Can the UK afford both Trident and adequate conventional forces

November 2014. In an article written for the authoritative journal The Naval Review Commander Robert Green RN quotes from the Global Security Newswire, 1 May 2013  "US officials have suggested that the UK government consider abandoning replacement, because "either they can be a nuclear power and nothing else, or a real military partner".

The 2015 SDSR  estimated that the replacement programme would be £31Bn. To this you have to add £5Bn approx for the  disposal of the present 4 submarines and about £3Bn/year for what is expected to be the system's 30 year lifetime. The submarine operating base at Faslane will also require additional facilities/improvements in the order of £10Bn.

The total cost is therefore conservatively estimated to be in the order of £135Bn upwards. In consequence “Trident is likely to take up between a third and a half of the entire defence procurement budget for the 2020s.” - Independent Newspaper 23 January 2016.

The consequential effect of running existing 4 Vanguard class submarines and investing in preparations for their replacement is that all 3 services have taken massive cuts in capability to the extent that the UK is no longer capable of defending its own national shores or launching a full scale Operation/Sea-borne Task Force without the participation of NATO forces.

In naval terms the effect has been that we only possess 13 Anti-Submarine (ASW) Frigates and 7 Submarines which are insufficient to meet today's commitments never mind providing ASW defence of the new carriers when they arrive. If a state of hostilities developed there is no capacity for attrition. On 7 June 2016 Admirals Lord West and  Sir mrk Stanhope - both ex 1st sea Lords - told the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee

2015. Statement by Lord Hever to Defence Committee " In determining Fleet sizes no specific provision is made for the possible loss of ships on war fighting operations"

Defence Committee response: " This answer implies that the planning assumption is for zero per cent attrition..."

So the sinking of just one or two ships or submarines, bearing in mind that a proportion will already be out of action for refit/repair, would be catastrophic. All 6 of our T45 destroyers regularly break down (insufficient electric power) and our 2 new carriers have a similar power train.

The lessons of WWII and military operations ever since are that numbers count. The UK Armed Forces are just too small.

In 1977/78 Admiral Sir John (Sandy) Woodward, then serving as a Captain and Head of Naval Plans, wrote a paper in response to the Nott Defence Review which proposed large cuts to the military to offset the forthcoming costs of Trident replacing the Polaris submarines. He recommended against Trident because he said it would threaten the future of the Royal Navy as a balanced useful force. It is ironic that he became Task Force Commander to recover The Falklands - an action which put the Nott review in a bottom drawer pro tem. However, he has now been proved right. The Trident programme has tilted the UK towards being massively over dependent on nuclear weapons and incapable of mounting a robust defence of our own shores with existing conventional forces. Present MOD procurement policy for numbers of ships does not allow for any losses due to enemy action or major defects. At the time of writing (March 2016) all 6 Type 45 Destroyers have major power overload problems that render them literally 'powerless' from time to time*. The fix is not scheduled to begin until 2019. The new carriers share the same power train technology and come into service (we hope!) before 2019. Will they be similarly vulnerable? These are the sort of cost saving penalties that Adm Woodward foresaw would unbalance the navy.

* 7 June 2016 Defence Select Committee. Admirals Lord West and Mark Stanhope (both former 1st Sea Lords) told the committee that delays to the orderings of the Type 26 Frigate and rectification of serious defects affecting operational availability of the T45 Destroyers meant that the navy could not meet all its peace time operational commitments - so what hope is there in being able to do so in a war situation?

November 2015 In conversation with Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning BBC TV show, the Chief of Defence Staff (Sir Nick Houghton) was asked if the UK could afford Trident and maintain sufficient conventional forces. CDS replied that we were in balance because of the contribution of NATO conventional forces.

April 2016 In a press interview post an Anglo/French military exercise, The Secretary of State for Defence ( Rt Hon Michael Fallon) stated clearly and unambiguously that 'never again would the UK fight a war on its own'.

These two statements confirm previously unspoken Government policy that we no longer plan to be able to defend ourselves solely with our own forces: we just do not have the ships or men to do so. The Government perhaps thinks a conventional military attack on UK is so remote as not to need self defence capability but if it were to happen - and it is just as likely or more so than a nuclear attack -and our allies failed to respond and so our military inadequacy became a problem, then the prospect of only having Trident left in our armoury would raise the prospect of national suicide in a nuclear holocaust that would take in Europe.

Because the likelihood of a nuclear attack is even more remote than a conventional one and because we are an island nation with significant dependence on sea trade, I suggest we would be safer if we gave up the not likely to be used Trident successor and invested in more likely to be used conventional forces i.e more ships and a bigger well equipped army.

A down stream effect of this is that UK is trying to do too much with too few ships and crew. In consequence morale is now so bad in the navy it has led to such a shortage of crews that keeping submarines at sea and manning up the new carriers is a very severe problem and exacerbates the downward spiral.

September 2018 A British American Security Council Report Blowing up the Budget identifies the spiraling costs of the Dreadnought Programme and concludes that further cuts to Conventional Forces will be needed or a complete rethink on the nuclear deterrent.