Sunday, 4 December 2016

Trident Nuclear Weapons

At Stockport's November Meeting Dr David Hookes, of the
University of Liverpool gave a PowerPoint presentation on The Trident Missile System. Dr Hookes is also a member of Scientists for Global Responsibility.

The Trident II (D5) is designed to be carried on a Vanguard class submarine which has a crew of 132 and carries 16 Trident Missile Tubes and 4 Spearfish torpedo tubes. Each Trident Missile has up to 12x100kton warheads and has a range of 7,000 miles accurate to 90 metres. In 2012 the US had 14 nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, Russia had 10, and UK and France 4 each.

The advantage of such a system is that the UK could inflict huge damage on any adversary that threatened attack including overcoming air defences of capitals such as Moscow and Beijing. The main disadvantage is the huge capital cost.  Each Vanguard can be at sea for 3 months and there is always one on patrol at any time.(Contiuous At Sea Deterrence). The replacements should arrive in early 2030s.

But will Trident still work in the future or will the oceans become transparent? Trident depends on the stealth of the submarines and the effectiveness of the systems that protect them. Technologies such as Active Sonar are being rapidly developed as aids to detection. Acoustic technologies and lasers are becoming reliable for underwater communications over significant distances. Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing (OAWRS) is becoming effective over thousands of square km. Active OAWRS is already used to detect fish and passive OAWRS can detect whale noise over 100,000 sqkm. Autonomous and semi-autonomous drones (unmanned underwater vehicles – UUVs) which are already in use in commercial space could significantly change outcomes, particularly if they are operating in packs or swarms. Submarines may not be the ideal platform in the future that they have been in the past. Some of the UUVs under development are: US Navy Mk 18 MOD2 “Swordfish”, US Navy Bluefin and Cambridge University “Blackghost”.

Work is going on in at least five technologies to detect nuclear submarines: Passive and Active sonar, Water disturbances e.g. wake, Magnetic fields, Blue-green lasers and anti-neutrino emissions. Once located the Trident sub can be tracked indefinitely.

Artificial Intelligence software is now able to filter large streams of data, discriminating between important and unimportant information. This will help drones act collectively in large fleets (swarms) over large areas with multiple sensor inputs. This will take away some of the tactical and strategic advantage of the submarine. One danger is, that as submarines become more detectable and vulnerable to attack, their payload becomes more susceptible to launch. Some of the dangers of cyber-attacks are: Spoof early warning systems, Hacking into communications and issuing order for attack, Hacking directly into actual missile control systems.

Dr Hookes then went on to counter 6 myths about Nuclear Weapons:

Nuclear weapons are essential for security. In fact they breed fear and distrust; are useless against real threats such as climate change, terrorism, resource depletion, poverty and disease.  Deterrence theory makes assumptions that are unstable, unprovable and unreliable. Most countries reject the idea that Nuclear weapons make them safer.

Nuclear Weapons have kept the peace for 70 years. There have been hundreds of conflicts involving at least 10million deaths. There have been several “close shaves”. It has to work for ever, not just 70 years. We no longer have ideological blocks and there is a more unpredictable world.

It’s okay for some countries to have nuclear weapons. This undermines the Non-proliferation treaty and Privileges the security of a few states at the expense of the rest. If nuclear weapons are used all countries will be affected.

A Ban Treaty is unnecessary. Although 40,000 nuclear weapons have been dismantled 16,000 remain. All nuclear states are modernising their arsenals, and more countries have joined the nuclear club. Nuclear weapons are the only WMD not yet prohibited by international treaty.

A Ban is useless unless all countries sign at once. Treaties affect countries that do not sign them. US no longer makes of uses landmines but has not signed the ban treaty. Recently Syria was persuaded to give up its chemical weapons. Nations can join ban later (subject to eliminating stockpiles).

Banning Nuclear weapons won’t eliminate them. Banning usually precedes elimination, and a ban makes maintenance and development more difficult. It would bring legal clarity and moral authority sending a clear signal that all nuclear weapons were unacceptable. Ban treaties already in place cover: Biological Weapons (1972), Chemical Weapons (1993), Landmines (1997), and Cluster Bombs (2008). Consideration was also given to International law, in particular the 1949 Geneva Conventions together with the 1997 additional Protocol. An Opinion set out by the International Court of Justice concluded “the threat or use of Nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict. . .” 

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