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Cost of Upgrading UK’s Nuclear Deterrent’s Astonishing Increase

The country’s defence budget is projected to overspend by £16.9 billion across 10 years as no decisions have been taken on which programmes to prioritise

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An astonishing 62% increase in just one year in the cost of upgrading the UK’s nuclear deterrent has caused alarm among MPs.

A report published today by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee reveals that the estimated cost of the Ministry of Defence’s nuclear budget for the coming decade jumped from £38.2 billion in one year to more than £109 billion.

Part of this huge increase has been caused by inflation and adverse currency movements but it is also the result of the ministry throwing money at keeping the new Dreadnought submarines on time so they can deliver the upgraded nuclear deterrent.

This is because the Infrastructure and Projects Authority rated the Core Production Capability project – responsible for delivering the reactor cores for the Dreadnought submarines and the requisite infrastructure – ‘red’ in 2023 and 2022 which meant that it was “not achievable”.

At the same time, a submission to MPs from an independent research organisation, the Nuclear Information Services, includes disturbing evidence that submariners operating the UK’s nuclear deterrent are suffering from mental stress because of the doubling of the time they are on patrol at sea, from three to six months, to save money.

It says these long trips, during which the submarine never surfaces, cause “a significant mental and physical toll on the crews” and that “all of these factors have implications for the safe operating of the submarines”.

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Last month it was reported that an unarmed Trident missile misfired from a submarine landing in the sea near Florida – embarrassingly when Defence Secretary Grant Shapps was on  board to witness the test launch.

Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier MP, the committee’s chair, said: “In an increasingly volatile world, the Ministry of Defence’s lack of a credible plan to deliver fully-funded military capability as desired by Government leaves us in an alarming place. But this problem is not new.

“Year on year, our committee has seen budget over-runs and delays in defence procurement. A lack of discipline in the MoD’s budgeting and approach has led to an inconsistent plan that just isn’t a reliable overview of the equipment programme’s affordability.”

Altogether, the present MoD budget is projected to overspend by £16.9 billion across 10 years because no decisions have been taken to prioritise which programmes should go ahead and which should be dropped. This is despite an extra £46 billion being allocated to it by the Government, which the ministry seems to have swallowed up as its budget has jumped by £65.7 billion.

The Royal Navy alone is projected to hit a deficit of £15.3 billion if it is to fulfil what the Government wants – and only two out of seven projects are expected to be completed within time and costs.

The Army has a projected deficit of £1.2 billion over the same period but MPs say this would rise to £12 billion to fulfil what the Government wants.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday deferred a spending review until 2025 which would leave any incoming government with an inherited budget deficit, having to either impose unpopular cuts or beg the new chancellor for more cash.


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The submission from the Nuclear Information Service, an independent not-for-profit research organisation funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and the Greenpeace Environmental Trust among others, also shows that the UK only has one of its four nuclear submarines on patrol at any one time. Two of the others are often on visits to the US, and having minor refits, and one is always in dry dock having a major refit. 

An Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Our Armed Forces stand ready to protect the UK and as a leading contributor to NATO, we continue to defend our national interests and those of our allies.

“We are delivering the capabilities our forces need – significantly increasing spending on defence equipment to £288.6 billion over the next decade, introducing a new procurement model to improve acquisition, and confirming our aspiration to spend 2.5% GDP on defence.

“By maintaining part of our equipment plan as uncommitted spend, we have the flexibility to better adapt to changing technology and emerging threats.”

David Cullen, director of the Nuclear Information Service, told Byline Times that the underlying cause of the “eye-watering cost rises” is the MoD’s “struggle to maintain Trident patrols and prevent further delays to the replacement Dreadnought submarines”.

“We have seen patrols increasing in length over the last few years, with the latest six-month patrol being twice the normal length,” he said. “This places an unacceptable strain on both crews and equipment. When is the MoD leadership going to recognise that the situation is not sustainable and something needs to change?”

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