The United Kingdom on Tuesday delivered about $550 million in deals to draft the design of a next-generation ballistic missile submarine, Reuters reported (see GSN, May 21).
The nuclear-armed vessels would be intended to replace four Vanguard-class submarines slated for retirement beginning in the 2020s. The government is not anticipated to formally decide on pursuing the effort -- projected to cost as much as $31.5 billion -- until after national elections in 2015.
Contracts issued on Tuesday would provide more than $517 million to a branch of military contractor BAE Systems, close to $24 million to Babcock and $6.3 million to Rolls Royce.
"It's without commitment in theory, but of course it is with commitment in practice. We wouldn't be spending this kind of money on design if it didn't look as if it was going to go forward," said Eric Grove, who heads the University of Salford's Center for International Security and War Studies.
The Conservative Party, which leads the British coalition government, has appeared to support full replacement of today's deterrent force. That stance has been criticized by nuclear disarmament advocates and members of the junior coalition partner Liberal Democrats, who say the existing arsenal does not reflect the present threats facing the nation.
"It is unthinkable today that Britain would contemplate the destruction of the heavily populated capital of Russia -- or of any other city," one-time Liberal Democrats chief Menzies Campbell stated in a Financial Times commentary.
"It is no longer enough to plan as if the Cold War had never ended and mutually assured destruction, or a variant of it, were still necessary," Campbell wrote, urging the nation to keep a smaller nuclear deterrent than exists today.
An assessment of options other than a one-for-one replacement of the vessels that carry Trident nuclear-tipped missiles is due in 2012 from Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey of the Liberal Democrats, Reuters reported.
London risks losing prominence on the international stage if it accepts some lower-level nuclear force, according to some issue experts. Certain observers also note tensions between Moscow and London in the last few years, and the re-emergence of Vladimir Putin as Russian president, as reasons for maintaining the existing British deterrence level (Abbas/Jones, Reuters/Trust.org, May 22).
The United Kingdom on Tuesday delivered about $550 million in deals to draft the design of a next-generation ballistic missile submarine, Reuters reported.