Our independent deterrent

Trident submarine leaving its base on the Clyde (picture JohnED76)

Thinking more about the submarine collision that was reported yesterday, there was an interesting conversation on the radio this morning with a veteran commander of nuclear submarines. He was being asked about how it could happen that two submarines might end up in the same place, in view of that fact that there are many thousands of square miles of Atlantic in which they sail.

It’s worse than that, was the reply. They are cubic miles, not square miles, and yet still two submarines collided.

The reason that submarines go where they do is that they are trying to hide. This means avoiding detection by the enemy but also remaining able to detect any possible enemy surveillance. The captain of the submarine has to take a judgement as to the balance between these two objectives, and, what happens? Both British and French captains make the same judgement, and their ships collide with each other.

Some parts of the ocean are better than others as places to hide, but those best places to hide turn out to be crowded.

Two thoughts arise from this. First, are deep ocean submarines really quite as undetectable as was previously thought? A nuclear second strike capability depends on their ability to disappear, rather than being bumped into as though on a crowded pavement at Oxford Circus.

Secondly, there is the fact that this was a collision between the submarines of Britain and France. Each is supposed to be acting independently to provide a deterrent capability: now we know that they are actually doing the same job, sailing in the very same waters, and are not acting independently at all. In which case, we surely don’t need two separate submarine programmes and would save a lot of money if we had only the one.

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