Trident trap: Replacement of UK’s nuclear subs ‘to cost £167 billion, exceeding all expectations’

Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland. © David Moir
The overall cost of replacing and maintaining Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet will reach 167 billion pounds ($256 billion), far exceeding initial expectations, Cameron’s Conservative party lawmakers told Reuters.

The final decision on replacing the UK’s four aging nuclear subs is due to be made in 2016, with Prime Minister David Cameron being a strong backer of continuing the country’s at-sea nuclear deterrent.

The British government had said earlier that the purchase of new Vanguard-class vessels, which are capable of carrying Trident missiles, would require around 15-20 billion pounds, without specifying estimated maintenance costs.   

However, Minister of State for Defense Procurement Philip Dunne said on Friday that the price tag for the state-of-the-art submarines will come in at around 25 billion pounds. 

The new figures were revealed in Dunne’s written parliamentary response to fellow Conservative party lawmaker Crispin Blunt’s request. 

According to the response, the in-service costs would amount to about 6 percent of the annual defense budget, which now stands at around 34 billion pounds, over the vessels’ lifetime.

Blunt used the data provided by the Defense Ministry to calculate the total cost of the project, which he said will be “167 billion pounds.”

“My office’s calculation based on an in-service date of 2028 and a missile extension until 2060,” the MP told Reuters.

“The successor Trident program is going to consume more than double the proportion of the defense budget of its predecessor... The price required, both from the UK taxpayer and our conventional forces, is now too high to be rational or sensible,” Blunt stressed.

The lawmaker’s figure was based on the presumption that the UK will spend 2 percent of its annual GDP on defense, as Cameron has promised, and a forecast that the country’s GDP will grow 2.48 percent on average every year between 2020 and 2060.

Reuters said that they had repeated the calculations using the same numbers and conditions and also come to the same result – 167 billion pounds.

The Defense Ministry defended the rise in cost, saying that there was no alternative to the Trident-based nuclear deterrent in terms of both price and capability.

“At around 6 percent of the annual defense budget, the in-service costs of the UK’s national deterrent ... are affordable and represent an investment in a capability which plays an important role in ensuring the UK’s national security,” the ministry stressed.

However, there is strong opposition to prolonging the Trident program in Britain, with critics suggesting that the money would better spent on families facing austerity.

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The main Labour Party remains split on the issue, as its new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, doesn’t share the majority’s support for replacing the nuclear subs.

In late-September, Corbyn said he was “opposed to using nuclear weapons” and wouldn’t use the Trident system even if it was at his disposal.

The leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, has said that the renewal of Trident “is unjustified. It is unaffordable. It is immoral.”

READ MORE: 'Get rid of Trident or back Tory WMD': SNP calls on Scottish Labour ‘to be straight with people’

“Be in no doubt. The SNP will stand against Trident – today, tomorrow and always,” Sturgeon promised at the party’s conference earlier this month.

Last year, a poll by the Guardian newspaper revealed that 79 percent of British voters believe that UK shouldn’t renew its Trident program.