Monday, 15 April 2013

April 2013 Notes: Strategic Deterrent Debate

Reason for writing: A recent Article by Nick Ritchie of New York University

Context: The Nuclear deterrent is an issue which is important from multiple angles, in light of recent North Korean actions its more solid role of deterrent is at the for… but what is often forgotten are its other benefits, it drives forward research in many areas of technology which are significant to UK industry (Communications, rocket design, guidance, submarine building, nuclear reactors, advanced computers and other high end tech), it provides a status level; most importantly it provides a constant touch stone in our security – a base level from which we cannot drop only ‘punch’ above. 
This article is seeking to make the case for a different system of deterrent as stepping stone to disarmament, in many ways its rather similar to the policy that seems to have been adopted on voting systems; keep slowly pushing others in elsewhere and eventually the dreaded First-Past-The-Post which the British people seem to like and want will get forced out through embarrassment.

A small Sample of Britain’s Strategic Interests… our territories and exclusive economic zones around the world


Key Words/Phrases:

·         Multiple Independently Targetable Re-Entry Vehicle (MIRV): these are what are actually important, each missile carries several of these, each with their own nuclear device.

·         Trident: the current missile system used by Britain & the United States, can carry 12 MIRVs, but in British use only carries 5 – in accordance with the limit imposed by the START treaties. It has a range of about 7,000 miles meaning it can hit pretty much anywhere from anywhere; especially when compared with the Tomahawk cruise missile (the longest ranged one currently in service) which has a range of only 1,000 miles.

·         Vanguard class: the current serving generation of Britain’s nuclear deterrent submarines, excellent vessels but like the  Resolution class before them they are now approaching they end of their service lives and hence we are now facing this debate, as its them which are due to be replaced… not the missiles they carry.

·         NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – Britain’s principle strategic alliance,

·         CATOBAR: Catapult Assisted Take Off/Barrier Assisted Recovery, the most expensive system of carrier flight deck to procure, but because of this has the widest range of aircraft types available to operate from it  -  actually it works out cheaper in the long term as the aircraft are cheaper and more capable.

·         VSTOL: Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing, the cheapest system of carrier flight deck, but requires the most expensive aircraft… the Royal Navy (RN) was the first navy to employ this to provide its fixed wing airpower, but that was out of necessity when the first Queen Elizabeth class was cancelled (CVA-01 was due to have been called after the Queen) and all it managed to get built were the ‘Through-Deck Cruisers’ of the Invincible class.

·         F-35 Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter): produced in multiple variants, B for VSTOL and C for CATOBAR, this is the new stealth jet strike/fighter (what used to be called a Fighter Bomber…i.e. could fight its way to the target, drop its bombs and fight its way back) coming into service with the RN for the Fleet Air Arm to fly of the carriers.

·         Eurofighter Typhoon: Principle aircraft belonging to the Royal Air Force at the moment, a Cold War inspired Dog-Fighter that was used in conjunction with Tornadoes over Libya to do some limited bombing… although it was the much more venerable Tornadoes which had to aim the weapons.

·         X-47: The currently under development, but conducting carrier deck operations and flying, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, the X-47 is the future of stealth strike & reconnaissance, there is no coincidence that it looks like a mini B-2 bomber.

An artist’s impression of the X-47 in flight…
It on the deck of the USS Truman

Key Points:

1.      This article focuses heavily on Russia as our strategic enemy, when in reality Iran, North Korea and the nations we are not even contemplating now could be the risk we are facing over the twenty-thirty year service life of the Nuclear Deterrent

2.      The author talks about all the systems as if they are equal, or just as good as each other… they are not:

a.      Cruise Missiles launched from Submarines – far shorter in range, meaning the sub has to actually get quite close to the enemy shore line… furthermore cruise missiles as was proved by the Iraqi’s, Libyans, Serbians and others, can be shot down

b.      Aircraft Dropped Bombs – again limited by the range of aircraft and where you have bases… currently Britain could if this was its system, with Eurofighters bomb the h*ll out of Northern France, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and a bit of Germany – that hardly qualifies as a deterrent in any real way.

                                                               i.      There is a sub clause to this, and that is the RN’s new Aircraft Carriers, the Queen Elizabeth’s, now if they were built as CATOBAR carriers, and a third was built, and the Fleet Air Arm were given F-35C’s alongside some Strike UCAVs (like the X-47) a sort of capability would emerge… it would be global in reach, but it would still have limits like those of cruise missiles from subs, the aircraft could be shot down – or the cruise missiles they launch could be… so it would not be a certain system.

                                                             ii.      Some will bring up the concept of air to air refuelling… the trouble is this is even more problematic as it’s a difficult manoeuvre at the best of times, but would even a friendly country allow Britain to overfly them, conduct a refuelling over their people’s heads, whilst carrying nuclear weapons… would even Britain’s greatest friends agree to such a thing – it’s doubtful to say the least.

c.       Space Based Weapons: against the law and would not be independent as Britain does not currently have the ability to launch anything into space by its own volition  

d.      (For Comparison) Trident: has a range of 6,000nautical miles (which if put in context, Cape Town is 5,203nmi from London, Manaus Brazil is 4,462nmi, and Sydney is 9,173nmi- these are just though to give examples of distance), it is bl**dy difficult to nigh on impossible to shoot down an incoming MIRV travelling at around 7 x the speed of sound at our current levels of technology[1].

3.      The real argument here is its either to have Trident or not have a deterrent after all have a half way system is worse than not having one at all, because the risk is run that when it’s brought online it will make the situation worse; so it places the leadership in a bind, bring it on line and risk escalating the situation – don’t bring it on line and don’t have the tool you need to prevent escalation…

4.      The RN doesn’t actually get any benefits from operating the current system, in fact it’s a drain on resources… these systems are purely strategic in nature yet now they come from the MOD’s main budget rather than a special one as they used to pre-labour.

Points of Interest:

1.      So far since the Lib-Dems have been in government as part of the Coalition they have sought and paid for with Taxpayers money for three different studies of the nuclear deterrent, each one has come back after great expense backing the Trident system

2.      What no-one seems to be considering with the deterrent is that actually we would be better off building 5 subs than 4, after all with the slot in system BAE is developing the same tubes used for Trident could have a dozen cruise missiles slotted in… and 5 subs would mean we would be able to guarantee have a deterrent at sea (whilst administratively speaking only having three boats in the role) and usually have a boat rolled as an SSGN (cruise missile sub) available to support other operations British forces could be tasked with.

(thanks to the Daily Mail and MOD for this photo)


When I first saw this article I thought well it’s from New York there is a hope that there will be some rational thought in it… but unfortunately not. I am a believer in the value of the nuclear deterrent, I will freely hold my hand up to that… but I am not a blind adherent. I realise it is expensive, it is resource consuming and it is in many ways a very blunt tool. However, I am not persuaded that if that money was not used for the deterrent it would be spend upon conventional forces, neither am I so na├»ve to that a weapon as powerful as a nuclear device can ever be anything but a blunt tool.

Britain is economically powerful enough that without nuclear weapons it would still have some relevance, but with the pressures of the welfare state (amongst other expenses) growing every year; Defence Spending has been cut again and again, and without this level of capability provided by the Deterrent it might well be very hard, if not impossible, to maintain the status we have become accustomed too, a status which helps with trade, with tourism, with safety of our citizens when they travel abroad – things that do not come up in a debate of the strategic deterrent, but which nevertheless are impacted upon by it.

April 2013 Notes: French Defence Cuts

I feel I should start off by appologising, I really do try to blog - but I get so busy doing longer works that I often forget to post things here; and things I do write for here end up going elsewhere... anyway, lately I have been on occassion writing some 'notes', and I thought when I have a few stored up I would start loading them up online - I hope their of use.

French Defence Cuts; effects on the Royal Navy, and the wider British Armed Forces/Strategic situation


This is actually bigger than it looks; but here it is part by part...



  • By going the Sylver VLS/Aster missile system route, we have tied ourselves to the European...mainly French missile research/production, that means any cuts in that then we are left on our own funding research - when the whole point of going into an alliance was to pool the cost.
  • The MBDA was supposed to make the Sylver a capable land attack/anti-ship system...without it the only option under development is the son of tomahawk/son of Harpoon, both of which are orientated on the MK41 VLS... i.e. the only chance of making the Type 45s have a land attack capability greater than that provided by their main gun is more than likely going to be delayed and cancelled eventually, or cancelled out right.
  • under the SDSR/concordant we have agreed to pool our Trident maintenance program, this is not going to be unaffected by this decision; in fact all the money we planned on saving we could end up having to spend to keep open a French facility employing French workers.


·         A400M Transport aircraft… if the French decide to cancel or delay the procurement of this then the cost for the UK will go up, this is pointed out in the article, but the article misses that for the British this had been a leap of faith getting this type of aircraft from Europe, as the Hercules and Galaxy fleets testify to the RAF is more often equipped with American made transport aircraft… rather than paying the increase cost, it might be an option to cut our losses and instead increase these fleets of aircraft.

Long Term Strategic

  • Carriers – space aboard Charles De Gaulle to provide for training of RN pilots in operations from carriers, was a key plank of the concordant, and is important the speed of regeneration of the RN’s own carrier capability in the future…whilst the USN should still make places available as agreed, without the extra spaces offered by the French it will off course slow it down. The fact is most like the integrated carrier strike group will most likely be a lot less integrated and a lot less common than envisaged.
  • Escorts – the French are being relied upon at the moment to provide those extra escorts (along with the Americans) for task groups when we need them, the American’s cannot be expected to fill the gap and the other European nations are either themselves cutting or do not have the escorts of the required type/level of capability to be useful… putting us in a position of weakness we would not have been in had the full number of Type 45s been built and the Greeks not been sold 3 Type 23s, that we now need and they can’t afford to operate properly.
  • Research; especially in the areas of Satellite Communications and Unmanned Air Systems, all of which are at critical junctures at the moment, funding if cut by the French, if its wished to keep them on track,

Short Term Strategic

  • Asia – the French do supply support troops in Afghanistan, this logistical element may not seem significant… but if its contribution has to be filled by British and American troops and short notice, after recent cuts there is not much slack available.
  • Africa – the French are a key intelligence source for northern Africa, and their deployments of legion units around the Sahara, as well as their commitments to the anti-piracy operations of the coast of Somalia are important contributors to stability in the region… loss of their escorts off Somalia and reduction in troop presence could destabilise the fragile peace of the post-Arab spring states; as well as calling upon resources that post-SDSR are already limited. 
  • Middle East – Syria is still in the middle of a civil war, Iran is always ready for trouble, the French might not always be reliable allies, but they were burden sharers and at the least might have been able to provide support, maybe even combat troops for an intervention should that become necessary.

Conclusion: how big are the consequences for the UK?

·         Potentially massive, whatever the scale of the cuts there will be an effect… whatever the effect is though it will be cumulative, it will be felt in different ways short term and long term depending upon the severity of the cuts.

·         Worst case: Britain is going to be forced to spend a lot of money, buying a transport plane no one else wants, buying more escorts to make up the shortfall, retrofitting existing escorts with Mk41 VLS to enable them to carry a modern land attack/anti-ship missile system, as well as buying SM-3 ABMs/SM-6s rather than take on development of the Aster alone and will have five years added on to the time it takes to get the carrier operational, and the Ocean/Illustrious/Argus replacement program becomes even more important… Britain is forced by having to secure its own strategic position/necessities itself to become the major military power in Europe, and more than likely with America’s withdrawal/”Re-Balancing” from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the major Atlantic power.

·         Best case: France does a minimal cut, the other European nations also do a minimal cut and whilst Britain has to provide more money into research than it was expecting the programs are not significantly delayed and the other nations still bare some of the burden. We have to order an extra batch of Type 26s and manage to still get some spaces upon French Carrier operations to supplement those provided by the USN.

·         Likely scenario: hopefully something in between… but only time will tell, and with the French focus on nuclear power stations, combined with their Eurozone integration, their requirement for armed forces therefore  could be argued to perhaps come down to one more of national pride than perhaps of national necessity, making the worst case scenario more likely.
Extra Info

For your own consideration, please examine the summary of the Downing Street declaration (taken from Wikipedia. ) below:

Downing Street Declaration

The 2 November 2010 Downing Street declaration[4] by President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron. The elements of this declaration are as follows.

Defence and Security Cooperation Treaty

The purpose of this is to develop co-operation between British and French Armed Forces, the sharing and pooling of materials and equipment including through mutual interdependence, the building of joint facilities, mutual access to each other’s defence markets, and industrial and technological co-operation.

Nuclear Stockpile Stewardship

Collaboration on the technology associated with nuclear stockpile stewardship in support of both countries independent nuclear deterrent capabilities, including a new joint facility at Valduc in France that will model performance of nuclear warheads and materials to ensure long-term viability, security and safety – this will be supported by a joint Technology Development Centre at Aldermaston in the UK.

Operational Matters

It was decided to sign a Letter of Intent, creating a new framework for exchanges between UK and French Armed Forces on operational matters.

Industry and Armaments

It was decided to direct the UK-France High Level Working Group to strengthen its work on industrial and armament cooperation.

Operations and training

Combined Joint Expeditionary Force

It was decided to develop a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force suitable for a wide range of scenarios, up to and including high intensity operations. It will involve all three armed Services: there will be a land component composed of formations at national brigade level, maritime and air components with their associated Headquarters, and logistics and support functions. It will not involve standing forces but will be available at notice for bilateral, NATO, European Union, United Nations or other operations. It will begin with combined air and land exercises during 2011 and will develop the concept before the next UK-France Summit and progress towards full capability in subsequent years. The Force is intended to stimulate greater interoperability and coherence in military doctrine, training and equipment requirements.

Aircraft carriers

The UK had earlier announced that it had decided to install catapults and arresting gear to its future operational aircraft carrier, creating opportunities for UK and French aircraft to operate off carriers from both countries. Building primarily on maritime task group co-operation around the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, the UK and France will aim to have, by the early 2020s, the ability to deploy a UK-French integrated carrier strike group incorporating assets owned by both countries. This is to ensure that the Royal Navy and the French Navy will work in the closest co-ordination.

Equipment and capabilities

They agreed cooperation in the following areas.
  • A400M support and training.
  • Submarine technologies and systems
  • Maritime mine countermeasures
  • Satellite communications
  • Air to air refuelling and passenger air transport
  • Unmanned air systems
  • A 10 year strategic plan for the British and French Complex Weapons sector.
  • Research and technology
    • To continue with their significant R&T co-operation, devoting an annual budget of €50m each to shared research and development, with the aim of increasing this where possible.
    • To focus on a set of 10 priority areas that will include time critical research support to satellite communications, unmanned systems, naval systems and complex weapons. including new areas of critical industrial importance such as sensors, electronic warfare technologies, and materials, as well as novel areas such as simulation and a jointly funded PhD programme.
  • Cyber security. France and the UK agreed a framework which will govern their enhanced co-operation in this area, leading to strengthened individual and common resilience.

this is especially interesting in light of this...