Estimate is 25 percent more and no sub delivery until the 2030s.Nicholas Winning, Wall Street Journal
24 November 2015
The U.K. government on Monday raised its cost estimate for the manufacture of four new nuclear-weapon armed submarines by almost a quarter to £31 billion ($47.1 billion), with a further £10 billion contingency, and expected the first boat to enter service in the early 2030s, later than previously thought.
The sharp increase in costs for the Successor submarine program from the previous estimate of £25 billion is likely to fuel debate about whether the U.K. needs a weapon system that some argue is outdated, is unlikely to be used, and doesn't protect against the growing threat from groups such as Islamic State.
Speaking in parliament Monday Prime Minister David Cameron said the nuclear deterrent was the “ultimate insurance policy in an unsafe and uncertain world that you can never be subject to nuclear blackmail.” He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to replace four existing Vanguard Class submarines that are due to leave service in the early 2030s. Parliament would have the opportunity to debate the issue at the “appropriate moment,” he said, adding that he was keen for a vote.
The new estimate for the 20-year submarine program—one of the government’s largest—came in the National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defense and Security Review, which sets out the government’s military priorities for the years ahead.
Replacing the U.K.’s nuclear warheads wasn't required until the late 2030s at the earliest, according to the review, but a decision may be required in the five-year parliament ending 2020 or early in the next.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has said he is against the replacement of the nuclear armed submarines, although other senior party figures are in favor, and the party is reviewing its position. The Scottish National Party is also against the replacement of the nuclear weapon subs and has campaigned for the money to be spent in other areas.
The defense review also sets out plans for a 7% increase in the country’s military equipment budget to £178 billion for the next 10 years for projects including nine new maritime patrol aircraft, the creation of two new rapidly deployable brigades by 2025 and the Typhoon jet fighter, which it hopes to extend.
The government also said it plans to buy 138 Lockheed Martin F-35 jet fighters with 24 in operation on its two new aircraft carriers by 2023, a larger and quicker rollout than many had expected.
The planned Successor nuclear-armed submarine program, which was originally planned to begin service in 2028 was, “clearly not squeezing out other defense requirements,” Mr. Cameron said.
The defense review also included plans for a 30% cut in both the number of civilians in the Defense Ministry and the size of the department’s real estate. The government said it would not reduce the size of the regular army any further.
In the last defense review in 2010 the emphasis was on sharp reductions in spending and military personnel to trim the U.K.’s budget deficit. Mr. Cameron said Britain’s renewed economic strength meant it could now afford to invest further in national security.
“This is vital at a time when the threats to our country are growing. From the rise of ISIL [Islamic State] and greater instability in the Middle East, to the crisis in Ukraine, the threat of cyberattacks and the risk of pandemics, the world is more dangerous and uncertain today than five years ago,” he said in the foreword to the defense review.
It remains to be seen if the review and the government’s commitment to meeting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s target for military spending convinces observers that the U.K. has the muscle to take a significant role in global affairs. The government’s defense cuts over the last five years have been so severe that some U.S. officials have raised concerns that Britain’s military capability is being curtailed at a time of increased global conflict and instability.
Mr. Cameron is set to lay out the government’s strategy on Thursday for combating Islamic State, including extending U.K. airstrikes against the group to Syria from Iraq where British warplanes have been bombing for more than one year.
He has said the Paris attacks strengthen the case for Britain to join the U.S., France and others bombing in Syria, but has emphasized he would hold a parliamentary vote on such a move only if he is confident he will win. Earlier Monday, he met French President François Hollande in Paris to discuss the counterterrorism cooperation and the fight against Islamic State and then together visited the Bataclan theater, the scene of the bloodiest of the attacks in the city.
“As far as I am concerned an attack on Paris is an attack on us, it’s an attack on our way of life, an attack on our values. Standing outside the Bataclan theater this morning you feel that with every sense of your being,” he said.