DEBATE ON TRIDENT REPLACEMENT COSTS HOTS UP
The costs of replacing the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system continue to fall under the spotlight as controversy grows over how the new coalition government will fund its pledge to replace Trident.
MoD and Treasury dispute who will pay for Trident's successor
Defence Secretary Liam Fox is currently undertaking high-stakes negotiations with the Treasury over who will pay for the capital costs of replacing Trident. Mr Fox is insisting that the Treasury should stick to a commitment made by the Labour government that the costs of renewing Trident should be ring-fenced from spending on defence equipment because the UK's nuclear weapons are of special strategic significance. However, the Treasury expects the costs to come out of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) core budget, which would place a major strain on other defence commitments and force Mr Fox to make deep cuts elsewhere in defence spending.
The matter is expected to be considered by a 'star chamber' of ministers, with a final decision to be made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Autumn as part of the government's comprehensive Spending Review process.
Replacement programme to be reviewed for value for money
Defence Ministers have announced that a Trident Value for Money Review is taking place to meet the promise given in the Coalition Agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. The review will aim to reduce the cost of Trident's successor submarine and ballistic missile systems, with the aim of “shifting the balance between financial savings and operational risk”. The review will look at the programme timetable; submarine numbers; numbers of missiles, missile tubes and warheads; infrastructure and other support costs; and the industrial supply chain, and investigate whether the costs of each element of the replacement programme can be reduced.
During a recent debate in Parliament on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey, a Liberal Democrat, confirmed that the Value for Money Review would look only at the existing plan to replace Trident and not revisit other options, stating: “If the study were to conclude that a particular aspect of the existing plan did not represent good value for money, it might start looking at different ways of doing things, but I have to stress that it is not a review in which we look at all the possible alternative ways in which we might provide a successor, and see which works out the cheapest. It is a progress report on the work taking place on the Trident successor project.”
The Value for Money Review is scheduled to be completed before the end of July, when Parliament goes into the summer recess. The report will then be passed on to the Cabinet Office to be considered as part of the SDSR process and the autumn's Comprehensive Spending Review, but will not be published before the recess.
Initial Gate delayed again as defence spending continue to spiral upwards
Liam Fox has also announced that the 'Initial Gate' decision on Trident replacement, when the concept of the new weapons system will be defined to work to be focused on delivering the selected option, has been delayed – for a third time. Mr Fox told Labour MP Katy Clarke that the Initial Gate decision will be taken towards the end of 2010, following consideration by the Investment Approvals Board in the autumn. Parliament will be updated on progress after the Initial Gate decision through the publication of a report.
A National Audit Office report published last week found that the MoD was already £500 million over budget for the current financial year with “insufficient funds to meet planned expenditure”, and that the gap between planned spending on equipment and what the Ministry can afford may reach £36 billion over the next ten years.
Although the Coalition Agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats stated that the new government would aim to reduce MoD running costs by at least 25%, Chancellor George Osborne stated in his first Budget that the MoD would be spared from the brunt of his spending cuts. MoD is now expected to have to make savings of between 10-20% in its spending.
MoD SAFETY BOARD: SPENDING CUTS WILL 'TEST SAFETY MANAGEMENT'
An unpublished internal audit report on the Ministry of Defence's safety and environmental performance has painted a damning picture of safety standards at the Ministry, warning that planned cuts in defence spending will “test safety management” and add to existing pressures on safety.
The outspoken warning is given in the annual report of the Defence Environment and Safety Board, MoD's top-level body charged with overseeing the safety of all military activities. The Board's 'Safety, Environment, and Sustainable Development Report 2009' was prepared in May 2010, but remained unpublished until investigative journalist Rob Edwards obtained a copy under the Freedom of Information Act.
The report states that “more needs to be done” to address safety concerns, and identified three major factors which are threatening the safety of MoD personnel and the public: the pressure that resource constraints are placing on safety; a continuing shortage of qualified and experienced personnel able to discharge safety responsibilities; and a dilution of experience and competence caused by the cumulative effects of change.
The report warns that “Next year, the Planning Round and SDR will both be challenging. We recognise this will test safety management” and put “additional strain on what is already in some areas a very thin safety base”.
On nuclear safety issues, the Chairman of the Defence Nuclear and Environmental Safety Board (DNESB) reported that “None of the DNESB’s issues reflect an immediate safety or environmental concern but, taken together they present a risk that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain that the defence nuclear programmes are being managed with due regard for the protection of the workforce, the public and the environment. The key areas of concern for the medium term are the sufficiency of resources, both money and staff complement, and the maintenance of a suitable cadre of suitably competent staff (RN, MOD civilians and industry partners)”.
The report concludes that evidence “clearly indicates that, overall, there are causes for concern surrounding safety across most of the Department”. It awards MoD a rating of 'Limited Assurance' against the management of Safety, Health, Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development in 2009 – the third worst of four audit ratings, indicating that there are weaknesses in the Ministry's risk management and governance framework and that unmanaged or inadequately managed high category risks threaten the achievement of MoD's objectives.
In response to a Parliamentary Question on the report's recommendations from SNP MP Angus Robertson, Andrew Robathan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence stated: “The Defence Board noted the priorities in the DESB report and stressed its determination to do all that it could to continue improving the Department's Health and Safety performance”.
POLL SHOWS A MAJORITY OPPOSE LIKE-FOR-LIKE TRIDENT REPLACEMENT
A YouGov poll carried out for Chatham House on British attitudes towards the UK's international priorities shows that only a minority of the public think that Trident should be replaced with a broadly comparable nuclear weapons system.
The survey indicates that only 29% of the public think that the government should renew Trident nuclear weapons with a broadly comparable, submarine-based ballistic nuclear-weapons system. 30% thought the Trident fleet should be replaced with a cheaper system: a smaller number of boats, or a different form of submarine-based system, or an alternative nuclear weapons system altogether (eg an aircraft-borne system). 20% felt that Trident should not be renewed and that the UK should give up nuclear weapons altogether, with the remaining 21% indicating that they did not know which option they favoured.
Among a sample of opinion formers from business, Whitehall, the media, and the voluntary sector support for replacing Trident was even lower. 22% of opinion formers supported 'like-for-like' replacement, with 43% favouring a cheaper option, 29% supporting giving up nuclear weapons altogether, and 5% stating that they didn't know.
The survey found diverging opinions between the broader public and opinion formers on the UK's role in the world, with a majority of the public wanting the country to remain a great power with a large army. Opinion formers are less sure that this is the right strategy, and many more of them want Britain to give up the attempt to remain a great power and instead to seek influence in today’s world by setting a good example – with an ethical foreign policy and large overseas aid budget. The public support the use of military power, while opinion-formers are keener on the judicious use of aid and ‘soft power'.
Fieldwork for the survey was carried out between 24 June and 2 July. 2,481 members of the public and 877 opinion formers were polled. Full results from the survey can be found on the Chatham House website.
NEW TRUCKS FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS CONVOY
The Ministry of Defence has taken delivery of new trucks for the road transport of nuclear warheads between the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and HM Naval Base Clyde in Scotland.
The previously-used Foden Truck Convoy Heavy Duty Mark 2 (TCHD2) warhead carriers which came into service at the beginning of the 1990s are now being replaced with new vehicles comprising of Mercedes-Benz Actros tractor units and refurbished TCHD2 trailer units. The trucks are also expected to be used to transport special nuclear materials, replacing ageing High Security Vehicles previously used for this purpose.
The programme to replace the trucks was approved in 2007 and the new trucks are scheduled to be in service by the end of October 2010. Eight vehicles plus one spare tractor unit were scheduled to be ordered under the replacement programme.
The vehicles were ordered on behalf of MoD by AWE plc, which holds the contract for maintaining and operating convoy vehicles and managing certain elements of convoy operations.
Following a series of trials of different vehicle types last summer, the new trucks were seen on the road for the first time on 21st July, when a warhead convoy travelled from Burghfield to Scotland. Photographs and video of the new vehicles can be found on the Nukewatch website.
NAVY ASKS SOUTHAMPTON CITY TO ADOPT NUCLEAR POWERED SUBMARINE
The Royal Navy has asked Southampton City Council to adopt HMS Artful, one of the planned new Astute class submarines.
The Navy is keen to bolster support for its operations, and particularly the submarine fleet, in Southampton because the city hosts one of its operational berths for nuclear powered submarines. The berth is currently used on an occasional basis for publicity visits by submarines, but in the event of a major war could be used by submarines for military purposes as part of a policy of making warships less vulnerable to attack by dispersing them from Naval dockyards.
Submarine visits to Southampton are highly controversial and have faced fierce opposition from local campaign group SCANS (Solent Coalition Against Nuclear Ships). However, local council members and officers support visits of submarines, despite safety concerns, and the Conservative controlled Council is expected to agree to adopt HMS Artful, with the support of the Labour opposition group. The decision will be taken at September's City Council Cabinet meeting.
HMS Artful will be the third of the 'Astute' class submarines. She was laid down in March 2005 and is currently expected to enter into service in 2012.
As of December 2009 the Astute submarine building programme was 48% (£1.4 billion) over-budget and 57 months late.
NEWS FROM THE ATOMIC WEAPONS ESTABLISHMENT
PLANNING APPLICATION SUBMITTED FOR NEW HYDRODYNAMICS RESEARCH FACILITY AT ALDERMASTON
The Ministry of Defence has submitted a planning application to West Berkshire Council for development of a new hydrodynamics research facility (Project Hydrus) at AWE Aldermaston. The new facility will be designed to undertake research into the behaviour of materials used in the manufacture of nuclear warheads and will play a key role in ensuring that Trident warheads retain their destructive power as they age. It will also undertake research necessary for the design of a successor to the Trident warhead, should the government decide to develop one.
The proposed development includes an operations building, support building and associated electrical substation. The cost of the new facility is not being revealed because of “commercial sensitivity” but is certain to stretch to hundreds of millions of pounds.
Hydrodynamics is the science of forces acting on or exerted by fluids. During the detonation of a nuclear weapon, solid materials in the warhead behave like fluids when they are subjected to extreme levels of pressure and shock. Project Hydrus will conduct hydrodynamic experiments to recreate these processes by subjecting small amounts of material to explosive shocks in specially designed chambers, and then photographing the results using arrays of high powered X-ray machines. The information captured is used in calculations to predict how materials will behave in the warhead.
Data from hydrodynamic experiments will be used as a substitute for data from underground nuclear weapons tests, which the UK was forced to cease in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush declared a nuclear test moratorium, preventing AWE scientists from carrying out further tests at the Nevada Test Site in the USA. Plans to construct Project Hydrus have raised concerns that the UK is breaching the spirit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the government ratified in 1998.
The planning application describes the new facility as a 'replacement', although in reality it will be a new development bringing together and adding to the capability of a number of hydrodynamic test facilities currently operating at Aldermaston. The new building is expected to be operating by 2017 but will not lead to the creation of any new permanent jobs.
As is usual for planning applications at AWE sites, an exemption order has been issued to allow key information about processes, safety issues, and environmental impacts of the proposed new facility to be withheld from the public.
The application was previously scheduled to be submitted in March 2010, but has been delayed as a result of the general election and the need to obtain ministerial approval for the development. West Berkshire Council is aiming to make a decision on the planning application within 13 weeks and has set a target date of 15 October 2010 for determining the application. Full details of the application can be found on West Berkshire Council's planning applications website.
NEW CONTRACTS FOR AWE
AWE's ambition to extend its work into areas beyond its core work on developing and maintaining nuclear weapons has taken a step forward with news that the company has won two new government security contracts. The first of these is a project to establish a new Laboratory for Radiological and Nuclear Forensics at Aldermaston, costing £1.9 million pounds and funded by the Home Office. The second contract is a £855,000 programme to to extend “a special project in support of National Security” for the Ministry of Defence.
Earlier this year AWE published a new enterprise strategy outlining plans to extend its work into government, defence, and nuclear security markets. The company has now appointed a new head of business development to lead efforts in this area – Sarah Nichols, who has joined AWE from Aerosystems International Ltd, a subsidiary of BAE Systems. AWE has also appointed a new business development manager and is recruiting a marketing and stakeholder manager to help in winning new contracts.
AWE'S FORMER HEAD TAKES ON SENOR POST AT NNSA
AWE's former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Don Cook, has been appointed Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs at the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Dr. Cook will oversee the nuclear weapons program for NNSA and will be responsible for ensuring that the US nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe, secure and effective without the need for underground testing.
Dr Cook was managing director and chief executive officer at AWE from 2006 to 2009. Prior to heading AWE, he worked at Sandia National Laboratories, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, for 28 years in pulsed power sciences, microtechnologies, infrastructure and security. He was confirmed by the US Senate and assumed his new position at NNSA on June 30.
Dr Cook's appointment underlines both the close links between the US and UK nuclear weapons programmes and the influence that Lockheed Martin has on the nuclear programmes of each country.
NEW MILITARY BYELAWS PLANNED FOR AWE BLACKNEST
The MoD is planning to introduce new byelaws under the Military Lands Act 1892 at AWE Blacknest. Similar byelaws have been introduced at AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield and are gradually being rolled out over MoD sites across the country to control protest activities.
Blacknest is a small site located close to the main AWE Aldermaston site and is the centre for AWE's seismic monitoring work, which aims to detect underground nuclear test explosions conducted anywhere around the globe.
The draft byelaws are currently awaiting approval by Ministers following limited public consultation.