Quotulatiousness

September 16, 2010

Army, RN, RAF, and Trident replacement: pick any three

Filed under: Britain, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:03

The British coalition government has declared that they will retain the nuclear option (that is, buy replacements for their current Trident submarines), but still seem to think that you can take £20bn from the Defence budget (in addition to the 10-20% savings you’re already demanding be made) and still have three viable services. Perhaps it’s a strange form of new math:

The £20bn replacement of the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent could be put off until after 2015, according to reports.

The BBC said ministers were considering delaying the planned 2014 date in an effort to reduce short-term costs and head off a pre-general election political row.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said no decisions had yet been taken on the future of the submarine-based missile system, which is currently the subject of a value-for-money review.

It has been formally excluded from the ongoing strategic defence and security review (SDSR) but the Treasury has made clear the under-pressure MoD budget will have to pay for it. An influential committee of MPs yesterday warned that that decision would have very significant consequences for future defence spending.

Just as the coalition took office, it was mentioned that the previous Labour government had committed to spend £37bn on various new weapon systems, but had not actually provided the funding to make those purchases. Add a Trident replacement bill on top of that and there is no way to successfully pay the bills out of the current military budget.

There are always economies that can be made in military spending: it’s not unreasonable to assume that savings of 10% can be found in any military force. 20% is pushing the envelope too much unless a scaling-back of commitment is also part of the reduction. 20% cuts, no reduction in tasks, and the Trident replacements (even if you reduce the fleet from four to three) can’t be done.

Update: Lewis Page thinks the Trident replacement is essential:

Proper new Trident, with submarine-launched ballistic nukes, is the right call for the UK. Its cost is tiny compared to UK government spending — just half of a single year’s Department for Work and Pensions budget would buy new Trident boats, arm them, crew them and cover their running costs for decades.

Compared to the MoD’s much smaller budget the costs look bigger, but they are still small — and ICBM submarines represent far and away the best value for money in the MoD. For perhaps £20bn to £30bn in acquisition costs you get an unstoppable, unfindable nuclear hammer capable of shattering a nation in an afternoon. When one reflects that we have spent the same money to get the Eurofighter — a wildly expensive and now rather oldfashioned pure air-to-air platform — new Trident looks like a steal.

One major reason that the Eurofighter is such poor value for money, of course, has been repeated delay so as to achieve short-term savings in the past. This is also true of nearly every other procurement project in the MoD: cumulatively, past politicians failing to grasp nettles are now costing us billions every year. It has to stop, and stop now — as a taxpayer, quite frankly I don’t see why I should pay still more billions down the road just to keep Mr Cameron in Downing Street and Mr Clegg in the Cabinet today.

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