U.K. Needs Alternative to Continuous Nuclear Defense, RUSI Says

The U.K. should consider replacing its submarine-based Trident nuclear deterrent with a cheaper system, a defense research body said, as Prime Minister David Cameron seeks the biggest spending cuts since World War II.

The U.K. remains unnecessarily wedded to a system of continuous nuclear defense that isn’t designed to deal with the threat from potential enemies, the Royal United Services Institute said in a study published in London today. Replacing Trident with a comparable system would lead to cutbacks in the budget for other parts of the armed forces, it added.

The scope of Britain’s nuclear defenses have “remained largely unchanged since the 1960s, when a surprise attack on Western Europe by the Soviet Union was a central driver for U.K. force planning,” Malcolm Chalmers, the author, said in the report. “There is now a strong case for a re-examination.”

The U.K. government is planning to spend about 20 billion pounds ($31 billion) over the next two decades to replace the existing Vanguard-class submarines, which carry Trident nuclear missiles and are due to come out of service in 2024. Defense Secretary Liam Fox said this month he will look at the Trident program in 2014 to see whether it can use three submarines instead of four.

BAE Systems Plc and Rolls-Royce Group Plc are among the major contractors that would build the submarines planned to replace the Vanguard-class vessels. Cameron last month said there is a case for “bearing down” on the cost of the Trident program.

The U.K. is examining its defense capabilities in a review that will be published this fall, when Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne maps out government spending plans for the next three years.

Chalmers said money could be saved by halving the number of boats, having a single submarine fleet for both conventional and nuclear roles or scrapping the submarine-based system and maintaining a non-deployed arsenal.

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