By Mohammed Abbas and Rhys Jones
LONDON May 22 Britain moved a step closer to
renewing its Trident nuclear weapons system on Tuesday, awarding
350 million pounds worth of contracts to design a new generation
of submarines that critics say are the result of outdated, Cold
The Successor class submarine would be used to replace the
four Vanguard class vessels currently carrying Britain's Trident
nuclear missiles, but a debate has raged about whether
like-for-like renewal at an estimated cost of up to 20 billion
pounds ($31.5 billion) is necessary.
The ruling Conservative Party is pushing for Britain's
nuclear capability to be maintained, but their Liberal Democrat
junior partners in coalition government are pushing for
alternatives, with some arguing that current capability - the
ability to obliterate Moscow - is a hangover from the Cold War.
The decision to award Successor design contracts to defence
firms BAE Systems, Babcock and Rolls Royce
appears to set Britain on course to maintaining its
"This government is committed to maintaining a continuous
submarine-based nuclear deterrent. The contracts announced today
.... symbolise an important step towards renewing our nation's
nuclear deterrent into the 2060s," Defence Secretary Philip
Hammond, a Conservative, said in a statement.
A final decision on the Trident system's renewal is not
expected until 2016, a year after parliamentary elections, and
Lib Dems insist that design contracts do not represent a
commitment to like-for-like renewal.
However, some say it is unlikely that cash-strapped Britain
would spend 350 million pounds on designs it would later ditch.
The largest share of the design contracts, worth 328 million
pounds, went to BAE's maritime unit. Babcock received a 15
million pound portion and Rolls Royce got a 4 million pound
"It's without commitment in theory, but of course it is with
commitment in practice. We wouldn't be spending this kind of
money on design if it didn't look as if it was going to go
forward," said Eric Grove, director of the University of
Salford's Centre for International Security and War studies.
The Defence Ministry said the deals would sustain or create
1,900 jobs at sites across Britain and that engineers at the
companies would work with it on the design of the submarines,
which will use a new nuclear propulsion system.
There is room for compromise, and studies have suggested
that Britain could still maintain an effective nuclear deterrent
while perhaps reducing the number of warheads or reducing the
number of submarines used in the system.
Reports have emerged that the Lib Dems want a more radical
downgrading of Trident, in particular a departure from the
so-called "Moscow doctrine" - the ability for Britain to act
alone against Russia or another nation of similar power if need
"It is unthinkable today that Britain would contemplate the
destruction of the heavily populated capital of Russia - or of
any other city," wrote Lib Dem grandee and former party leader
Menzies Campbell in the Financial Times newspaper last week.
"It is no longer enough to plan as if the cold war had never
ended and mutually assured destruction, or a variant of it, were
still necessary," he added, calling for a downgrade but not
complete decommissioning of Britain's nuclear capability.
A senior Lib Dem source pointed to Campbell's views as
representative of the party's thinking on Trident.
Minister of State for the Armed Forces Nick Harvey, a Lib
Dem, is expected to submit a review of alternatives to Prime
Minister David Cameron by the end of this year.
Harvey has downplayed the threat posed by other countries,
which Trident is designed to counter, and instead highlighted
that posed by non-state actors. U.S. President Barack Obama in
2010 said the possibility of "terrorist organisation obtaining a
nuclear weapon" was the single biggest threat to U.S. security.
Still, analysts struggle to see credible alternatives to
Trident if Britain wants to maintain its current clout in
While some dismiss the Moscow doctrine as a Cold War
throwback, others point to Britain's fraught ties with Russia in
recent years, Moscow's increasingly tense relations with NATO
and President Vladimir Putin's plans to beef up his military.