countries.” The United Kingdom’s entire nuclear arsenal of fewer than 160 operational nuclear warheads is deployed aboard four submarines armed with Trident ballistic missiles; this number is slated to fall to no more than 120 by the mid-2020s.

In advance of the main gate decision, the government will conduct a review of “the costs, feasibility, and credibility of alternative systems and postures” to the proposed replacement plan, Fox said. The review is to be led by Nick Harvey, the minister of state for the armed forces and a member of the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party’s partners in the coalition government that assumed power last year, generally oppose the current plan and favor greater steps toward nuclear disarmament. In contrast to the current plan of maintaining “continuous at-sea deterrence” based on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the review will consider options such as putting nuclear warheads on cruise missiles, Harvey told the Financial Times May 24. This would be cheaper and could provide a future government with more flexibility, Harvey said.

Fox estimated the cost of the submarine replacement to be 20-25 billion pounds ($33-41 billion), of which approximately 3 billion pounds is scheduled to be spent before 2016.