Trident - who'd buy it?

Posted by Louise Edge — 28 July 2010 at 3:14pm - Comments

How The Sun saw last week's spat between Osborne and Fox © Andy Davey

Trident replacement is looking less likely today after Chancellor George Osborne told media that the Treasury weren’t willing to stump up for the project out of central funds.

Speaking in New Delhi, where he is accompanying David Cameron on his visit to India, Mr Osborne told the Bloomberg newswire: "All budgets have pressure. I don't think there's anything particularly unique about the Ministry of Defence. I have made it very clear that Trident renewal costs must be taken as part of the defence budget."

The Treasury tried to play the comments down, saying that policy hadn’t changed and this wasn’t news. But they did confirm to us that the Ministry of Defence is now expected to pay for any Trident replacement.  

So all defence secretary Liam Fox’s efforts to get Trident excluded from scrutiny by the Strategic Security and Defence Review seem to have come to nought. It may not officially be part of the review but it's hard to see how this £97bn cold war project is going to escape strong scrutiny from a military that are facing cuts to troops and kit.

As Dr Fox put it in a TV interview earlier this month, "It would be very difficult to maintain what we're currently doing in terms of capability" if the MoD was forced to meet the capital costs of building the new submarines from within its core budget.

So Dr Fox faces some difficult choices. According to The Economist the MoD faces the potential loss of:

  • whole army brigades, armoured formations and artillery units;
  • maritime surveillance aircraft, Tornado strike aircraft and Harrier jump-jets from the air force;
  • Royal Marines and amphibious landing ships from the navy.

And this was before they built in the tens of billions needed to cover the capital costs of Trident over the coming decade. If they opt to keep Trident, these already harsh cuts in conventional forces will have to be even more savage.

Today’s news follows hot on the heels of a new report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank which challenged the MoD's policy of always having at least one trident submarine on patrol at sea - suggesting it is no longer necessary in the absence of the Cold War Soviet threat.

Author Professor Malcolm Chalmers points out that this policy has not been reviewed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and that the conditions which brought it into being (ie fear of a surprise Soviet attack) no longer apply. Further, he contends that stopping constant patrols will allow government to delay spending tens of billions on new submarines, and ultimately to spend less.

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