Trident Replacement will have 4 subs not 3, says minister
Friday, 27 March 2009

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today reacted with disappointment to a ministerial speech which appeared to confirm for the first time that the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system will consist of four submarines, rather than a fleet of three – which has previously been suggested as an option by ministers. A move to three boats would have saved several billion pounds on construction, and many more over the lifetime of the system.

Speaking at the end of a House of Lords debate, Foreign Office minister Mark Malloch-Brown stated: “It would not be possible to reduce the number of submarines in service from four to three, because that would not allow us constant coverage at sea.”

Uncertainty over the number of submarines was the major reason why MoD cost estimates ranged from £15-20bn for construction. This decision will push the price towards the top end of the range. CND estimates construction costs of at least £25bn and total lifetime costs at £76bn.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “Gordon Brown has been talking the talk on nuclear disarmament, but when it comes to action there is little of substance. Keeping a four boat fleet will mean Britain has the same number of nuclear subs for the next thirty years as we did at the height of the Cold War. Cutting back the fleet to three would have saved billions of pounds that the country can ill afford to waste as well as sending a powerful signal that Britain was serious about kickstarting global disarmament talks.”

She continued, “When Trident Replacement was first proposed, ministers promised to give MPs regular updates. Not only have they failed to give a single report in almost two years, but the MoD plans to sneak out the major ‘initial gate’ report during the summer recess, despite the protests of 117 MPs from all parties.  It is a disgrace that massive decisions, like the number of submarines, are being slipped out in the summation of House of Lords debates, where there is no chance for scrutiny or questioning. The Defence Secretary must give a full update to MPs as soon as possible.”

Defence officials had previously suggested that improvements in the reliability of the new submarines might allow the continuous patrols to continue with only three boats. Disarmament campaigners have noted that if the Government were to retain the system but end the policy of continuous patrols, the current fleet would last many years longer and fewer replacement boats would be required.