Lib Dems push for 'stand-by' Trident replacement deal

Party leaders say proposal not to replace Vanguard subs would save billions and set them apart from the Tories

The future of Britain's nuclear deterrent looks likely to be an issue at the 2015 election as the Liberal Democrats prepare to endorse a scaled-down version of the £25bn programme to replace the Trident system.

An internal review by the Ministry of Defence is expected to produce a "menu of options" including putting the UK's nuclear weapons on "standby" so they could be reactivated at short notice.

The warheads would be launched with Cruise missiles from the existing Astute class submarines, with the two elements kept at separate locations. This would save billions of pounds as the Government would not need to replace the four Vanguard submarines, one of which is continuously at sea.

Supporters think an Astute submarine with nuclear weapons could be deployed within a week if there were a build-up of international tension. Some defence experts believe more time could be needed and that the Astute subs might need to move much nearer their target than the Vanguards, which have a range of 6,000 miles.

The MoD review is due to conclude by the end of this year and, while some details will be kept secret, a summary is likely to be published early next year. The "standby" option is winning growing support among Liberal Democrats and is expected to feature in their 2015 election manifesto if it is given the go-ahead by the MoD study.

The move would allow the Liberal Democrats to fight the election on a platform distinct from that of the Conservatives, who remain strongly committed to providing a "like-for-like replacement" for Trident by 2028, a process begun by the previous Labour Government. The Conservatives would almost certainly portray the "standby" plan as too risky in an uncertain and dangerous world and argue that the UK must remain a full member of the nuclear club to maintain a credible deterrent.

Although contracts worth £1.3bn for the new Trident system have been announced recently, the Coalition parties have agreed to differ on the issue and have put off the final decision on the UK's deterrent until 2016.

Nick Clegg's party, which is keen to "differentiate" from the Conservatives in the run-up to the election, could seize on the scaled-down Trident option as a way of winning back progressive voters who have deserted the Liberal Democrats since they joined the Tories in coalition.

One Liberal Democrat source said yesterday: "We have to ask whether we can afford a Cold War weapons system in the age of austerity. Being a 'threshold' nuclear power would save billions. Other countries would know we still had a nuclear capability."

Labour supports an independent deterrent but has suggested making savings on the Trident replacement programme. But Ed Miliband said on becoming Labour leader that the party would "need to look very carefully at whether renewing Trident is the necessary or the right thing to do".

The MoD review will report to Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, and Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat Armed Forces minister, who is keen to explore alternatives to the £25bn Trident programme.

Tory ministers had hoped the exercise would build support for a "like-for-like" replacement but that now appears unlikely. Senior Liberal Democrats including Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's former leader, have questioned the value of the existing "Moscow criterion" – keeping an independent deterrent capable of obliterating the capital of Russia – in the post Cold War era.

Even some senior defence officials and retired service chiefs believe Trident is a relic and would rather see part of the £25bn budget spent on the conventional weapons needed for today's conflicts.

Nuclear weapons: The alternatives

1. "Like for like" replacement of existing submarine-launched Trident from 2028 at a cost of £25bn. Favoured by Conservatives and, for now, by Labour.

2. Scaled down version of Trident with warheads launched with Cruise missiles from Astute class submarines. Much cheaper. Likely to feature in 2015 Lib Dem manifesto.

3. Air-launched nuclear deterrent. Was considered by previous Labour Government. Critics say it would be expensive to build a new fleet.

4. Scrapping the nuclear deterrent. Favoured by CND, the SNP and the Green Party.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones