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Trident: The Whose, Whats And How Much

Trident_missile_launch MAIN

Trident is our nuclear weapons system, and with the renewal of the programme coming up, Barker thought this would be a good time to let people know what it is and how much it’s costing us. 

What Is It?

The Trident Nuclear Programme is the UK’s nuclear weapon system. It was first launched in 1994 to replace our previous submarine-launched nuclear weapons program, Polaris.

Trident consists of four Vanguard-class submarines that carry up to eight Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles and 40 nuclear warheads.

Two of the four submarines are in port at HMNB Clyde in Scotland or on a training exercise, another is usually undergoing maintenance and the fourth submarine is always in the water, armed and ready to fire. Each missile is 13-metres long, armed with up to eight nuclear warheads (eight times more powerful than the atom bomb), can hit a city 7,000 miles away and travel at speeds up to 13,000 miles an hour.

Each submarine carries a sealed ‘letter of last resort’ locked in a safe, if the government is destroyed and communication is lost to the PM, the commanding officer of a submarine must follow the instructions in the letter and assume the UK has suffered an overwhelming attack.

Why Should Any Of Us Care?

I think Trident is an important issue that everyone should be aware of. Trident is our nuclear weapons system and our last defence if the country goes tits up, a final act of revenge upon whoever launches theirs first. We’re basically playing a waiting game, with the final prize being the world turned into an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland (‘Fallout’ anyone?). As well as it being the end of the world if one of those missiles gets launched, it’s also really bloody expensive. As our nuclear naval base is located in Gare Loch, Scotland, Scottish taxpayers are parting with £163 million a year towards the running of trident, which will go up by £84 million a year with the new proposed renewal, something they’re seriously not happy with.

Who Supports It?

Conservatives: British PM Theresa May said it would be ‘sheer madness’ to give up the UK’s nuclear weapons. She also stated that renewing Trident would show that Britain was ‘committed’ to working with NATO allies after voting for Brexit.

Labour: The majority of the Labour party backs the renewal and maintenance of Trident, although they face disagreement from the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who proposing a nuclear-free submarine missile system.

The SNP: In July 2016, 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs voted against the decision to renew the Trident nuclear weapon system. Scotland are angry that nuclear weapons have been based there for almost half a century whilst the UK government continues to cut defence personal by up to 18.7% reduction in the past 6 years.

The Lib Dems: Lib Dems have always been sceptical when discussing Trident and insisted on a ‘value for money review. They support a reduction in our nuclear weapons system, insisting a smaller system be designed to provide a ‘minimal yet credible deterrent.’

How Much Does It Cost?

Now that the UK has voted to renew the Trident system, work has gone ahead in preparing for the refurbishment of the system. CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) puts the total cost of replacing trident at around £205 billion, let’s break down where that money is going:

The current submarines were designed to last up to 40 years, after which they would be replaced, repaired or decommissioned. Replacing them with new ‘Dreadnought’ subs is expected to cost £31 billion.

£10 billion to be put aside in a contingency fund in case of overspending. Extending the lifespan of the current missiles into around 2060 will cost around £250 million (as of 2009 they cost £16.8 million each to build). Decommissioning the Vanguard submarines would cost £13 billion and then replacing the warheads is estimated at £4 billion.

£142 billion will be paid out in service costs (maintaining trident) which would amount to 6% of our yearly defence budget. Plus, an added £5 billion in infrastructure capital costs and military forces assigned to support the weapon system.

That’s a lot of money we’re spending on something that we’ll hopefully never have to use, but if we are gunna end the world, better to do it with a £60 million missile.

What else could we spend the money on?

Let’s take £100 billion of the predicted £205 billion price tag, with this money we could:

  • Scrap student tuition fees for four million students.
  • Employ 150,000 new nurses and teachers every year for over 30 years
  • FULLY fund all A&E services in hospitals for over 40 years
  • Build 1.5 million affordable homes

Or with the current spending of £3bn per year on nuclear weapons we could:

  • Build 30,000 new homes every year, which would create 60,000 new jobs in construction.
  • Quadruple our annual investment in renewable energy

Do We Need It?

Forgetting all facts and figures, this comes down to personal opinion.

Nuclear weapons have only been used twice in history. One was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and the other was detonated over Nagasaki, three days apart towards the end of the second world war. These two bombs killed an estimated 120,000 innocent civilians combined. These two bombs were dropped by the US and have often been referred to as a war crime and democide, furthering the campaign to rid the planet of nuclear weapons.

Many say it would be reckless to abandon Britain’s nuclear program and that it puts us at risk if there was ever a nuclear attack, but then again, if there was a nuclear attack on our country, wouldn’t we all be dead anyway? When it comes down to it, it’s a catch 22. We use Trident as a deterrent, a threat to other countries that we hold power and will use it. Jeremey Corbyn has publicly said he would never use nuclear weapons, which defeats the object of having them. Bernard Brodie, a military strategist, wrote in 1959, ‘A credible nuclear deterrent must be always at the ready, yet never used’.

Many political and military figures have also been vocal about their stance on nuclear weapons, former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo described trident as ‘completely passed its sell-by date’. Former head of the British Armed Forces, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, was quoted as saying ‘Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face’.

Final Thoughts

I’m in two minds about Trident:

On one hand I think it’s a complete waste of money, on the other I’m wondering if it’s the reason North Korea haven’t had a shot at us yet. Let’s face it, it’s the struggle for power, nobody wants war with a country who can decimate your entire population in one push of a button, and now with countries developing them under the radar (no names mentioned) how long before every country has access to a world ending missile?

I think the world has no needs for nuclear weapons, but I have such little faith in government that even if countries publicly declared they were decommissioning their nukes, I wouldn’t believe them. There is such little trust between nations that I’m sure there would be those who keep a couple in reserve just in case.

I guess we just play that waiting game now. I got my Stimpacks and Nuka-Cola at the ready.

Interested in politics? Check out Bristol’s Youth Council here.