Sunday, November 7, 2010

French Nuclear Cooperation, Going further

French and British SSBN's
Much has been made of the Nuclear cooperation agreement between France and the UK. While many oppose it I support it however if we are to reap real benefits from this pact it must go further than has been initially outlined.

Much of the aspects of the Anglo French treaty signed last week are simply attempts at justification of defence cuts. While it makes sens for instance for the UK and France to try and harmonise refits of their aircraft carriers pretending that we are going to operate from each others is a fallacy. As is pretending that we will both maintain sovereign capabilities (just because Dave says it doesn't make it true). However Nuclear cooperation makes allot of sense between the two.

Nuclear weapons are expensive. Almost everyone accepts that we should maintain a credible deterrent however the though of spending £20 billion on its renewal is disheartening to all but its sternest proponents in the current financial climate. France too has all the same problems we do. French budgets are likely to be cut soon and the military will no doubt bear much of this burden. With our Trident life extension our Vanguards will leave service around the same time as the French Triomphants.

These similar dates as well as the need for both Britain and France to replace there existing missiles means that we have a golden opportunity to cooperate not just on warheads but on the entire system from the boats to the missiles.

At present the United Kingdom relies on US manufactured Trident II D5 missiles. While the United Kingdom stresses its ability to fire these missiles independently in the end we do not own the missiles themselves. We merely carry US navy missles on rotation. These are returned to the US for maintenance and upgrade. While the UK may be able to maintain the ability to fire independently it cannot really claim to have a fully independent deterrent.

France is the only western nation other than the United States which builds its own SLBM's. While arguably not as capable as Trident the new M51 SLBM is a formidable missile. Due to budget constraints the French were not able to produce the larger and more capable M5 missile and had to instead opt for the M51. Cooperation with France on a Trident replacement could allow us to jointly develop and manufacture our own SLBM giving us a much more independent deterrent than we presently have. Another issue is that even with a life extension the Vanguard Replacement are likely to be finished before the D5 replacement missile Trident E6. If the dimensions of this missile are changed dramatically then we may have to put our boats in for costly over halls. With only 3 boats likely in the class it may not be possible to maintain continuous at sea patrol's if one boat is in a long maintenance.

The French do not have the same level of experience as the United Kingdom in construction of Nuclear Submarines. While French SSN's and SSBN's are excellent platforms they are not as effective as their Royal Navy counterparts requiring more frequent re fulling and with a higher noise profile. Cooperation on boat manufacture could allow the French to acquire a better next generation submarine with out having to spend a massive amount on R&D.

Warhead design is actually a mute point. The United Kingdom and France both already cooperate heavily with the USA on this. The warheads used by all three nations are believed to be nearly identical. As with testing and maintenance. Its unlikely we will gain much in the way of technology however we are likely to be able to save a significant amount of money with a combined design. While warhead manufacture is probably something we are not prepared to combine we can likely make significant savings with the combined servicing and maintenance.

If we are truly looking to save on this cooperation then we should also consider combined manufacturing of the vessels. The UK and France both struggle to keep their domestic Nuclear Submarine Industries afloat. Combining these industry may allow the two to share a more viable industry providing around 14 SSN and 6 SSBN's in the next generation. Allowing one yard and one reactor facility to work continuously rather than having long gaps in production causing skilled workers to leave.


  1. Whether we buy Trident, M51 or a homegrown design should be up for debate based on cost effectiveness.

    Whether we co-operate with France on boat design is harder, we tend to co-operate until they have a tizzy and walk off, but again, theres at least room for discussion.

    However, theres no room for discussion on production.
    If our Yard is "strategic" and Frances yard is "strategic", then there will remain two yards.

    I'd be happy to sell France Astute/VanguardReplacement boats.
    I'd be happy to sell them parts for said boats.
    Or even sell them the designs.
    I'd be happy for every citizen of the UK to sign in Blood that we will sell France SSN's and SSBN's even if we are at war with them

    But if we want to build our own fleet, we cant buy any boats off them, because our own yard would have to go, and I dont trust them to provide us wine, never mind military hardware..

  2. I appreciate your scepticism and to a certain extent I share it. However if its a choice between sharing construction with France or not having any construction at all then i think its the lesser of two evils.

    Even with Astute 7 being built and 3 new SSBN's we are going to have a gap of 8 years between the last Vanguard and the replacement for Astute 1.

  3. True, we have an 8 year gap, but France doesnt solve that, unless France orders 4 boats off us.

    We buy the boats
    We get someone else to buy the boats
    We pay the yard to do nothing
    Or we close the yard

    We could enter some sort of complicated sharing agreement, where we each build 90% of our own subs, and then build 5% for both, but that would be both very expensive and fail to maintain capability.

    If we cant build it 100% ourselves, we're much better off buying in total from someone else.

    Both the Americans and French would jump at the chance to provide us with 10/11 submarines every 25 years at pre tax cost price.

    (Pre Tax Cost Price sounds like an unbelievable deal, but we'd happily export Astutes to India for that if meant keeping Barrow open.)