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“Cold War certainties have been replaced by an unpredictable new nuclear age defined by weapons proliferation, more nuclear states, and rogue nations wanting nuclear weapons and the technology to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