Fox fuels Trident row with arms race fear
Defence Secretary Liam Fox warned of the risk of a "new nuclear arms race" as he defended the renewal of Trident as the most cost-effective way of maintaining Britain's deterrent.
Dr Fox was speaking just hours after Chancellor George Osborne made clear in public for the first time that the Ministry of Defence will have to bear the full cost of replacing the UK's ageing nuclear submarines from within its core budget.
His decision represented a bitter defeat for Dr Fox, who was engaged in a behind-the-scenes battle with the Treasury over the costs of renewing the deterrent, which was traditionally funded from outside the MoD budget. The Defence Secretary warned earlier this month that it would be "very difficult" to maintain the MoD's other capabilities if it was required to fund the estimated 20 billion capital cost of four new subs.
Although the cost would be spread over several years, experts estimate that it could consume up to 1.5bn of the MoD's 36bn annual budget at a time when savings are being demanded.
The development sparked speculation that the MoD may be forced to scale back Trident, perhaps by cutting back to three subs. However, Dr Fox warned against complacency over the need for Britain to maintain its deterrent.
"Should Iran become a new nuclear weapon state, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey would be likely to follow suit and we could see ourselves in a new nuclear arms race," the Defence Secretary warned. "There are a lot of real dangers out there and I'm not sure people have really focused on them."
He played down suggestions that the like-for-like replacement of the ageing Trident subs planned by the previous Labour administration represented an extravagant use of public money.
"Gordon Brown and Tony Blair didn't choose this particular programme because it is the most expensive," he said. "They chose it because they thought it was the most cost-effective way of maintaining Britain's nuclear deterrent in the first half of this century."
Reducing the Trident fleet to three subs would put extreme pressure on the UK's policy of keeping one nuclear missile-armed craft at sea at all times, said Dr Fox.
"At current levels of technology, it is very hard to manage a continuous deterrent with three submarines rather than four," he explained.
The concern within the armed forces will be that other projects will now have to be axed if the MoD does have to pay for Trident renewal at a time when it is already facing swingeing cuts.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, of the Royal United Services Institute, said the MoD was already looking at whether it could afford two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy and new fast jets for the RAF, as well as considering Army manning levels.
"This increases the pressure to look at the timetable for Trident renewal," he said."Delaying that timetable for five years would substantially lighten the pressure on the defence budget up to 2020."
The SNP has called for Trident to be scrapped to preserve funding for the rest of the armed forces. "Absorbing Trident into the core defence budget is unsustainable and would have a devastating impact for spending on conventional forces, which are already overstretched," said defence spokesman Angus Robertson. "The implications of this decision could not be more serious."
And Mr Osborne's decision was condemned by Commons Defence Committee member John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness where the submarines would be built.
"This decision will add to concern over the wider defence and security review that the government is hell-bent on cutting budgets with a speed and brutality that is simply not in the country's long-term interests," he said.
7.5bn 'savings' from Tornados
Ground crew prepare a Tornado GR4 for take-off. Britain has 120 of the fighter-bombers and they make up most of the fast-jet fleet Picture: Getty Images
Grounding the RAF's Tornado jet fleet would save 7.5 billion in defence spending, a leaked government document has revealed.
Taking them out of service would mean the loss of half of Britain's total fast-jet fleet.
However, it would save billions more than retiring the Harrier jet, according to the document drawn up under the Strategic Defence Spending Review (SDSR) which is considering a wide range of options to help meet the Treasury's demand for overall cost savings of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Withdrawing the Harrier, which is used by the RAF and the Royal Navy, would create savings of around 1bn.
The analysis, carried out by the MoD, makes a direct comparison of "through-life savings" that can be achieved from axing either the Harrier GR9 or Tornado GR4 fleets.
Both options are understood to include savings from closing some bases.
The fast-jet fleet includes 120 Tornados, 45 Harriers and 42 Eurofighter Typhoons just coming into service.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 10 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West