Examination of Witnesses (Questions 142-159)|
28 MARCH 2006
Chairman: Good morning. Thank you both
for coming to give evidence. This is the third evidence session
in the Committee's first inquiry into the strategic nuclear deterrent.
As you know, this is one of a series of inquiries that we will
be conducting during the course of this Parliament. The morning
will be broken into two parts: the first will deal with technical
matters and the second with the wider strategic issues. Before
we begin the evidence I would like to take two declarations of
Linda Gilroy: In my original declaration
of interest I referred to various defence interests in my constituency.
I would like to make it clear that DML lies on the edge of my
Mr Borrow: I have already mentioned,
but I think I should repeat this morning, that I am currently
undertaking an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with Thales
Q142 Chairman: Are there are any
other declarations of interest? That brings me straight to a point
which Commodore Hare may wish to emphasise. While you are currently
employed by Thales, is it correct that you wish to make plain
that you are giving evidence this morning in a personal capacity,
not as a representative of the defence industry in general or
Commodore Hare: Yes, please.
Q143 Chairman: Do you want to add
anything to that?
Commodore Hare: Only that I left
the nuclear deterrent scene some four years ago when I retired
from the Royal Navy having spent the majority of my working life
there. Since then I have been working for Thales UK for four years
but in an area not related to nuclear deterrence in any way at
all. I am in the underwater systems division that makes sonar
sets for the Royal Navy. Ironically, we make them for the SSBN
force, but essentially we are an equipment supplier. I have not
been engaged in any professional activity for Thales on anything
to do with nuclear deterrence or the submarine programme.
Q144 Chairman: That is a very helpful
introduction. Mr Whitehouse, would you care to introduce yourself
Mr Whitehouse: I am Corporate
Development Director with DML. I have responsibility for corporate
strategy and as such take a great interest in matters relating
to future deterrence and the way that that interacts with the
current programme. I was one of the senior team that input a lot
of information into the DIS work last year.
Q145 Chairman: I wonder whether we
could begin by asking Commodore Hare to summarise what we currently
have in the UK Trident system in terms of the main components
and the technical capabilities that the system currently provides?
Commodore Hare: Our nuclear deterrent
capability is vested in a single system, Trident, which has a
dual capability. It has a full strategic capability and a sub-strategic
capability. That system, which has been bought from the United
States, is hosted in UK-designed and built nuclear submarines,
called in the jargon SSBNs, of which we have four. Supporting
that system is some shore-based infrastructure, command and control,
which is UK-designed and procured. There are facilities at Faslane,
Coulport and Devonport which again are UK-procured and controlled.
To go into a little detail on the Trident system itself, essentially
it has four elements. There are the submarine platforms, which
are UK-designed and built, in which the launcher, fire control
and navigational sub-systems of the Trident system are hosted.
The missiles which are part of the Trident system are procured
from the United States. There is a pooling arrangement whereby
the United Kingdom has bought 58 Trident missiles. At various
times in a submarine's life, normally after refit, it has to deploy
to Kings Bay, Georgia, to outload itself with the appropriate
number of missiles from the pool. I would like to emphasise that
the UK has bought them, but through expediency and a significant
saving in the original Trident costssomething like £3.8
billion, I thinkit was decided to use that pool in the
United States rather than store and support the missiles in the
UK. In my view, that was a decision based on expediency. Finally,
there is the warhead for which the UK is the design authority
and that is UK-procured. Those are the core elements of our singular
Trident system which provides the UK's nuclear capability.
Q146 Chairman: How is it operated?
Commodore Hare: The operational
posture comes under the heading CASD which stands for Continuous-at-Sea
Deterrence. The thought behind it is that at any one time we have
one submarine deployed on patrol which houses the complete strategic
and sub-strategic capability. The missiles on board that submarine
for safety, confidence and security-building measures are not
targeted at anybody, and the alert status is now reduced from
that which existed in the Cold War to a number of days. At any
one time, however, there is one submarine ready to move up the
alert and readiness status curve should the government of the
day so dictate. The important point I would make about Continuous-at-Sea
Deterrence and why it is such a pillar of our posture, if you
like, is that this is largely a people issue. Operating nuclear
submarines and the Trident system is an extremely complex and
difficult business and we need to keep our people up to speed
and focused on operating the submarines and missile system safely
and effectively at all times. The best way to do that is by having
one on patrol at all times. There is also the related escalatory
issue that having one submarine at sea at all times is a recognisable
status quo, so nobody will be confused by submarines coming and
going from their base port at Faslane in a routine fashion. If
one did not have CASD but some alternative and just deployed submarines
when one wanted to one might be sending incorrect signals which
might be misinterpreted by any potential adversary. That would
be a pretty dangerous thing.
Q147 Mr Holloway: Why would it take
several days to operate them? Has some impediment been built in?
Commodore Hare: No. Trident is
technically a very flexible system and it can really do what you
want it to do within certain constraints, but its various sub-systems,
for example the navigation sub-system, take time to reach their
accuracy limits. As you will understand, if you are to have a
system as accurate as Trident's you have to know exactly where
you and your potential targets are.
Q148 Mr Holloway: But that would
take several days?
Commodore Hare: Not necessarily
several days. Retargeting the Trident system does not take very
long. There are some political rather than technical issues to
do with the seven
Q149 Mr Havard: The title of this discussion
is the Strategic Nuclear Deterrent, but a doctrine is being developed
about the sub-strategic use of what was designed as a strategic
weapon or platform. Underneath that there may be a tactical use
which is different. Can you say something about the idea of the
use of this system in terms of its strategic and sub-strategic
Commodore Hare: I think that there
is a lot of misinformation about the so-called sub-strategic role
which you yourself mentioned. Sometimes it is confused with a
tactical role which is not what either our policy or the Trident
system is about. This is not a system that is geared or operated
to achieve military objectives, by which I mean taking out a town,
city, territory or whatever. It is for strategic use only and
is on the right hand of the deterrence equation to be used in
extremis when the survival of the nation state is at stake.
When the sub-strategic concept was introduced its role was described
by Lord Robertson in his speech in Aberdeen in 2001,
if my memory serves me well. It will be on the record. We use
the term "sub-strategic", not "tactical",
deliberately. It is a sub-strategic role. What it means is that
it offers the government of the day an extra option in the escalatory
process before it goes for an all-out strategic strike which would
deliver unacceptable damage to a potential adversary. It gives
it a lower level of strike with which to demonstrate will, intent
or whatever. It does not have to be used at all but it gives the
government of the day that extra option at the sub-strategic level.
To my mind, that is a welcome option.
Q150 Mr Havard: In terms of configuration
that does not mean a great deal?
Commodore Hare: Not a great deal.
Q151 Mr Havard: You would deploy
one warhead as opposed to a number?
Commodore Hare: The actual number
and deployment and nature of warheads or missiles is fairly classified
information, but as I said in my opening statement when each submarine
goes to sea it has the capacity to fulfil the complete spectrum
of capability, strategic and sub-strategic.
Q152 Linda Gilroy: Mr Whitehouse,
from a technical and operational standpoint, to what extent is
the UK's Trident system dependent on the Americans? Can you tell
us whether in practice the UK could use the system independently
of the United States if it so wished?
Mr Whitehouse: First, obviously
the UK is reliant on the US facilities in Kings Bay for turn round
of the missiles when the submarines are in refit, unlike Polaris.
That is fairly fundamental. Secondly, the systems that sit within
the submarine associated with missile targeting and firing are
obviously reliant on design authority support from the US. That
is another key element. In the event that any of the components
within the re-entry vehicle system and warhead are reliant on
the US for design safety case substantiation, that is a third
key element. According to my understandingperhaps Commodore
Hare can add to thisobviously the decision to use the weapon
is a very serious matter, but essentially that is something which
is under UK control.
Commodore Hare: I would absolutely
endorse that. Certainly, operationally the system is completely
independent of the United States. Any decision to launch missiles
is a sovereign decision taken by the UK and does not involve anybody
else. I have read talk in the press about the Americans having
some technical golden key. That is just not right; they do not.
As Mr Whitehouse has indicated, the only engagement with the United
States that we have now, and which we have had for a very long
time, relates to the design authority for the missile and supporting
launcher, fire control and navigational sub-systems that are housed
in the Vanguard-class submarines.
Q153 Linda Gilroy: I think that some
commentators also say that not only is it a technical golden key
but in the event of the United States not liking a decision taken
by the UK it could very quickly make it difficult for us to operate
the system independently?
Commodore Hare: I would be very
interested to hear how. The best analogy I can give is that if
Ford went bust tomorrow all the Ford Focuses in the country would
not suddenly come to a grinding halt. Certainly, it would be difficult
if the United States withdrew its design authority and logistics
support for the missiles, fire control launcher and navigational
sub-systems. Eventually, it would cause some difficulty, but I
argue that that would take quite a long time. I think that the
risk of that happening is very low. As you know better than I,
the Americans have been our allies for well over 100 years, and
certainly there is no indication of the US withdrawing its support
today or in previous history, as I understand it. One must balance
that risk against the enormous cost benefits that we have in procuring
an American system to house in our submarines. That should not
Q154 Mr Hancock: You are right to
suggest that there has been a lot of press speculation about whether
or not the system is truly independent. We have always prided
ourselves that this is our independent strategic nuclear deterrent,
if we leave out of account the option that the Americans might
shoot down a missile that we fired. One of the speculations in
the newspapers and elsewhere at the weekend is that if the Americans
wanted to prevent a missile being used they could bring it down.
There was also the suggestion that technically they could disable
a missile as they do with test launches. Missiles fired in tests
are brought down by an inbuilt signal sent to the warhead or missile
itself, not the carrier. Are both of you saying that the Americans
do not have that capability? If we are to progress this debate
the independence of our deterrent is of vital importance to the
British people if they are to support something like this. If
it is there only to back up the Americans that is a different
thing. Do you say it is impossible for the Americans to bring
down our missile by a code similar to that which they use in a
Commodore Hare: Nothing in this
world is "impossible", but to the best of my knowledge
and experience that is just not right.
Q155 Mr Hancock: "Not right"
if it is possible for them to have that capability now you do
not know of it?
Commodore Hare: Correct.
Q156 Mr Hancock: Mr Whitehouse?
Mr Whitehouse: I agree with that.
Q157 John Smith: Dealing specifically
with communication systems to be able to target the missiles,
is there any dependence on the Americans in that area?
Commodore Hare: Absolutely not.
Q158 John Smith: I absolutely agree
with your observation about our being allies for the past 100
years. That is why I sit back aghast when we have such difficulty
in negotiating technology transfers on something as basic as the
Joint Strike Fighter. I am not exactly at ease with the idea that
we should not worry about it because they have been allies for
a very long time. But we are dependent on the Americans for being
able to target our missiles?
Commodore Hare: No.
Q159 John Smith: Not in any way at
Commodore Hare: No.
1 Note by Witness: There are some political
rather than technical issues to do with the several days' notice,
not the seven days notice. Back
Note: Lord Robertson's speech was on 1 March 1999 in Aberdeen,
not in 2001. Back