Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

UK defence plans and Trident role questioned

Trident nuclear submarine
Trident, the UK's nuclear deterrent, has been left out of the review

Options for the future shape of Britain's armed forces have been outlined by ministers and hotly debated by politicians, military experts and other interested groups.

An MoD Green Paper says the UK's forces are likely to operate as part of international coalitions in future conflicts and "further integration" with key allies might be needed.

It also sets out the framework for a post-election strategic defence review.

The Conservatives questioned how much Britain could afford to rely on European allies such as France, while the Liberal Democrats said the omission of Trident from the review had left the Green Paper "unbalanced".

Trident is the UK's nuclear deterrent, consisting of submarines, missiles and warheads. Its replacement was backed by MPs in 2007 and it is expected to cost £20bn.

The Lib Dem's view is shared, unsurprisingly, by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

It said the Green Paper was a "disastrous missed opportunity" that had avoided "the huge white elephant in the room".

'Cold War relics'

CND chairwoman Kate Hudson said Trident was "one of the most costly defence programmes" and it was "nonsense" to ignore it.

The absence of a refreshed strategy since 1998 has been to the nation's detriment and has forced industry to take short-term decisions
ADS, defence trade body

"When all major parties are proposing huge spending cuts, this is the time for ministers to realise that scrapping Trident replacement would be one very positive and popular cutback," she said.

"Polls consistently show a clear majority against Trident whilst at the same time a growing number of senior military figures have described the system as 'militarily useless'."

US President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia were both working towards a nuclear-free world, she added, and Britain should do the same.

"Scrapping Trident would move us towards this goal, improving our security as well as freeing up resources for spending on real priorities, not Cold War relics," she said.

Future conflicts

The aerospace, defence and security trade body ADS welcomed the Green Paper as a "crucial" step towards a strategic defence review - the last one was in 1998.

Rees Ward, CEO of ADS, said: "The absence of a refreshed strategy since 1998 has been to the nation's detriment and has forced industry to take short-term decisions."

But the organisation said it did not address whether investment in research and technology was at the right level.

"R&T has been cut by the MoD by 23% over the last three years. Currently there is a great fear that the UK will end up prepared for current conflicts, and not those of the future," said Mr Ward.

The defence industry provides 10% of all UK manufacturing jobs, according to ADS, and budgetary cuts often bring job losses.

Prospect, the union representing 15,000 civilian specialists in the MoD, said it was already concerned about outsourcing.

National secretary Steve Jary said: "Although we welcome MoD's commitment to the role of civilians in defence, the department must carry through their words with deeds and take on board the concerns over outsourcing.

"Continued cuts to the civilian workforce will have a detrimental effect on frontline capability."

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