Warships Pod

29: A Fragile Nuclear Deterrent in a Dangerous World

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Episode notes

In part two of their discussion, Warships Pod host Iain Ballantyne and guest Doug Littlejohns touch on numerous things, not least nuclear deterrent matters.

As in the previous episode, the situation during the Cold War is compared with today’s, including the problem of Royal Navy submarines that carry the deterrent becoming elderly and badly in need of replacement.

Doug recalls his role in selling the upgrade from Polaris to Trident to the British public in the 1980s, providing insights into how fundamental it was to absolutely guarantee its effectiveness.

Doug suggests that for such systems to be effective ‘weapons for peace’, the UK and NATO need to have a credible conventional deterrent too. Today, so Doug believes, the balance has been lost and this risks making nuclear weapons use more likely.

Mentioned are the massive efforts of Royal Navy submarine crews keeping the now 30 years-old Vanguard Class Trident missile submarines of today running on marathon patrols, some of them lasting an astonishing six months or more.

Among other things covered in this episode, Doug recalls the time when - during 1980s arms reduction talks in Iceland with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev - US President Ronald Reagan appeared to give away the British and French nuclear deterrent without prior permission, as part of bargaining.

Iain and Doug also discuss the situation today with Houthi rebels of Yemen attacking merchant vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Doug reflects on his experiences as the captain of a British frigate tasked with protecting shipping during the Tanker War of the 1980s.

Iain and Doug also consider the recruitment crisis currently facing the Royal Navy and the challenge of encouraging people to join up (and then keeping them in service) today and back in the Cold War.

Finally, they ponder when, if ever, the current mess of UK Defence will be properly sorted out.

For more on the current state of the Royal Navy, and more particularly the UK Submarine Service and its ‘Perfect Storm’, get the April 2024 edition of Warships IFR, which is out NOW! Visit https://bit.ly/w2404c
  • Doug Littlejohns commanded the diesel-electric patrol submarine HMS Osiris and the nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) HMS Sceptre, plus the anti-submarine warfare frigate HMS London, during the Cold War. Capt Littlejohns faced the forces of the Soviet Union in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Baltic, and also the Iranians in the Arabian Gulf.
  • Iain Ballantyne is the founding and current Editor of Warships IFR (first published in 1998) along with its ‘Guide to the Royal Navy’ (since 2003) and ‘Guide to the US Navy’ (since 2018). Iain is also author of the books ‘Hunter Killers’ (Orion) and ‘The Deadly Trade’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), both about submarine warfare.