The operation of a ballistic missile nuclear submarine (SSBN) fleet is the price of admission to the “top table” of national prestige and influence. A great power operates SSBNs; if a country does not, then it is not a great power regardless of any pretentiousness such a nation may have.
The sole mission of the U.K. Royal Navy’s fleet of ballistic missile submarines is to provide strategic deterrence by carrying out extended deterrent patrols throughout the world. They are survivable and enduring platforms, with a sea-based strategic offensive weapon system capable of launching long-range ballistic nuclear missile strikes. This political factor appears to be the driving force behind procurement of the Dreadnought.
The British elections in June 2017 were the start of a remarkable series of events in which the Conservative Party went into the campaign with a 22 percent lead in the opinion polls yet the actual result was a hung Parliament, forcing the Conservatives to form another coalition, this time with a small Northern Ireland party. One outcome of this event was a referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the European Union which, to everybody’s surprise, showed a majority in favor of leaving. This initiated the process known as “Brexit,” which dominated political discourse in the U.K. for more than two years.
During this period, both those for and against Brexit used every legal and procedural means they could find to force a conclusion on their own terms. In the process they wrecked the careers of two prime ministers and three leaders of the opposition and created an impression that neither the Conservative Party nor the Labour Party were viable government candidates. As the political trench warfare ground on, their shares of the vote imploded, with most of the voters shifting to what would normally have been unimportant minority groups.
Several of these groups have been strongly opposed to the Dreadnought program and in some cases adamantly opposed to any British possession of nuclear weapons. However, all the issues, including the nuclear weapons argument, were couched in terms of the Brexit debate and eventually, nobody was listening. Ultimately, the Conservative Party won a working majority and the British left the European Union. As a side result, the anti-nuclear clique in Parliament was marginalized.
Additionally, the future U.S. Columbia class submarine shares much in common with the Dreadnought class, and the two submarines are looking very similar. In addition to a common missile compartment, recent contracts confirm that there is much shared technology in the British PWR-3 powertrain. The U.S. Columbia program calls for 12 boats, so there are possibilities for real economies of scale. Hopefully this could offset any future construction costs, as the price for the four Dreadnought class submarines is estimated at $10.1 billion per boat – including initial research and development.
The first submarine of class, Dreadnought, is expected to be commissioned around 2031.