Skip to comments.Do UK nukes make military sense?
Posted on 06/22/2006 9:35:05 PM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
Do UK nukes make military sense?
By Rob Watson
Defence and security correspondent, BBC News
There is no doubt Chancellor Gordon Brown has set off a major ideological debate within his own, once avowedly, anti-nuclear Labour Party.
But what are the military arguments for and against Britain retaining an independent nuclear deterrent?
Nuclear submarines are based at Faslane on the Clyde
Perhaps the first question to consider is why this is an issue now.
At the moment Britain has 16 Trident missiles, based on four nuclear submarines, providing a total of 200 warheads.
The problem is that the missiles will reach the end of their operational life by the year 2024 and it is argued by some experts that a decision is needed now to allow enough time to replace the system, if indeed Britain is to retain a nuclear weapons capacity.
The arguments against doing so run something like this:
It is said by some critics Britain would not really have an independent nuclear deterrent because it would rely on the US for operating and maintaining any new system, just as it has with Trident.
And then there is the cost, estimated at anywhere between £12bn and £25bn, which not surprisingly some would rather see spent on things such as schools and healthcare.
The most pointed military argument against replacing Trident however is that it is hard to see Britain ever using a nuclear weapon independent from the US.
The point being that, while it is conceivable to imagine a confrontation with a nuclear-armed North Korea or Iran for example, it is very hard to imagine Britain having to go it alone without the US.
And what use would nuclear weapons be against the asymmetrical threat posed by international or domestic terrorism?
But there are also powerful arguments for it.
What many military analysts believe, including Dr Lee Willett of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), is that ultimately retaining an independent nuclear weapons system is an insurance policy against the unknown, and a reasonably priced one at that.
With countries like North Korea and Iran presumed to either have or be determined to acquire nuclear weapons and others such as Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia nursing such ambitions, Dr Willett argues this is not the time for Britain to be getting out of the nuclear game.
Then there is the political and diplomatic argument - that it is vital for Britain to maintain its big power role in the world, including its permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and its status within the European Union and with the US.
As to the independence of the deterrent from the US, supporters say though it is true any system would likely be acquired from America, its use, like the existing Trident, would be controlled by Britain.
In many ways these are arguments that have been rehearsed over and over again since nuclear weapons were first invented and proliferated around the world.
Does the possession of a nuclear arsenal deter potential foes from attacking you or is their use so inconceivable as to make them in the end a poor deterrent?
Fact file: Trident missile
Trident II D5 is a submarine-launched ballistic missile system that constitutes the UK's nuclear deterrent.
Developed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the United States, Trident entered service with the Royal Navy in 1994, 14 years after it was selected as the replacement for the submarine-launched Polaris missile.
KEY TRIDENT FACTS
Length: 44ft (13m)
Weight: 130,000lb (58,500kg)
Diameter: 74 inches (1.9m)
Range: More than 4,600 miles (7,400km)
Power plant: Three stage solid propellant rocket
Cost: £16.8m ($29.1m) per missile
Source: Federation of American Scientists
Each Trident missile has a range of more than 4,600 miles (7,400km) and is accurate to within a few feet. Their destructive power is estimated as the equivalent of eight Hiroshimas.
The UK deploys 16 Trident missiles on each of its four Vanguard-class submarines, of which one is on patrol at all times. The fleet is based at Faslane in Scotland.
A further 70 missiles can be accessed from a communal pool at the Strategic Weapons facility in Georgia in the United States, where the missiles are also periodically serviced.
Each Trident missile is designed to carry up to 12 nuclear warheads, but the Royal Navy's are armed with three after the 1998 Strategic Defence Review imposed a limit of 48 per submarine.
All the UK's warheads are built at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, Berkshire.
During a Vanguard patrol, the missile payload is carried upright in launch tubes behind the submarine fin, or conning tower.
At launch, the pressure of expanding gas in the tube forces the missile out and to the ocean surface where, once it is far enough from the submarine, the solid fuel in the first of three stage motors ignites.
At the same time, an aerospike designed to reduce drag by around 50% extends from the tip of the missile.
The internal guidance system takes a reading from the stars to work out the missile's position and make any adjustments necessary to the pre-programmed route to its target area.
A second - or boost stage - rocket then fires, followed by the third stage. Within approximately two minutes from launch the missile is travelling at over 20,000ft (6,100 metres) a second.
Once in position over its targets, the missile's third motor separates from the forward section containing the warheads.
The guidance system takes another star reading to confirm its position.
Small thruster rockets then manoeuvre the forward section so each warhead can be individually released in the right place to freefall to its target, where they detonate according to one of a number of pre-set fuse options.
In the UK, the authority for a real (rather than test) Trident launch would have to come from the prime minister via a secure communications network.
Trident has a 30-year lifespan that is due to end in 2024. The UK will need to take a decision soon on whether to extend Trident's lifespan or replace it with an alternative system, which could cost an estimated £10bn.
I think so. They can hit targets inside Russia within 15 minutes.
In other words, opponents of UK's maintaining a nuclear arsenal are saying that as long as we keep ours, they can use our alliance as a shield.
Critics of the U.S. are also aware that if the U.S. develops and deploys a ballistic missile shield, it would cover the UK and the rest of Europe by default, over the objections of any critics. We, the U.S., will endeavor to engineer a system that would protect the EU regardless of whether or not the individual members give us permission, because our country's welfare is so closely tied to that of the welfare of Europe. Thus, we'd invest in the extra expense of shielding Europe, or in the infrastructure and technology to shield Europe regardless of their consent or lack of it.
It is said that home is where if you show up they have to take you in. In that regard, the U.S. is like everybody's home base. They curse us, call us mean names, and disparage our motives - but when it comes down to it - they're absolutely sure that we'll defend them to our last breath. And in our pride and arrogance... we will, because we're naive Americans and we actually believe our myths about freedom, liberty, and justice for all.
The United Kingdom probably does not need nuclear weapons, and could actually encourage other middle or small countries from acquiring such weaponry. Simply because the United Kingdom is currently a strong ally of the United States is not a reason for supporting them having such weapons. Nuclear weapons should be restricted to only a few countries, to decrease the probability of a weapon getting stolen and used (or a country directly using the weapon). Used when something conventional would suffice.
Unless you would like to be the one taking a knife to a machinegun fight!
Remember, it takes 30 minutes for our ICBMs to reach their targets in Russia. It takes 6-12 hours for our bomber force to reach their targets in Russia. Its only logical that the British nuclear forces is to soften Russian military targets before the calvary arrives!!
Umm,didn't the UK give up land & airlaunched weapons like around a decade ago??They probably have a contingency plan in place,but the official word is that it's only Tridents for them,unlike the French who still retain Nuke-cruise missile & bomb capability.If the UK still had airlaunched capability,this current argument about their nukes making sense would have been muted,if non-existent,coz air-launched is more economical.
Besides what bombers does the UK have which have the range to reach Russia or any nation from homesoil????Both the EF-Typhoon & Tornado would need lots of aerial refuelling for that.
By the end of the Century Britain will be a majority-Muslim nation. Do we want the Ayatollah Londoni, the head of the Islamic Republic of Britain to have an independent nuclear force come then?
Well,the V-series hit the muesum long time ago.About Jaguars,the RAF is already cutting it's fleet of such jets & If im not mistaken,all of them would be axed by 2010.They are good low level attack jets,with decent range,but will be shredded in aerial combat.The Israelis never operated Jags-the article you are referring to is about Israel upgrading India's fleet.If one were to go only by what is written on paper,India's Jags are probably the most sophisticated of the type in the world,but even those won't have role beyond hitting Pakistani armour formations or Chinese bases in Tibet.
The UK does have a few options though.It can develop a N-variant of it's Storm Shadow cruise missile,which will give enhanced teeth to any carrier like the F-35 or EF-2000.The RAF is looking at an enhanced Storm Shadow,in the category of the US 'JASSM-ER',with a range of around 500 miles.
And where do you get that bizarre statistic, old bean?
(Denny Crane: "Every one should carry a gun strapped to their waist. We need more - not less guns.")