UK’s Nuclear Power

 … by aiding the Indians, as we must, we are effectively supporting them to achieve a nuclear independence that we cannot ourselves afford

We do not yet know whether Commander Andy Coles will face a court martial for his heroic exploits aboard HMS Astute, but some disciplinary procedure seems inevitable. The poor fellow will be frogmarched down a holystoned Admiralty corridor until he stands before a bench of grizzled sea-dogs, champing their pipes and gazing with pitiless gunmetal eyes as they spit out their staccato questions.

How the devil, they will want to know, did he manage to ground Astute (magnificently named, eh?) off the Isle of Skye, a stretch of water hardly unknown to the Royal Navy. “Coles,” they will growl, “you have held us up to ridicule. We have spent billions devising a state-of-the-art stealth submarine, and you have contrived to reveal its secrets to the Russians, the Chinese and to every dinghy of chortling rubberneckers that went out to look. What have you got to say for yourself, hey?”

Since I have an instinctive sympathy for Coles and his predicament, I hope he will come up with something good. Perhaps he will reveal that he was locked in the privy at the critical moment. Perhaps he had just heard of Wayne Rooney’s new salary for Man U, and fell swooning on to the galley floor. But if I were advising Cdr Coles, the key point I would urge him to get across is that steering these colossal bits of Britain’s nuclear defence can be trickier than you think; which brings us to Trident, and the recent row over whether or not to replace our prize nuclear marrow.

I have to say that I have let my imagination roam, and approached the question without ideological preconceptions. Perhaps we could save money, and deter aggression, by doing a kind of Saddam Hussein – allowing the world (and above all the Americans) to think we have weapons of mass destruction when in fact we have none. We could invest in a cheap collection of ultra-realistic inflatable missiles and inflatable submarines to pose as our strategic nuclear response. The trouble is that someone like Cdr Coles would almost certainly pop them accidentally (Commander, you have let me down, you have let yourself down, you have let the whole submarine down) and so I have concluded that we have no option but to remain a fully-fledged nuclear power.

We can’t be bullied. We can’t let the word get around that we are a soft touch. I don’t want this country to be blackmailed by France – which has 300 warheads – let alone by Iran. If we want to deter aggression, if we want to remain members of the UN Security Council, if we want to speak up powerfully for all that is good and right in the comity of nations – and if we want people to take us seriously – then I am afraid it is a sad necessity that we continue to wield a nuclear club. But we should be under absolutely no illusions that this is in any sense an independent deterrent. When we eventually renew Trident, in whatever form, we will be spending tens of billions on machinery and technology that is American in virtually every respect. The warhead is a copy of the US W76 warhead. The arming, fusing and firing systems are designed by the American Sandia lab and procured from the States. The neutron generator is manufactured in the US and acquired off the shelf. The gas reservoir is made in America and even filled up in America.

The Mark 6 guidance system is designed and made by Charles Stark Draper labs in the US and the fire-control hardware is made by General Dynamics; and it is not just that the kit is made in America. These firecrackers are repaired in America, and when the Trident missiles need maintenance they are taken to a base in Georgia. In so far as the warheads are still officially manufactured in Aldermaston, you should bear in mind that this is done under contract to Lockheed Martin, and in so far as the subs are taken for repairs in Devonport, the operation is partly contracted out to Halliburton.

But what makes our so-called independent deterrent a complete fiction is above all the guidance system. As Cdr Coles discovered, you have to know where your submarine is at the moment you fire the rocket. The position of the Trident sub is determined by using GPS and the electrostatically supported giro navigation system – and both of those are controlled by America.

Suppose we wanted to launch our independent ballistic missile. The submarine has nosed into the right place – the Persian Gulf, off Dieppe, wherever. David Cameron is in his bunker in Chequers. All options having been exhausted, the ashen-faced Prime Minister reaches trembling for the red button – and then suddenly the whole thing goes blank. “So-rree!” says the Pentagon. “Change of plan, guys!”

Trident is wholly dependent on American satellites; which makes it all the more suggestive and paradoxical that we are at once cutting defence and increasing our aid budget. Don’t get me wrong. I am completely in favour of the DFID projects in India – tackling poverty, illiteracy and disease; and I completely understand that aid and trade go together, and that we want to build the closest possible relationship with this great nation and nascent superpower. And it is of course true that even if we chopped the whole overseas aid budget, we still could not afford to build our own independent nuclear deterrent.

But I cannot help noticing that India is not only a nuclear power, but that it also has its own space industry. Like Russia, like China, like America, like France, the Indians can use their own satellites to guide their own missiles. It is a melancholy reflection of our changed status in the world that by aiding the Indians, as we must, we are effectively supporting them to achieve a nuclear independence that we cannot ourselves afford. If you don’t invest in your own satellites, you end up as a satellite power – which is effectively what we are; and the best that can be said for the position is that it may be undignified, but it saves us a fortune.

16 thoughts on “UK’s Nuclear Power”

  1. Let’s go back six months. Who would you prefer to trust with nuclear weapons – the Pentagon, or Bungling Bob Ainsworth?

    It’s not any easy question to answer, is it?

  2. Tiresias, I not sure that I have much confidence in Dr Fox either. Here is a Secretary of State,entrusted with the Defencle of the Realm, who has proven incapable of safely delivering a simple letter to his boss, who lives at the best-known address in the land.
    On the other hand, I may be misjudging Dr Fox: perhaps the ‘intercepted’ letter was a clever ploy to ensure that funds were made available to ensure that his department could take charge of two very, very expensive aircraft carriers.
    Many years from now.
    And without aircraft.

  3. The Indians don’t need any outside help to build their nuclear WOMD. If every one of them eat a vindaloo at the same time, they sure can blow out the whole world.

  4. Pingback: World Spinner
  5. Hot and spicy Vindaloo, spicy Onion Bhaji, spicy Samosa… all deadly weapons of mass destruction to mankind. Hehehe!!!!

  6. To make matters worse, the rogue state of Dyslexia has developed its first unclear weapon.

  7. London mayor joins opposition to Osborne’s housing benefit cap and vows to help poor remain in capital.

    Is he willing to donate any of his mayoral income, inherited wealth or £250,000 he receives from the Daily Telegraph each year?

  8. Boris Johnson backs down over ‘Kosovo’ comments on housing benefitMayor of London claims he was quoted out of context after adding voice to growing cross-party concern about changes predicted to force poorer people out of inner cities.

    Boris Johnson has a history of backing down when the going gets tough.


    A fairer pension system with less red tape and the same payment for all is planned by the government. The scheme would give every pensioner around £140 a week – £40 more than the current basic state pension of £97.65 a week.

    The scheme would see Pension Credits axed, an army of pen-pushers axed and an end to a system that traps millions of pensioners in poverty.

    Very good idea indeed! And in keeping with Boris’s Blow-Out topic, folk: Hopefully from now on our grumpy OAPs can afford to treat themselves to a slap-up meal at some Curry House and have a real blow-out on us! Hehehe!!!

    Oh and have you noticed, folk, now you can get Brussel sprouts ( frozen ones ) from supermarkets all year round?!

    No need to stuff yourself silly with sprouts at Xmas time eh? “Bang!” “Bang!” “Bang!” all year round, hehehe!!!

  10. On Subs:

    Everyone knows we’ve been building these Boris and everyone knows our subs spend a lot of time on the west coast of Scotland. Apart from 90% of the British public that is, so a cynic would suggest a useful bit of PR on the back of the news that Harriers are going. Who needs Harriers when you’ve got stealth subs with Tomahawks and torpedos?

    On housing benefit:

    I’ve never even earned £400 a week after tax and NI, so why it should go to someone in housing benefit is beyond me. I hope DC does ‘cleanse’ central London of welfare junkies, rent their flats out at proper rents or sell the land for taller buildings and build new social housing for the workshy on the green belt. Would sort the fiscal deficit out in no time (or at least make a start).

  11. Tadly, the Mayor did not back down in any way. If you have read the link I gave above setting out the details of what Boris said in the interview with Vanessa, he is adamant from the start that he is in favour of housing benefit reform. He also speaks up for David Cameron.

    The Mayor’s position is that he is in favour of measures that prevent people from milking the system, but he strongly believes the vulnerable in our society should be protected, therefore the cuts should not be applied across the board.

    Boris said:
    “My consistent position has been that the Government is absolutely right to reform the housing benefit system which has become completely unsustainable.

    “The point I was making this morning is that London has specific needs due to the exceptional way in which the housing market works in the capital and it is my job as Mayor to make the Government aware of these.”

    I listened to every word in the interview between Boris and Vanessa on her show, and it was a great interview. While acknowledging the fairness of attacking the exploitation of the housing benefit system, Boris very powerfully reassured the fears of vulnerable Londoners, terrified they might lose their homes.

    I cannot understand why Boris is receiving such flak when he was only doing his job, and doing it brilliantly.

  12. On arriving at this website, I was met by an advert for 4×4 cars (SUVs).

    We know Boris Johnson’s support for cycling is fairly soppy, as he also drives a people carrier when it suits him.

  13. I was saying five years ago when I started blogging that we should cosy up with India and strengthen ties with Australia and Canada.

    The future in defence is one of declining clout if we do not form some sort of alliance and as you say our deterrent is not independent, our leaders must obtain permission from the American President before they could use it.

    Apart from that India has become a leader in nuclear technology and I have heard they are considerably closer than anyone else in finding a way to neutralise nuclear waste. As the future for energy increasingly looks to be nuclear collaboration with India is the right way to to again.

    We can forget the folks across the pond, next week Obama will be a lame duck and after another two years of him America will be a dead duck.

Comments are closed.