Science Fiction: Science Facts

10/02/2016 10:34 GMT | Updated 09/02/2017 10:12 GMT

The debate on whether the UK should replace its nuclear weapons platform, what that platform should be, whether Emily Thornberry or Lord West are correct, does not matter. What matters is that we take a long hard look at the science and technology behind the rationale for this decision. Leaving aside the question of morality and legality of nuclear weapons, I would like to put the case for a basic examination of fact.

Science fiction?

One operator controlling 1,000 underwater drones, all interconnected, patrolling the seas, delivering a fast, mass intelligence battlefield system that is way beyond that of your enemy. Low cost, automated, minimising risk to human controller, intercepting, tracking, delivering information in real time to the state, destroying.

Is this really so far fetched, when in development now are drone swarms that replicate the swarming behaviors of bees or ants. Not new on the battlefield, but put together with the advances in undersea communications and detection systems, and you have a real "Game Changer".

The US already has underwater drones in operation and plans to deploy swarms in 2020. Other nations are in similar stages of research and development.

Until now it has always been a 'given' that submarines provide stealth, survivability and invulnerability to pre-emptive attack. This is the rationale for the UK adopting submarines as the sole platform for its nuclear weapons.

Science Fact.

However, ongoing developments in underwater unmanned vehicles, evolving underwater communications systems, advances in active low frequency sonar, satellites and other anti submarine warfare (ASW) systems - sometimes allied to fast, portable, high power computing - mean that even totally silent submarines will become detectable.

Sensor technologies can not only use sound, but also detect small surface water movements to detect the presence of large mass objects. Year by year, as the capabilities of these systems further improves and their costs reduce, remote and potentially autonomous sensor deployments at scale become possible. When networked, and communicating with each other, and with underwater communication nodes, satellites, UAVs and aircraft, those states that invest in this technology will have significant control of the underwater environment.

The development of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UAVs), underwater sensor and communications technologies are transforming the undersea battle space with serious implications for 'Successor' (the name of the proposed replacement for Trident) as an appropriate platform for the UK's nuclear weapons capability.

Given that 'Successor' will enter into service in the early 2030s, and is envisaged to remain in service until the 2070s, and given the existing developments in ASW and new technologies already in train, it is legitimate to ask how 'Successor' will counter:

Detection from above surface.

Detection from below surface including advanced optical and acoustic sensing, UUVs and communications.

Cyber interference.

However it is not simply that, if not countered, these developments render submarines an inappropriate platform for UK's nuclear weapon capability, but one that will become increasingly hazardous.

What next?

We have a government that wants to replace Trident with a 'Like for Like ' system. We have an Opposition that is split on this. Given the research mentioned above, 'Successor' will, in all probability, be rendered obsolete before it hits the water.

It is time to stop playing party politics with a decision of this magnitude, that will have such far reaching repercussions for the UK's future security, international standing and identity.

It is time to bring in the scientists. Look at the facts.