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In reality it is clear that countering all nuclear weapons should be the prime concern of any genuine defence agenda. It is notable that the nuclear weapons programs are still likely to be more expensive than realistic programs to counter them and so are the more profitable option for the "defence" contractors, who will therefore continue to promote them as the only option and continue to fund researchers that supports this view.

Britain needs an effective military force.

If the UK allows military procurement to be determined predominantly by political and commercial interests, Britain will waste money and be left behind as a military power.

In a changing world can we as a nation afford to sacrifice long term military strategy for short term political ends, sustaining approaches that may have been applicable to the cold war but have little standing in today's world of advancing technologies and asymmetric warfare?

The Grand Illusion

Britain's long term security is being compromised by a faith in an approach that is both technologically and sociologically obsolete.
  • Technologically obsolete because anti-submarine technology that was previously not in reach will soon make submarines far easer targets.
  • Sociologically obsolete because retaliation is only possible against large industrial or civilian targets, that have no significant to many non-state organisations and little significance to many of the kinds of nepotistic leader whom are currently likely to present a nuclear threat today.

Trident is not a general tool, as is being suggested, but a very limited tool for dealing with a very limited kind of threat both in technological and sociological terms, a threat that has changed beyond recognition, making Trident obsolete beyond recovery.

Trident is a technology in search of a mission offering a "grand illusion" of security based on its limited capability to destroy a small number of large targets such as cities or or small hardened targets such as silos. One submarine fully loaded with 192 warheads can cause 29,376,000 deaths. As they are loaded at the moment with potentially only 16 warheads that is only 2,448,000 deaths. Each warhead can yield from 15 to 100 Kiloton capable of killing around 153,000 people and injuring a lot more, if used against a city. (Hiroshima was 15 Kilotons and killed 140,000 people but most were in the open.)

In today's world of precision weapons, it is possible and is far more effective to be able to destroy large numbers of small targets, leaving vital infrastructure and populations intact. If it is really considered necessary to destroy cities and populations this can be more effectively accomplished by conventional means, however such mass destruction is only of strategic use in "total war" scenarios.

The authors the governments white paper “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent” puts the view that the Trident system of submarines armed with ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear warheads, is the ultimate defence against almost any threat that might face us, nuclear, biological or chemical, "in a world of diminishing energy supplies and global warming." It believes that Trident "will protect the UK and is consistent with the idea of working towards a peaceful, fairer and safer world without nuclear weapons.” Many experienced military people do not agree that the submarines are invulnerable and offer “insurance against an uncertain future” as the governments white paper claims.

The white paper looks more like a sales document than a military strategy document. The "need" for Trident appears to be being promoted by organisations and political forces with a vested interest in its continuation, and individuals who do not understand military strategy and believe that military power and destructive power are the same thing and who fail to understand the difference between defence and counter offence.

A comprehensive assessment of all known threats, should form the basis for all military development and procurement decisions. There is a serious need for military resources to deal with the myriad of state and non-state threats that are being ignored or wished away in favour of a nuclear theology.

The over reliance on mass destruction as a military strategy has come about as a result of its role at the end of WWII and its proposed use against the superior numbers of Warsaw pact forces.

Trident represents about 5% of the UK military budget.

The threat posed by having the capability of extensive mass destruction, may serve to provide an apparent  security advantage to ones self, however in holding the capability to commit a substantial atrocity, one becomes a significant security risk to the rest of the world particularly in the light of recent pre-emptive acts of war against the middle east.

The argument that nuclear deterrence are a safe strategy is contradicted by non other than Robert S McNamara, former US secretary of defence who says we came to the brink of nuclear war on three separate occasions. [See the documentary film "The Fog of War"]

Clearly than the capability of any organisation for mass destruction does not offer us a road towards a lasting world security. Stability will come from the development of effective counter measures i.e genuine defence rather than counter offence.

Failure to assess threats prior to the Falklands war lead to the sinking of  the Royal Navy's destroyer HMS Sheffield on 4 May 1882, two strikes on the 15,000 tonne merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor on 25 May and damage to HMS Glamorgan on June 12, all by Exocet anti-ship missiles of which the technical details were already available to the British Navy.

There are now weapons that pose a similar threat to submarines such as the MK60 Encapsulated Torpedo (CAPTOR) a torpedo launching mine. See Below.

Trident originally developed for the cold war, has become a technology in search of a mission offering a dangerous illusion of security. It is time for our defence companies to work on genuine defensive weapons rather then delivering more of yesterdays products.

Not undetectable nor Invulnerable

Given combined advances in sea bed listening arrays, torpedo's ability to recognise suitable targets and the possibility of torpedo deployment from anything at any time, submarines are neither undetectable nor invulnerable. The US already has developed suitable weapons and it is unlikely that any serious adversary could not do the same, without detection.
Possibly the reason that submarines have seemed so secure, is simply that during the cold war it was not politically possible to be seen to make a serious attack on one for fear of instigating a conflict. With a change in the political environment, with non-state adversaries who do not themselves possess submarines the situation has changed.

Notably such an actor does not need a weapon of the sophistication of the MK 60 to achieve there objective. Also in a multi adversary world the new problem of who is responsible for such an attack arises, before any retaliatory attack could be made. We could easily be left with no appropriate response.

An adversary could develop a variant on the encapsulated torpedo mine that could wait for years for its target, it could then pursue and destroy or pursue and attach, for later destruction in the deep ocean making post attack investigations more difficult than in shallow water. The device would be placed in known submarine patrol areas or as close to port as possible so that it might pick up targets. Development costs might be in the range of $50m to $500m.

Britain was taken by surprise by the Exocet in the Falklands because of similar complacency towards advances in technology and because we didn't expect to face a French missile.

In the next 15 years intelligent weapons will make as significant a change as the introduction of the horse on the battlefield. Many people are not even aware of the non-classified developments in robotics and swarms.

Torpedos have significantly advanced in the past twenty years as a result of new materials, advances in engineering and computing capabilities. It is unlikely that these advances will not continue, and the “undetectable invulnerability” of submarines will be further compromised.

US Navy View

Admiral Mullen who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968 and has served in Allied, Joint and Navy positions, overseas and in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets stated in 1999 - “Undersea Warfare is a good example of a mission for which operational primacy is critical. As CNO stated in a message to the fleet last week, "Lest we forget, sea control is the unique contribution the Navy makes to our national military strategy…throughout modern history, submarines and mines have been used by less capable adversaries to delay and disrupt highly capable navies of the world. I remain convinced that Anti Submarine Weapons will be a more potent threat in the future."

Some Anti-Submarine Weapons

In their article “Torpedoes and the Next Generation of Undersea Weapons” Bernard Meyers, Frederick Cancilliere, and Kenneth LaPointe outline some advances in torpedos.
  • The MK-54 represents provides a demonstration of the sophistication of intelligence that can be put into a weapon. This level would not be required in order to represent a threat.
  • The MK-60 is a perfect example of a sophisticated anti-submarine mine it was first deployed in 1979. Before Trident! Further developments in encapsulated torpedo technology are likely to have stealth capabilities to hide from sonar.
To present a threat to the UKs submarines would not require this level of technology since if the adversary does not posses fleet in the area the weapon would have little need for the sophisticated discrimination capabilities. We should be aware that an attack is unlikely to be from an identifiable adversary.

MK-54 Intelligent Torpedo

The MK-54 intelligent torpedo sorts through false signals to realign for re-attack. The MK-54 is a lightweight, affordable, intelligent torpedo that blends propulsion, sonar, and advanced signal processing technologies. Developed by the U.S. Navy, this highly-intelligent torpedo differentiates between false signals generated by submarines to destroy a hidden target upon re-attack and allows naval personnel control torpedo's remotely with high-tech guidance systems.

MK 60 Encapsulated Torpedo (CAPTOR)

Mine Mk 60 is a sophisticated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) moored mine which is designed to detect and classify submarines and release a modified Torpedo Mk 46 to acquire and attack submerged targets only. This deep water mine is designed to be laid by aircraft or submarine, and is anchored to the ocean floor. The mine utilizes an influence firing device and is able to classify passing submarines. Its acoustic detection system is designed to seek hostile submarines, ignoring surface craft and friendly submarine acoustic signatures. The weapon lies dormant until a target is detected, at which time the torpedo swims out of its capsule to attack and destroy its target. As in other mines, the Mk 60 incorporates an arming-delay.

This weapon was developed by the Mine Division of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, which is now located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Coastal Systems Station, Panama City, Florida. Because it can be converted to have some operational capability in littoral waters, a modification to CAPTOR is being considered as one of the options for the Littoral Sea Mine (LSM) program.


So it would seem that although submarines can be difficult to detect in the open ocean, this undetectability and invulnerability is now easily compromised given any knowledge of their route and given that one is not vulnerable to threats of massive nuclear retaliation.

There can be little justification for threats or action to destroy resources infrastructure and people that are not directly engaged in warfare others. The development of weapons to counter the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction is the crucial route creating a safer world that the so called defence establishment needs to address.

As I walk down the road with my young daughter I take little comfort in the fact that if we were to be the victims of a nuclear attack, that a similar father and daughter walking down some other road else where in the world would be similarly victimised. But I would take great comfort to know that somebody somewhere was seeking and would destroy the perpetrators of both such crimes.


Although the predecessor to the article above I wrote in April 2008 7 years ago much of the arguments still apply and certainly the advances in computing. Notably now a Google of two important books are eclipsed by articles of the same names! "Deterrence in the Second Nuclear" and "Deterrence in the 21st Century". What a startling coincidence.

Since my original penning of the above document the opinions there in seem to be popping up in a few places.


  • "Deterrence in the Second Nuclear" Age Paperback – October 24, 1996 by Keith B. Payne (Author), Colin S. Gray (Foreword).
  • "Deterrence in the 21st Century" Editor Max G Manwaring.
  • "The Missile Defense Controversy: Technology in Search of a Mission" Paperback – November 4, 2002 by Ernest J. Yanarella.

© Tom de Havas 2011. The information under this section is my own work it may be reproduced without modification but must include this notice.