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Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine deterrent could be facing grave dangers in the future, a new report presented at Westminster parliament predicts. Technological progress in underwater drone technology could make it virtually impossible to prevent the detection of the submarines. New technologies, both unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) and advanced sensors, could make the world’s oceans “transparent.”
In the emerging debate over the Successor programme, set to replace the current fleet of four 20 year old submarines. The defence committee of the Commons (the lower house of the British parliament) asked defence contractors BAE Systems and Babcock International to assess “whether new technologies, for example underwater drones, are being developed which could accurately detect and track submarines” and deprive them of their one great advantage – stealth.
The answer to this question comes from independent security think-tank, the British American Information Council (BASIC), and in short it is that yes, advances in technology will someday make it impossible to hide a big missile-carrying submarine in the deep ocean.
“In the past, submarines have enjoyed the luxury of hiding in empty seas. In the future, those seas are likely to be increasingly crowded with networked drones, a net of eyes and ears which no submarine can escape,” the report reads.
That is not to say that tomorrow submarines will become effectively useless. These developments will not happen overnight. But BASIC argues that it could be extremely shortsighted to spend some £40 billion on four submarines that are only expected to launch some time in the 2030s, by which time their usefulness could be greatly diminished.
The main questions going forward should be about how to counter this counter-submarine technology if and when it arrives.