The Royal Navy's four trident ssbm system submarines are reaching the end of their life cycle, that is to say the reactor systems have a finite life and the rest of the 'boats' will become uneconomic to repair in relation to new build.
For the missiles and possibly other components, these will actually continue to be part of the ongoing upgrade life extension programme that Lockhead Martin and the US navy have embarked on, where current stocks of missiles arre upgraded and standardised to new, lower cost common sourced components.
How do the actual costs of a new system of submarines and the price paid to the US contractors and government compare to the potential utility of the system? Is there any actual societal 'cost-benefit-?
Firstlty there are of course the open costs> new submarines, refurbished missiles. Even here there are several other hidden costs. The nuclear fission materials in both the submarines' reactors and the warheads are established and maintained in the UK, with nuclear power statiions such as Dounreay and Annan in Scotland actually, and the defence facilities in England carrying out the work. To the authors knowledge this is not clearly included in the acquisition cost for the system, neither is it clear what level of cross subsidy the system recieves by virtue of having specialist facilities at these sites available at all times. Furthermore much of the second generation of 1960s and 1970s reactor facilities such as these are reaching the end of their own life cycle, and are highly questionable in terms of cost per MWh in total cost of life cycle.
That brings us to another hidden cost of the SSBM gauranteed mutual destruction system: decommissioing. The Polaris system has had a declared accountable cost of 180 million Sterling for the UK system, however the hidden and perpetual costs of this must surely be far higher. Once again there are hidden costs in maintaining specialist facilities and personnel above the contractual costs, which may not be transparent or collatable in terms of parliaments, budget holders, annual accounts, retainer fees and any facits of secrecy which may muddy the waters.
Trident mark I, UK, will have its submarines decommissioned within 2025 given the current timetable, meaning that their active service life span will be at least a decade longer than Polaris. These 'boats' are far larger of course than Polaris and hence have more nuclear material and more contaminated material. Currently the it is only some of the materials whcih can 'economically' be removed, those in other words which are designed for reprocessing and disposal, like fuel rods, and those in which in fact Sellafield has current facilities to tackle. The hulks of submarines including cooling fluids are then just in limbo, for thousands of years as there is no deep mine storage facility pallatble to the electorate, who incidentally have consistently supported the actual weapons system for three decades.
Other hidden costs will be then for the new system, the ongoing upgrade to the missiles themselves in the USA, the missiles system commissioning launches from the Cape Canaveral area, the ongoing replenishment of the fissile and fussile radioactive materials, the reactor service costs, maintenacne and upgrade for shore facilities at faslane and couplort, and potentially Devonport , any alterations to off site nuclear facilities eg Sellafield and Dounreay, and as mentioned the cost of decommissioning and any other life extension of the system. Then there are of course the running costs which are in terms of personnel and materials directly incurred by the Royal Navy, and in fact relatively Trident is supposedly a lighter cost than Polaris was, this being reflected in fewer navy personnel and support workers being based at Faslane and Coulport than during the 'hey days' of Polaris in the late 70s and into the 1980s were there were in excess of 2000 personnel and 1200 civilian workers based at HMS Neptune, Faslane. Trident has a smaller crew in fact than Polaris had.
It is Ironic that English society in particular is not willing to pay for the fully safe disposal of the remaining polaris hulks nor are they interested in the associated deep-permanent-store facility proposed for Cumbria, yet it is willing to commit to a third SSBM system with eventually this legacy remaining above surface.
What has Trident Achieved for Great Britain?
It was somewhat Ironic that the biggest insurgency to British soveriegn territory happened in the year that the Trident system was agreed between the governments of Reagan and Thatcher. The Argentine Junta knew that the UK had in fact not an independent will and mandate to use its nuclear defence system in a preemptive attack in response to conventional warfare. It took a huge risk in taking the Falklands, betting that the UK would be forced by the USA and EU to negotiate a settlement which they maybe speculated Spain and Italy would sway towards concession of the territories they invaded. Conventional forces, conventional casualtiies ensued as the British managed just to mount a fleet of ships, many of them commandeered to travel and defeat the Argentine occupation force.
In the subsequent two decades, there have been several incursions and invasions of 'allied' soils, in particular Kuwait and Georgia. More recently there have been the Chinese and N.Korean insurgencies over 'disputed' island territories, and of course the current running crisis in Ukraine at time of writing and complete annexation of Crimea. Where there is a perrceived element of legitmacy it seems the super powers will just ingore the theories and practice of 'detente' and cross borders.
The missioning of UK Trident harks back to a time when the British Empire was still a significant source of economic export and material supply in a UK driven trading system. UK "interests" and protectorates are often still quoted by military sources in the MOD and Whitehall who retain both the view there is some need for an independent defence outside of NATO, and within which they would have the public beleive that a nuclear element has a unique deterrent effect which could be exercised as a preemptive attack against non nuclear nations. This is of course a subtefuge, because the UK is aligned to international treaties which limit the use of nuclear weapons, and render them actually under the leash of NATO and in particular the USA.
The other supporting argument used by the UK is that the system stands actually shoulder to shoulder with the US, unlike the totally independent French nuclear arsenel, and that this is a many quilled bow against the enemy. An enemy which had in fact then become a loose ally against islamic powers, with Putin's forces training with Nato and submarines visting HMS Neptune, a sight completely unthinkable in 1982 when Trident was initiated for the UK.
The Final arguement is the so called 'red tide' doomsday scenario, a constant philosophical, moral and much parodied debate since 'M.A.D' detente was a practical fact by the late 1950s. Here sits a Trident commander with the knowledge that all communications are down, and the sitting order to attack if no contact can be made assuming that the UK has been hit by a major nuclear catastrophe. Then the commander can give presumably Putin or his successor, a bloody nose over the corpse of his homeland. The nightmare scneario which is the fantasy end game of the old cold war or the new world 'disorder'
The Rejection of Alternative Military Utiltiy and Conventional Multi Tasking
As the primary defence mission of the cold war era evapourated into political history, the new world disorder began. Fuelled by the new axis of evil, Iranian neo conservative state isalmism and the continued ethnic cleansing and settlement in Palestine by the Israelis as the justifying elemenet for the new interpretation of "Jihad" the struggle for religious identity and rights subverted to the totalitarian view and godless violence of the Iranian supported organistations conducting terror attacks.
In this light, the US Trident system of 14 'boats' was seen as a dead sitting capital item, and some utility was sought in fitting two missiles per submarine as a new type of ICBM velocity weapon, as part of a rapid strike capability against targets identified as hostile and threatening. Russia of course complained because they too of course can detect any launch of an ISCBM and may interpret it as an illegal preemptive nuclear attack on an allied land, such as Iran.
Counter Arguement Against the Cheaper, Wider Tasking Cruise Missiile System
The latter section reveals the UK admiralty's counter arguement which supports trident. Trident cannot be confused, and of course it will probably never be used. However the cruise missile system could be confused by an enemy or a land or group associated to the opposing super powers.
This is used in only a closed loop arguement and not in light of the reality. However there are many limitations in terms of 'M.A.D' deterrence. A cruise system is far more limited in nuclear capacity and range. They are single target deployment with limited megotonne capacity. Your submarines must be deployed in certain spheres and cannot operate from any point in the world. Cruise missiles are also more vulnerable to surface to air defences and other electronic or secret counter measures.
The arguements against a cruise system though were facile until 2013, when the once infamous Tomahawk system was degraded to carrying only conventional war heads ( a stock pile and capacity for actually carrying W80 type nuclear warheads still exists though). Until 2013, that they could be confused where Trident is not is a tautology, because cruise delivery which has a nuclear warhead capactiy, was widely used during the wars in Iraq. By nature of small launch flash and sub radar approach, they are harder to detect and discriminate from other short range missiles in a theatre of war. The final arguement which negates the view of confusabilitty causing escalation is that every time a B52 flies it must be presumed that it has nuclear capacity on board. The US still refuse to deny that any strategic bomber does or does not carry nuclear weapons
Putin has to live with cruise missiles, the russians have a capacity to respond to a first nuclear strike with such MAD force that they must actually presume that for instance any 'confused vector' cruise attack against pro russian Ukrainian rebels is conventional. It is conceivable that the entire nuclear capacity of North Korea could be obliterated by conventional cruise sub radar attacks and 'star wars' interception of any missiles launched in that time.
The Royal Navy already has a torpedo tube based medium range Tomahawk Cruise Missile capacity, and a proposed longer range missile submarine would be smaller and far less expensive than Trident II. It would of course also offer a wide range of missioning for anti enemy fleet attack, NATO fleet escorting, territorial water patrol, anti terrorist surgical strikes and possibly hunter-killer anti submarine action.
Comparing the Cost Benefits of Public Spending
Trident and High Speed 2 are the two largest capital projects the Westminster government is currently committed to and a likely opposition win in the next general election is unlikely to over turn either committment unless public dissatisfaction with the enourmous spending becomes an issue. As is the case with Trident versus disposal of nuclear materials, as long as Trident submarines are based out of sight in the Scottish Sea Lochs, the English public regard the system as a politically desirable entity and not a reality of a huge investment in an uniused system of just four submarines, with only one or two actually able to act upon the 'four minute' warning at any time, and those vulnrable to interception by Russian and Chinese hunter killer submarines which regularily tail Trident from the western approaches to Scotland. Indeed it is alleged that secret missions from both these super powers breached british territorial waters in order to gain the 'fingerprint' sonar trace of each new Trident boat as it was set on commissioning exercise from the Clyde. How far into the North Channel, Irish Sea or indeed lower Clyde estuary these intrusions came is not publically known. Trident is then a show of stregnth and just that, it is theatre and not a practical reality nor an invulnerable system due to there being often only one submarine able to launch an attack, and that submarine must be considered comprimisable due to the size of the Russian fleet of hunter/killers in particular.
A dissipated system using cruise missiles would provide the enemy with a far greater challenge by virtue of uncertainty. This is anotherr counter arguement based on the "trigger" -happiness of the Russians and Chinese
So the actual defence utility is questionable, with the engine of LSE being more effective against Putin's ambitions for post USSR neighbour lands with high ethnic russian sub populations.
The calculations to make are simple, we need only go into them as a philosophical exercise> how many job years compared to civilian or conventional personnel woudl the cost of Trident deliver? How many major Hospitals? How many air ambulances? How many paid university places for students from poor backgrounds? How many new treatments for cancer or antibiotics which private sector are unwilling or financially unable to create?
Really it is the complete diminishment of 'British Interests' in terms of both former commonwealth countries and dependencies or in terms of international industry which negate the utility of any independent nuclear arsenel. Only France maintains the same, and this is partly on the same arguments of non NATO spheres of operation. Other European countries with borders to Russia or Ukraine lack independent deterrents and rely on NATO alliance for both strategic defence and local security back up, as we see currently in the Baltic nations and Poland, with a return to facing to Moscow as the eastern aggressor.
Britains commercial industries are owned by the Chinese and Indians. Her export growth markets are also there. Many former dependencies are now moving ever further away from the UK politically towards becoming republics who see the UK as unimportant. What British Interests are which would include the need for a doomsday only nuclear capacity is then the question. "Loss of Empire nferiority complex" or historical conservative romanticism are two of the real political reasons for public support for spending on Trident II.