REPLACING Trident with a nuclear deterrent dropped from the air would save up to £13 billion for priority defence equipment spending, a think-tank has claimed in a new report.
Trident nuclear submarines at Faslane are an “expensive and excessive” solution to the UK deterrence requirements and would have been ineffective even during the Cold War, CentreForum said in its analysis.
Instead, the UK’s forthcoming F-35 Joint Strike Fighters – a stealth aircraft bought for conventional missions – should be adapted to deliver a “minimum nuclear deterrent” based upon a stockpile of 100 British built B61-12 nuclear bombs, the “independent liberal” think-tank stated.
The proposal echoes that of the Royal Air Force’s V-force of the 1950s and 1960s, when the UK’s nuclear deterrent was carried by Valiant Vulcan and Victor bombers.
Nationalist politicians have made the replacement of Trident in the next parliament a key election issue, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggesting that the SNP would make the scrapping of the system a condition of propping-up a minority Labour government.
Toby Fenwick, the author of the report, said the cost of an “air-dropped nuclear deterrent” was half the £33 billion estimated cost of replacing the four Faslane-based Vanguard class submarines that carry nuclear weapons.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
Mr Fenwick said a government led by Labour or the Tories would face a “tough challenge” to fund the renewal of Trident, which he claimed would put the UK’s defence budget under financial strain.
He said: “Trident is a gold plated solution that risks the modernisation of the UK’s conventional forces. Its advocates need to explain how they can fund their expensive system without doing irreparable damage to the UK forces.
“Our costed proposal provides a credible minimum independent UK nuclear force whilst providing our soldiers, sailors and airmen with the equipment they need.”
CentreForum’s report claimed replacing Trident with an air-dropped nuclear deterrent would “significantly strengthen the conventional armed forces”. It said it would free up funds for a further five Astute-class attack submarines and four Type 26 frigates for the Navy, as well as eight maritime patrol aircraft to fill the gap left by the cancellation of Nimrod aircraft in 2010.
Mr Fenwick added: “Our costed proposal provides a credible minimum independent UK nuclear force.”
However, a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman, said a UK Cabinet Office review in 2013 had examined similar proposals for free-fall air bombs, but “judged such a system insufficiently credible”.
A Nationalist MSP also criticised the plan from CentreForum, which he said “misses the point entirely” and would leave nuclear weapons in Scotland.
SNP MSP Bill Kidd said: “Moves to simply replace one eye-wateringly expensive nuclear weapons system with another one misses the point entirely.
“Nuclear weapons are a moral obscenity and the prospect of wasting tens of billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction at a time when more and more people are relying on foodbanks is utterly wrong.”