The Trident Alternatives report has now been released by the MoD (despite their resistance)[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/written-ministerial-statement-on-the-trident-alternatives-review”]
With much predictable opinion on both sides of the political debate it has been casually dismissed by many. To be clear, the Liberal Democrats don’t want a cheaper deterrent they want no deterrent so the motivation for the document should rightly be seen as a smokescreen on yet another issue that they don’t have the balls to be open about but that said, it is actually a very good document, well worth a read.
The review looked at a range of options in addition to keeping with the 4 SSBN status quo including a reduction to 3 SSBN and cruise missiles delivered by large aircraft, submarines and F35’s.
The cost difference between 3 SSBN and 4 SSBN is very small, there is a sensible discussion to be had about the comparative risk between a 3 and 4 boat solution but because the cost difference is so small it hardly seems worth.
What the study does show is that if you want to save money, don’t replace at all.
It also shows that there are alternatives but they either fall down on capability and credibility, carry significant risk or save fourth fifths of the square root of nothing.
What it also shows very clearly is that political prevarication and cowardice has meant the practical options have reduced in scope or increased in cost because the time gap between any new system being available and Vanguard going out of service would require a gap filler SSBN regardless.
overall, because of the complexity and risks associated with developing a cruise missile based option, given where we are in 2013, the analysis shows that transitioning now to any of the realistic alternative systems would be more expensive than procuring a 3 or 4-boat Successor SSBN fleet.
I still think there is plenty of room for discussion about the nature of deterrent, how it fits within the UK’s geopolitical situation for the next 50 years and whether it will remain useful but on balance, despite these doubts, I think the obvious answer to to hedge against uncertainty and retain it with the 4 boat SSBN solution being the least risky and the more very slightly cheaper 3 boat solution being hardly worth the cost savings.
In summary, the time for rational and considered studies on credible alternatives was about 6 or 7 years ago, as usual, political cowardice has pushed us into a corner.
Credit where credit is due though, the report is much better than many have reported