4 thoughts on “Debate – should we scrap Trident?”

  1. Posted 24/10/2018 at 15:27 | Permalink

    The Government’s procurement strategy for Trident successor is completely at odds with its latest thinking on acquisition of military equipment for the Armed Forces, specifically its policy of buying off-the-shelf.

    Whereas the Government will not come out and say so publicly, it has revised its defence procurement policy to consider buying, as its first and foremost priority, new military equipment which automatically falls in the off-the-shelf category – specifically because an off-the-shelf equipment is a fully engineered and supported technical solution which satisfies the key user requirements at no additional cost or risk to the Exchequer, that is to say, it does not require any UK-specific modifications or related development work laden with risk to be performed upon it.

    The reason why the Government has moved away from its long-standing procurement policy of buying equipment designed to a tailored technical specification requirement set by the military customer is because, it is no longer confident in the ability of its own people to identify, manage and control technical risks inherent in a starting-point for the technical solution that requires development work to be performed upon it – which has been the cause of persistent delays and cost overruns on equipment acquisition programmes for as long anyone can remember.

    This shameful situation has come about because it does not possess the capability in the form of intelligent and experienced procurement officials who have an adequate understanding of what it takes (in terms of skill types, funding, tools, processes, materials, scheduled work plan, inter-business contractual agreements etc.) to advance an immature technical solution from its existing condition, to a point where it will satisfy the technical specification requirement, within a Private Sector setting driven by the profit motive and people who instinctively employ unethical business practices. Consequently, they are not able to establish what the true status of the evolving technical solution is, based upon claims made by Contractors. The harsh truth is that, these people have no business acumen at all – on account of not having spent a single day of their lives in the Private Sector, which means that they have no idea what it is like to ‘feel the heat’ of competitive market forces.

    Nor is the existing defence procurement process (which has evolved over the years) conducive towards delivering equipment to the Armed Forces which is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life, because it has been tampered with by Defence Contractors (most notably the Select Few) who have skewed it decisively in their favour, at every turn.

    The Government’s considered assessment is that it is unlikely to accumulate an in-house capability of the desired quality and numbers anytime soon, certainly not in the foreseeable future. It has also been realistic and concluded that it is nigh on impossible to reconstitute the existing, flawed procurement process alongside the tough 2015 Spending Review commitments further complicated by Brexit, the effort on which has commandeered the brightest people in Whitehall and made the task of balancing the MoD’s finances even more difficult – hence its preference for the off-the-shelf option.

    Ironically, one of the most spectacular benefits to be derived from buying off-the-shelf equipment is that the leadership at MoD will be absolved from its burdensome responsibility of having to upskill its existing procurement staff to a level comparable with that exhibited by counterparts in industry, because this type of acquisition is relatively straightforward, and can even be undertaken by mediocre post holders with no business sense – not least, because it is devoid of any hidden financial, technical or schedule risks.

    If anyone has any doubt about the determination of this Government to press ahead with considering the off-the-shelf solution as its first option, then they should look no further than its decision to buy the standard Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to plug the capability gap left behind by the cancellation of Nimrod MRA4. Settling on the choice of the P-8A means that these aircraft cannot be refuelled in-flight by the RAF’s Voyager tanker planes to extend their range and endurance on-station, because the former are fitted with the flying-boom receptacle whereas the latter are equipped with the probe-and-drogue system – making them entirely incompatible. The Government has taken a lot of flak from informed commentators and endured negative publicity in the press and media for this serious operational deficiency – nevertheless, it has decided to go ahead with the purchase.

    In addition to the three off-the-shelf purchases which are currently under way – namely, the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, the Apache AH-64E attack helicopter and MQ-9B Protector (Certifiable Predator B) armed drones that can be operated in UK civilian airspace – the Government has confirmed its decision to re-join the multi-role, Boxer armoured vehicle programme with a view to fulfilling its Mechanised Infantry Vehicle capability requirement and also down-selected the E-7 Wedgetail to satisfy its airborne early warning aircraft requirement, based upon a market survey and comparative analysis of existing, in-service platforms.

    Many people will know that the Trident nuclear capability comprises the submarines with their associated mission equipment and life-support systems, the missiles that serve as the delivery vehicles and the nuclear warhead fitted on top of the missiles.

    Given that the UK leases the Trident missiles from the US, which also builds and maintains them, why not procure all four Trident submarines off-the-shelf from the Americans too? While they are at it, the Government could even try to buy the nuclear warheads directly from the US, instead of designing and manufacturing them separately, at its dedicated facility at AWE Aldermaston.

    In so doing, the Government will get a much reduced price for Trident successor due to the triggering of the market-based mechanism of economies of scale – as the UK’s order will be added to that of the US.

    It makes sense. In fact, it is common sense because the very considerable financial risks will also be dealt with and consequently, taxpayers will get better value for money.

  2. Posted 24/10/2018 at 17:47 | Permalink

    The only numbers we have to go on, 40bn over a service life of 30 years, puts the price at 0.15% of uk govt expenditure per year, on 2018 spending.

    Small change in exchange for -absolute- territorial security.

  3. Posted 25/10/2018 at 11:09 | Permalink

    The weakness in Julian Jessop’s argument, I feel, is that once you scrap Trident it will be near-impossible to ‘unscrap’ it (or at least it would take around 10-15 years or more once we have decommissioned not just the submarines and warheads but the capability to build them, so it is not comparable with building stockpiles of other weapons), so we would need to be confident that the situation would never change. Can we really see that far into the future?
    Trident only represents something like 6% of the defence budget which itself is only 2% of GDP.

  4. Posted 01/11/2018 at 04:45 | Permalink

    “Small change in exchange for -absolute- territorial security.”

    There’s no such thing as absolute territorial security. How would Trident save us from the much more likely and deadly threat of terrorists with a nuclear device?
    As a former soldier and cold warrior myself I was once an ardent advocate of the MAD(no pun intended) theory of defence. I have however been much persuaded by the writings of the late Enoch Powell on this one. We assume that our adversaries will be rational players but that may well not be the case.
    Are we really prepared to annihilate the civilian population of a rogue state in what would ultimately be an act of vengeance rather than self defence? If we are attacked by a nuclear strike, deterrence has in fact failed.
    Not to mention the fact that by the time we finish the replacement of the submarines…they could be obsolete.
    I think a serious rethink on this is needed and as a libertarian I find it almost impossible to justify spending taxpayer’s money on it.

    How about getting those who agree with Trident to subscribe and pay for it?

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