Dueling Trident Replacements
Just thought I would add to the discussion on the impending Trident replacements for the UK and USA, since ironically, both nations are facing the impending decision to replace their respective deterrents at sea, including concerns over the massive costs.
The Next Vanguard
First, with Britain, there is a need to replace the 4-Vanguard class subs built in the 1980s and 1990s. The price for the replacements is estimated £20 billion or about $30 billion USD. If purchased there will likely only be 3 vessels as things now stand. Proposals are that a stretched version of the current Astute attack submarine would be a possible candidate.
Recently the Guardian paper revealed plans for the possible combining of the French and British deterrents to reduce costs. I think this idea has merit, considering the obvious reluctance to use such weapons since they have been developed, there would be little risk involved. In other words, here is a very important weapon but one with only a slight risk in ever being used, so I think that it should be considered. But some, like Gwynne Dyer writing in Gulf News Daily, aren’t convinced:
Let’s suppose that it’s a British submarine out on patrol, and some evil country strikes France with nuclear weapons, eliminating all of France’s boomers in port. Does the British submarine retaliate with its own nuclear weapons, knowing that to do so means that Britain may also be attacked by nuclear weapons?
If I were French, I wouldn’t trust British promises about this. And if I were running the evil country in question, I would likewise doubt that Britain would really retaliate against me on France’s behalf, knowing that I might then hit British cities too. So deterrence fails, and all that money is wasted.
He’s makes a good case, but again, when would this ever happen? Especially considering the possibility of nuclear war being so remote as he concedes– “However, the Cold War ended almost 20 years ago. No great power lives in fear of an attack from any other” So isn’t the same idea that nation states must keep these weapons from the Cold War to ensure their sovereignty an equal relic of the past? But cooperation, which has been the norm for defense of late, is the future.
The Ohio Replacement
Proposals have been for a stretched Virginia class. These would be a class of 14 and I assume carrying the same number of 24 missiles as the older Ohio. The Navy has estimated each vessel would price $4 billion each but likely it will be closer to $7 billion, considering the Pentagon’s habit of drastically underestimating costs.
As with the British, there are few funds available in the US defense budget for a program reaching $100 billion total including development funds. The first half-billion is already in the 2010 defense budget. Before Congress, Defense Secretary Gates had this to say, according to Navy Times:
Gates said Navy plans to pursue a new ballistic missile submarine in a few years will “suck all of the air out of the shipbuilding budget.” He said Congress “faces a huge challenge at the end of this decade” in deciding whether to inflate the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget to accommodate the new SSBN program and maintain the current surface ship and submarine plan.
Several subcommittee members said the White House, Navy and Office of Secretary of Defense share responsibility for budget planning. Some questioned why the Pentagon is not already planning for this looming expense.
The Navy doesn’t want to foot the bill for these essential vessels, since it will cut deep into their already sparse shipbuilding resources. Personally I think the savings are there but the admirals are unwilling to budge on their many high ticket items, even though they are so much over-kill in the age of insurgency. But perhaps we can put the lessons we have learned since 9/11 to use to save the nuclear deterrent at sea.
Consider for a moment that the primary weapon for fighting COIN on land has not been huge fleets of ships and planes, or powerful tank divisions, but something more tactical and focused. For instance, light teams of soldier sent into the cities and villages, the “smaller footprint” has been very adept at breaking of insurgent terrorist networks. Likewise instead of massive carpet bombing reminding us of the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, we have precision strikes by individual drones like the Predator UAV.
About the time the US is retiring her nuclear Tomahawk cruise missiles from service, they might be the ideal weapon for a new era of warfare. Tomahawk missiles already fit on attack submarines without major adaptation and the British boats carry them too. It seems that for a Trident replacement, these off the shelf weapons would be ideal especially since their 1000 mile range is “enough to reach 96 per cent of the planet’s populated areas from the sea.”
Imagine then an attack submarine which is always on patrol, that can respond instantly to an Iranian missile launch against the West by targeting another Iranian city or military base, no massive retaliation required. In other words, the Tactical nukes would be more flexible to respond to the varying scenarios brought on by the Fall of the Iron Curtain. JCS vice chairman Gen. James E. Cartwright preceded this idea last year with the following statement:
U.S. defense planners are now seeking “to tailor our deterrence for the types of actors that were not present during the Cold War but are going to be present in the future.”
Because they will be deployed on more numerous attack submarines, they would also be more survivable, with each boat having a secondary nuclear counter-strike mission. The return of nuclear cruise missiles then becomes more affordable and more logical for a changing era of warfare. Britain could keep her independent deterrent, and the US Navy her Fleet.