The junior party in the United Kingdom's coalition government on Tuesday adopted a policy that calls for building fewer new ballistic-missile submarines than currently planned, the BBC reported.
The Liberal Democrats -- who are meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, for their yearly party conference -- want to see a maximum of three Vanguard-class submarines built. The government's production plan, which has not yet received final approval, calls for four nuclear-armed vessels to replace an equal number of Vanguard submarines due to retire in the 2020s.
London has agreed to delay a so-called "final gate" decision on building the submarines, which would be armed with Trident ballistic missiles, until after the next general elections in 2015.
The senior governing Conservative Party supports the current estimated $30 billion "like-for-like" plan for maintaining the nation's submarine-based nuclear arsenal.
Moving to a ballistic-missile submarine fleet with fewer than four vessels would mean the United Kingdom would have to abandon its longtime defense posture of having at least one nuclear-armed vessel conducting deterrence patrols at all times.
The government this summer completed a major Liberal Democrat-led study that looked at other options for modernizing the nation's nuclear weapons. The analysis found ways other than the "like-for-like" plan of maintaining a deterrent, though those alternatives would not come cheap.
Liberal Democrat and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander managed the drafting of the study. He maintained the proposal -- to build fewer new ballistic-missile submarines and end around-the-clock deterrence patrols -- would result in major movement toward the goal of global nuclear disarmament and result in nearly $6.4 billion in taxpayer savings, the Scotsman reported.
Conservative Defense Secretary Philip Hammond was dismissive of the Liberal Democrats' new policy: "The part-time deterrent will save us only trivial sums of money, about [$80-95 million] a year in net present value terms over the life of the system," he said. "In the context of the overall defense budget that's about 0.17 percent, that's a tiny saving for a huge gamble with Britain's security."