Britain to replace Trident nuclear missile system

Friday, November 24, 2006

Britain currently deploys 4 Vanguard class submarines, each armed with 16 Trident II D-5 missiles carrying up to 12 nuclear warheads apiece.

The British Cabinet decided that Britain will retain its nuclear deterrent by replacing the Trident missile system carried on submarines, in its first meeting on the subject yesterday. The case for considering land-based and airborne systems made by former Defence Minister Geoff Hoon was rejected.

The Cabinet agreed that three or four new submarines should be built to carry the new missiles, but the number of nuclear warheads to be carried by each vessel will be decided at a later date. The existing fleet of four Vanguard class submarines, even if refitted, is due for decommissioning by 2024 at the latest. The time for design and construction is expected to be 17 years, so there is a need for an early decision. Chancellor Gordon Brown is reported as being keen to get construction started as soon as possible, in order to retain the skills of the existing workforce.

Some Cabinet Ministers thought to oppose the replacement of Trident, who worried that there might be a breach of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or who had concern that the Labour party had not been consulted sufficiently. They include Margaret Beckett and Peter Hain, who, until recently, was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Cabinet Ministers expressed themselves content to carry out consultation and have a debate in Parliament in February.

Some 200 Members of Parliament have demanded that Parliament debate alternatives. It was agreed that a white paper for this purpose would be published before Christmas and a period of consultation would follow. Parliament would be asked to vote on the Cabinet’s proposal—not to choose between alternative systems, but to support the Cabinet’s choice "in principle." Although the Government, with Conservative support, is most likely to get approval for its plan, Jack Straw, Leader of the House, has announced that the vote will be whipped.

Related news item

"Cabinet to discuss UK nuclear deterrent for the first time tomorrow" — Wikinews, November 22, 2006