LONDON – Britain will significantly increase its nuclear warhead supply in response to a deteriorating security environment, the government said in a long-awaited defense, security and foreign policy review released on March 16.
With this move, Britain would increase inventories to no more than 260 warheads, reversing the decision made a decade ago to lower the maximum from 225 to 180 by the mid-2020s.
Depending on how many warheads the country wants to acquire, the number of strategic weapons could increase by more than 40 percent.
The UK is consciously unsure of how many nuclear warheads it has, but it hasn’t always been. In 2015, then Secretary of Defense Michael Fallon announced that the Vanguard-class submarines would carry 40 warheads and no more than eight Trident missiles if they were to be reduced. One of the Royal Navy’s four Vanguard submarines is always at sea and armed.
The government said its decision in the Integrated Review to increase warhead numbers was justified by the development of technological and doctrinal threats.
“Some states are now significantly expanding and diversifying their nuclear arsenals. They are investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new nuclear warfare systems that they incorporate into their military strategies and doctrines as well as into their political rhetoric to coerce others, ”the review reads. “The increase in global competition, the challenges to the international order and the proliferation of potentially disruptive technologies pose a threat to strategic stability.”
Britain is in the early stages of developing a new warhead to eventually arm the four Dreadnought-class submarines that will replace the Vanguard boats from the beginning of the next decade. The review found construction of the first Dreadnought-class submarine is on budget and on schedule.
What else did the review say?
The announcement of the new warhead numbers was one of several important initiatives that emerged from what Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously described as the UK’s biggest foreign and defense shock since the end of the Cold War.
The review confirmed the government’s previously cited intention to align foreign and defense policy with the Asia-Pacific region. The “bias” for the region, as the review put it, is Britain’s response to the growing economies of regional countries and the increasing influence of China on its neighbors and beyond. It is no coincidence that the first deployment of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will take place in the region later this year.
The review warned that “while China is the greatest government threat to Britain’s economic security”, London must continue to grapple with Beijing on trade and international issues such as climate change, even if issues such as Hong Kong and Hong Kong autonomy are verbal Human rights violations in Xinjiang are discussed.
“We will continue to have positive economic relationships, including deeper trade ties and more Chinese investment in the UK. At the same time, we will improve the protection of our critical national infrastructure, institutions and sensitive technologies and strengthen the resilience of our critical supply chains, ”the review reads
Howard Wheeldon of Wheeldon Strategic Advisory sees the UK’s revived interest in the Asia-Pacific region as trade-driven.
“On the surface it seems to be more about securing a place at the future international table and of course the most important element for the government to protect and improve our international trade. It is also true that it is also about securing the lost trust in our allies, ”he told Defense News
What’s next for the British military?
A second part of the review and a new Defense Industrial Base strategy are slated to be released next week, when the Department of Defense announces the winners and losers in a major military shock.
The first part of the Integrated Report signaled that some possible changes are on the way. Ships, armored vehicles, warplanes and military personnel are all in the line of fire as Britain curtails its capabilities to create financial headroom for new investments in space, cyber and artificial intelligence, among other things.
It is unclear whether the government can keep the optimistic tone of the review, Wheeldon said.
“Actions speak louder than words, but that doesn’t change what is in today’s section of the Integrated Review Process: Increase UK stocks of nuclear missiles; full commitment to dreadnought; Investing in AI; Space command; Cyber; growing power in science and technology in Britain; Building the UK’s national resilience; Protection of national interests on a global level; stretch in respect [to] Conflict and stability; UK national security resilience and countering state threats; Defense; Disruption and deterrence, ”he said.
“This is a great document full of intent and hope.”
Next, according to the review, is implementing a “new defense and security industry strategy” in line with the government’s growth plan. This will represent a more strategic approach to our core industrial base. “
“The government will move away from the 2012 ‘standard competition’ policy and prioritize the UK’s industrial capabilities when necessary for national security and operational reasons. We will also reform and reinvigorate our approach to acquisitions, exports and international cooperation, including making greater use of intergovernmental agreements, ”the review stated.
Paul Everitt, executive director of lobbying group ADS, said moving away from competition is by default the right way to support local industries.
“The government’s intention to move away from ‘standard competition’ as the primary way to get value for money in defense procurement is welcomed by the industry,” Everitt told Defense News. “With this approach, the UK’s defense and security sectors can deepen their partnership with the government to better support our national ambitions and secure the UK’s national security goals.”
Meanwhile in Parliament …
The disclosure of the integrated review coincided with the publication of the Parliamentary Public Finance Committee’s annual report on the state of the Defense Ministry’s procurement plans. The committee’s figures suggest that while the ministry has big ambitions, it is also facing big financial problems, despite the government providing a large amount of cash to offset the books and finance the modernization of the funds.
As is customary, the Ministry’s Equipment Plans and Finances report was made for dismal read. For the fourth time in a row, the committee described the equipment plan as “unaffordable”.
The worst-case scenario is a “potential black hole of £ 17.4 billion” (US $ 24.2 billion) in the equipment program between 2020 and 2029, according to the committee. This is significantly more than last year when the committee estimated the potential black hole for 2019-2029 at £ 13 billion.
The Department of Defense, on the other hand, found that the expected funding bottleneck for the current decade is £ 7.3 billion.
The Johnson government last November pledged an additional £ 16.5 billion over the next four fiscal years to fund military modernization. Combined with an annual real increase of 0.5 percent for the next six years after 2024, the defense budget is expected to add £ 30 billion over a ten year period.
None of the figures in the committee’s report take into account the cost of military modernization as part of the integrated review. Whatever the cost of modernization, some of the extra money allocated to defense is used to plug this financial “black hole”. Ministry officials have already indicated that not all of the money would be used to purchase new and revolutionary equipment.
The committee warned the Department of Defense to get its modernization efforts under control and to make savings and cutbacks before implementing a new strategy.
Meg Hillier, chairman of the committee, put it: “It is crucial that this new money be eaten up not just by the constant, debilitating time and budget overruns that have undermined our national defense and security for years. ”