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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'