The British parliament have voted to renew the Trident weapons system, replacing the Vanguard class submarines that carry the UK’s nuclear missiles.
The vote today was to decide whether to press ahead with the manufacture of the next generation of nuclear submarines, pictured above.
MPs have agreed to the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system by 472 votes to 117 after a five-hour debate.
The term ‘Trident’ is often used to cover the whole system including the nuclear missiles themselves and the means to deliver them, in this case the submarines that carry them.
‘Trident’ is an operational system of four Vanguard class submarines armed with Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, able to deliver thermonuclear warheads from multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles.
Operated by the Royal Navy and based at Clyde Naval Base on the west coast of Scotland, at least one submarine is always on patrol to provide a continuous at-sea capability. Each one is armed with up to 8 missiles and 40 warheads; their capacity is much larger.
The Successor class is the proposed replacement for the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines. They will carry Trident D-5 missiles, the vehicle for delivering the UK’s nuclear weapons.
If you wish to read more on the details of the system, we’ve written an article on the facts surrounding the system that can be found here.
There’s a great deal of variation in how much the system is expected to cost with some claiming it’ll cost the taxpayer £200 billion over the life of the system, but what is the money actually being spent on?
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, had said during the debate that it is “remarkable that two hours into the debate, we still have no idea whatsoever of what the through-life costs of Trident replacement are”.
It’s expected that the four Successor submarines and their infrastructure will cost around £15 billion initially. This can be broken down as such:
- £0.25 billion to participate in the Trident D5 missile life extension programme.
- £11 billion for a class of four new submarines.
- £2 billion for possible refurbishing of the warheads.
- £2–3 billion for infrastructure (spent over 30 years).
According to a series of statements made in Parliament by ministers of the MoD, the annual operating costs of the Trident programme will be around 5 to 6 per cent of the defence budget.
However, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Crispin Blunt has claimed that the Trident renewal will cost £179bn throughout the course of its life, Mr Blunt says this figure is based on the government’s announcements of “capital costs of £31bn with £10bn contingency” and that the programme will cost “6% of the defence budget”.
When the initial procurement costs are added on, most however estimate that the total programme cost will be an estimated £75 billion however, £60 billion of this figure is spread over the lifetime of the vessels.
One of the most common myths around the system is that the United States has control over the UK’s Trident missile system, that is not the case.
It’s often said that the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system is not ‘independent’ or that the UK doesn’t have the ability to use the system without the US agreeing to it, in reality the UK does retain full operational control over the system.
One common argument is that the US can simply ‘turn off’ the GPS system and therefore can stop the UK using Trident, this is also a myth, Trident isn’t guided by satellite.
The missile uses a kind of stellar sighting guidance system and inertial navigation to take a reading from the stars to work out the missile’s position and make any adjustments necessary. They do not require GPS.
One source for the confusion could be the fact that, aside from those currently deployed, the missiles are held in a communal pool at the US Strategic Weapons facility at King’s Bay, Georgia, USA where maintenance and in-service support of the missiles is undertaken at periodic intervals.
The missiles are jointly maintained, this is much cheaper than the UK doing it on its own and does not give the United States control over any of the weapons deployed on the submarines.