UK’s Nuclear Deterrent Is ‘Not Fit for Purpose,’ British Lawmakers Say

By John Smithies, Epoch Times
September 21, 2018 Updated: September 30, 2019

LONDON—Britain’s nuclear deterrent is “not fit for purpose,” a report by the country’s Parliament has found.

The report from the public accounts committee found that maintenance had been delayed at 13 sites that support nuclear submarines.

Brexit could also affect the nuclear missile program, according to the report that was released Sept. 21, because of materials that are imported from other European countries. Skilled engineers that come from across the continent may also be more difficult to bring in following Brexit.

The committee warned that there is a 2.9-billion-pound ($3.8-billion) shortfall that needs to be filled, as well as a skills gap if the current deterrent is to be maintained.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) already has a potential 20-billion-pound ($26-billion) shortfall over the next 10 years, putting the purchase of fighter jets, submarines, and armored vehicles at risk, according to a previous report by the committee.

‘Serious Questions’

Committee Chair Meg Hillier said there are “serious questions” over the MoD’s ability to meet its national security commitments.

Hillier said in a statement: “The MoD must now bridge an affordability gap running to nearly 3 billion pounds, fill critical skill gaps, and ensure its supply chain is maintained effectively—all at a time of significant uncertainty in international politics and trade.

“I am particularly concerned that the infrastructure available to support the nuclear enterprise is not fit for purpose.

“The MoD admits that while it has previously put off dismantling submarines on grounds of cost, this is no longer acceptable on grounds of safety and reputation.

“The MoD needs to get on top of this quickly.”

A crew member board HMS Vigilant nuclear submarine
A crew member aboard the HMS Vigilant nuclear submarine in Rhu, Scotland, on Jan. 20, 2016. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The committee said that the MoD attempted to save money by not dismantling old submarines that were no longer in use. There is now a backlog of 20 vessels that need to be disposed of, including nine that still contain nuclear fuel.

Although work has begun on the disposal of the first old nuclear sub, it won’t be completed until 2020.

Designing, producing, and maintaining the fleet of nuclear submarines is forecast to cost the MoD almost 51 billion pounds ($67.4 billion) over the next decade.

In May, the National Audit Office also criticized the MoD for its 10-year spending plan, saying it was “unaffordable” and that “forecasts of equipment and support projects were understated by 1.3 billion pounds.”

And in January, the committee reported that Carrier Strike—a project incorporating two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, new F-35 Lightning II jets, and a new radar system—may go over budget, threatening the MoD’s other defence programs.

Brexit Risks

The committee also said that the current state of the MoD’s accommodation for its personnel is sometimes “woeful.”

Brexit has been recognized by the MoD as having an effect on its supply chain, the report said, and the MoD is actively looking at risks that may arise from Britain leaving the bloc. Such risks may include the price of chemicals used by the nuclear program, because the UK needs to import these chemicals from European countries.

Two senior MoD officials told the committee that finding and maintaining the right people with the right skills were the biggest risks to their programs.

An MoD spokeswoman told The Guardian that the UK’s nuclear programs employee thousands of people and are extremely complex.

“We are committed to delivering these nuclear programs on time and within budget, and will carefully consider the recommendations in this report to ensure this remains the case. We continue to press ahead with our dismantling projects. Work is underway to enhance our infrastructure so our programs continue to run at the highest standards,” she said.

Follow John on Twitter: @jdsmithies
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