So Brown has told the UN that the UK nuclear deterrent force can be reduced from four hulls to three, yet still maintain the Continuous At Sea Deterrence capability, on Politics.co.uk and elsewhere. This isn’t a new suggestion, it was part of the discussion when Blair announced a commitment to maintaining the deterrent, it didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make sense now.
I see it as an empty statement from the international non-proliferation perspective, and threatens the viability of the future deterrent flotilla.
I don’t intend to discuss threat, or alternative delivery mechanisms here. The former is a topic in it’s own right, the latter not really on the table given the speech from Brown.
The core of CASD is built on the “Continuous” aspect, the ability to sustain one hull on patrol on a round the clock basis. I’m not convinced that three available hulls gives enough resilience to achieve that.
The current patrol cycle involves alongside maintenance, whole boat training & work up, deployment. In theory one boat in each stage makes sense but there is no contingency for extended or deep maintenance, defects or delays. The only way to provide that is the fourth hull, there is no partial solution. Bring manpower challenges into the equation and the additional crew helps that. There is scope for the fourth hull to be part crewed, managing the whole manpower pool on a flotilla basis.
Without continuity the argument for maintaining a capability is weakened, and in our current financial environment that makes it vulnerable. Not that it would save much in the grand scheme of things. An important feature of CASD is that it is there, it is available and deploying it during an escalation doesn’t contribute to the increased tension. so a capability that isn’t at sea all the time becomes even less useful as it merely adds to the complexity of international relations.
So in a couple of years time our Prime Minister, whoever it is, can make a grand gesture on the world stage and remove us from the nuclear club.
I’m undecided on the need for the deterrent, but would prefer that the decision to stick with it, or remove it was made openly and honestly, not sneaked in under the radar. Yet another indicator that our current PM doesn’t take the defence of the state seriously.