Home » Budget Industry » Ministers: U.K. Royal Navy Guaranteed 4 New Nuclear Ballistic Missile Subs


Ministers: U.K. Royal Navy Guaranteed 4 New Nuclear Ballistic Missile Subs

An artist's conception of the U.K.'s Successor-class future planned ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) released Tuesday. UK Ministry of Defense Photo

An artist’s conception of the U.K.’s Successor-class future planned ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) released Tuesday. UK Ministry of Defense Photo

LONDON — The British government has decided to replace the Royal Navy’s four Vanguard-class ballistic nuclear missile submarines (SSBN) with new boats on a one-for-one basis.

After years of indecision, caused largely by global economic crash-induced fiscal austerity, ministers have effectively acknowledged that reducing the SSBN force to three submarines would signal the end of a half century of continuous U.K. sea-based deterrence.

Prime minister David Cameron is expected to seek parliamentary approval next year to start building the four Vanguard replacement or “Successor” submarines, with the first of the 16,000-ton boats due to enter service in 2028.

Although the opposition Labour Party’s new hard left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a vociferous opponent of nuclear weapons, the ruling Conservatives enjoy a 12-strong majority in the House of Commons and a ‘yes’ vote is almost guaranteed.

Both Cameron and his defense secretary, Michael Fallon, have now spoken publicly about the decision to retain four SSBNs, with the latter setting out the government’s position most explicitly at an industry briefing last week.

“Cold War certainties have been replaced by an unpredictable new nuclear age defined by weapons proliferation, more nuclear states, and rogue nations wanting nuclear weapons and the technology to develop them,” Fallon said.

He pointed out that an “expansionist” and “revanchist” Russia was commissioning a new class of eight SSBNs, and that North Korea was conducting its own nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

“When there are 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world we can’t wish away threats that may emerge in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s”, he said.

HMS Vanguard arrives back at HM Naval Base Clyde following a nuclear deterrence patrol. U.K. Royal Navy Photo

HMS Vanguard arrives back at HM Naval Base Clyde following a nuclear deterrence patrol. U.K. Royal Navy Photo

While a nuclear deterrent “with a Union Jack on the top of it” would not prevent another 9/11-type tragedy, it would fulfil the need “to deter state-sponsored terror and to counter nuclear blackmail,” he told shipbuilders.

And Fallon aimed a direct blow at Corbyn, who was recently named vice-president of the London-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an organization that wants the U.K. to give up its nuclear weapons unilaterally as a step towards global disarmament.

“Despite taking our nuclear non-proliferation obligations seriously; despite reducing our stockpile by over half from the height of the Cold War; and despite reducing the number of deployed warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40, emerging states have not stopped seeking nuclear capability”, Fallon said.

The Successor program is nearing the end of a five-year assessment phase which began in 2011. Work this year has focused on maturing the design of the platform and nuclear power plant, and collaboration with the US on a Common Missile Compartment (to be shared with the Ohio-class Replacement Program (ORP_) is also continuing.

The Ministry of Defence has estimated that procuring the Successor submarines will cost $19.82 to 25.2 billion (at 2013/14 prices), with total program costs of $26.89 to 35.95 billion if warhead and infrastructure costs are included.

“Spread across the 30-year life of the new boats, this represents an annual insurance premium of around 0.13 per cent of total government spending”, Fallon said.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    Good for the Brits glad someone is getting what they want.

  • SNP and Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abott won’t be happy.

    • Corporate Kitten

      Neither will their chums in the Kremlin.

      But, c’est la vie.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Wow, quite a change from the glory days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Four nuclear subs, that’s spreading it a little thin isn’t it, considering there are seven oceans…

    If only the Iron Lady were here.

    • DaSaint

      There are only 4 now. It’s a one-for-one replacement.

    • NavySubNuke

      The Iron lady is a big part of why they have even the 4 SSBNs that they do — if it wasn’t for her they probably wouldn’t have any. The one for one replacement of Successors in place of the Vanguards will ensure the UK retains an SSBN capability until at least the 2060s.

      • publius_maximus_III

        If the British Labour Party’s new “hippie dude” leader, Jeremy Corbyn, ever grasps the reigns of power, they won’t even have those 4. Quite a change from Tony Blair, what could that party be thinking?

    • Dave Andrew

      The missiles have intercontinental ranges. The point behind our nukes is simply deterrent. We don’t need to have 1000’s of warheads and the capability to wipe out the globe in one day, all we need is the capability to take out 200 or so cities. It’s in the word – deterrent. As things stand, only the US, UK, France and the UK have the capability to even build SSBN’s

      • publius_maximus_III

        Ours, too. We just like to keep a few spares around, in case we miss a continent or two.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    The Royal Navy didn’t have SSBNs in 1946

  • John B. Morgen

    The several decades four SSBNs have been the standard limit for the Royal Navy, but now it is the time to increase this sum to additional four or six more SSBNs than the usual sum; due to the changing naval policies with the Russian and Chinese navies. The British should be especially concern about the PLAN’s SSBN programs, and the same for the United States..

  • Dave Andrew

    Not to split hairs but the second picture down isn’t the Vanguard SSBN. It’s the Astute SSN from the looks of it.