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Tuesday 20 July 2010

Holding Aloft Our Shining Trident – 3

The issue of defence is moving swiftly right now: hardly had I committed the previous post on this issue, than Liam Fox, minister with special responsibility for keeping foot out of mouth, held forth at the Farnborough air show and said this about the UK’s defence programme:

The defence programme is entirely unaffordable – especially if we try to do what we need to do in the future while simultaneously doing everything that we've done in the past

Fox has also been urging defence contractors and suppliers to “improve value for money to the taxpayer”, amid rumours that the capital cost of the Trident Missile System, formerly paid by the Treasury, would have to come out of his budget – if the system were to be replaced.

So, how much would it cost? Well, at today’s prices – and, it should be borne in mind, prices in the defence arena have a nasty but all too common tendency to escalate over time – we’re talking around 17 billion quid over ten years. And that, as far as is known, is just the capital element.

With operational costs bundled in, we could be looking at two and a half billion every year – maybe more. With the coalition looking for savings anywhere they can be found, the defence supplier that offers an air delivered nuclear option at a fraction of that – say half a billion a year – may find doors opening rather easily at the MoD.

But what of the opposition from the Royal Navy and its allies in the Fourth Estate? Indeed. Hence any move to force a debate on Trident early on in the life of this Government: the hope will be that settling the issue, and containing the chorus of dissent now, will mean that a less grand nuclear future would be established, and accepted, when a General Election comes round.

How might we know that the Government is moving to consider ditching Trident? Expect the usual suspects in the Tory cheerleading part of the blogosphere to start suggesting that Trident is not such a big deal, that nothing should be ruled out of an upcoming defence review, and that we have to equip our soldiers properly while getting the best value for money.

I’ll give that a fortnight tops.

[UPDATE: this post has also featured on Liberal Conspiracy. My thanks as ever to Sunny Hundal]

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