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SDSR: Warhead cuts - and done deals

Tueday's government announcement on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) makes it clear that this government intends to go ahead with the the replacement of the Trident submarine system. As David Cameron stated several times, "We are steaming through the Initial Gate (decision) this year"; the "Main Gate" decision on the design and contracts will follow in 2016.

 

The news that the decision on the next generation of nuclear warheads will be deferred to 2016 thus doesn't come as a surprise; indeed this has been repeatedly flagged in the press over the summer.

 

However, the Prime Minister's statement that the government intends to reduce the requirement for the overall number of warheads, associated with the current Trident system, from 225 to 180 by the mid 2020s, is a welcome surprise, as is the stated possibility that the number of available operational warheads could be reduced from around 160 to no more than 120 - even if this decision is be informed by political and financial expediency rather than a commitment to progressive unilateral disarmament. Similarly, while the number of warheads on operational Trident submarines are possibly to be reduced from 48 to 40, that's still 40 too many.

According to the SDSR, deferral of the decision on the successor warhead until 2016 will save £500m over 10 years. However, the SDSR does not provide any detail of what this £500m was going to be spent on. Until further questions are answered, it is not clear whether this saving will have any impact on the continuing multi-billion pound contruction programme at AWEs Aldermaston and Burghfield. While the savings in the costs of stockpile management as a result of the reduction of the current warhead system would have an impact at AWE, there is nothing in the SDSR to suggest that the developments of new facilities at AWE, which will enable the government to test, design and build a successor warhead, will be put on hold.

 

Indeed the SDSR makes it clear that the replacement of Trident is, as far as this goverment is concerned, a done deal.

 

If we want a real choice in 2016, then there must be an immediate stop to the building programme (and associated contracts) at AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield until a decision is made by parliament after 2016. Work should continue, however, on the new Warhead Assembly facility, which will be required for decommissioning an estimated 45 warheads if the decision to reduce the overall stockpile goes ahead.

 

The SDSR is available at http://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191634.pdf

See Chapter 3 - "The Deterrent", for full details of the Trident programme.