Magazine article Arms Control Today

UK Auditor Criticizes Trident Renewal Plan

Magazine article Arms Control Today

UK Auditor Criticizes Trident Renewal Plan

Article excerpt

The United Kingdom's National Audit Office (NAO) has questioned the Ministry of Defense's ability to replace its aging Trident nuclear missile submarines before they start being retired from service in the early 2020s. In a Nov. 5 report, the NAO raised concerns over the tight schedule of the program as well as its cost, design, and management. The government stated, however, that the program is on schedule.

The Trident system in service since 1994 consists of four Vanguard-class submarines, each carrying 16 U.S.-supplied Trident D5 missiles equipped with up to three nuclear warheads. (See ,4CT, December 2005.) The submarines are due to be retired in 2024, and a minority of lawmakers had suggested several years ago that the United Kingdom did not need to rush to replace a system that would be in service for several decades. Some had argued that there was no necessity for an independent British nuclear arsenal in a post-Cold War world and asserted that building new nuclear-armed submarines would represent a lack of British commitment to the disarmament obligation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). (See ACT, April 2007.)

At the behest of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, parliament voted in 2007 to maintain the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent by replacing the submarines with a new class of submarines in 2024 and extending the life of the Trident D5 missiles. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $22-30 billion and is aimed at providing an effective and operational nuclear deterrent until the 2040s.

In a December 2006 white paper, "The Future of The United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent," the British government announced a reduction in its overall warhead stockpile by 20 percent, from fewer than 200 warheads to fewer than 160 operationally available warheads. The paper indicated that the United Kingdom has the smallest stockpile of nuclear weapons among the five NPT nuclear-weapon states, a distinction China has also claimed.

In its report, the NAO criticized the Trident replacement program for insufficient budget oversight, lack of contingency planning, and monopoly suppliers. It found that the current cost estimates do not reflect the whole-life costs for the system and do not account for any contingencies or value-added tax. The NAO also warned of insufficient oversight of the budget. It has asked the government to prepare robust estimates of the whole-life costs and the possible extension of the lives of the submarines by September 2009. …

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