UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles
United Kingdom Nuclear Forces Guide


D-5Trident IIUGM-


United States assistance and support to the United Kingdom's strategic systems programs are covered by the POLARIS Sales Agreement, which was a direct result of the now-historic meeting at Nassau in December 1962 between President Kennedy and Prime Minister MacMillan. SSP has additional responsibilities related to the British Strategic Systems Programs.

Under the terms of the Sales Agreement, the U.S. sold POLARIS missiles (less warheads) to the U.K. In addition to the missiles, the subsystems that make up the weapon system were also sold. The British built their own nuclear-powered submarines to house the weapon system and provided their own warheads.

In July 1980 the U.K. requested, and the U.S. agreed to, the sale of Trident I missiles (less warheads), equipment, and services to the U.K. On 30 September 1980, the U.S. and U.K. letter agreements were formally implemented by an exchange of diplomatic notes that incorporated the TRIDENT sale into the POLARIS Sales Agreement.

In light of the U.S. DoD decision to develop and procure the TRIDENT II (D5) missile, the U.K., in order to maintain commonality with the U.S., requested in March 1982 that the U.S. sell them the TRIDENT II instead of the TRIDENT I. The U.S. agreed to this substitution in an exchange of letters between President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher.

The Director, SSP, is the U.S. project officer for this program, and the Chief Strategic Systems Executive (CSSE) is the British project officer. A small British staff from CSSE is assigned to SSP, and a U.S. liaison officer from SSP is assigned to duty in the British Ministry of Defense to ensure prompt and effective support to the U.K. programs. A Joint Steering Task Group, chaired by the respective Admirals in turn, meets alternately in London and Washington three times a year.

The U.K. POLARIS force was comprised of four SSBNs designed by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. (VSEL), Barrow-in- Furness, and used a U.S. designed missile section. Similar in size to the USS LAFAYETTE, the Royal Navy (RN) POLARIS submarines had the distinctive whale-like hull adopted by the RN for their first-generation SSNs, with the diving planes positioned on either side of the bow rather than on either side of the sail as with U.S. FBM submarines. Powered by the British pressurized water nuclear reactors built by Rolls Royce and Associates, each submarine carried 16 POLARIS A3 missiles. Two of the submarines were built by Vickers Shipbuilding at Barrow and two at Cammell Laird of Birkenhead.

The force operated from a submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde in Scotland, with an associated Armament Depot at nearby Coulport. Located on the base, which included accommodation and recreational facilities and amenities, was the Royal Navy's POLARIS Weapon System School, commissioned 10 June 1966.

The end of the initial outfitting period was marked on 13 December 1969. At that time, the U.K. had their operating base at Faslane built and all four POLARIS submarines accepted for service. The first U.K. submarine, HMS RESOLUTION, was launched in September 1966 and visited Cape Canaveral in February and early March 1968, where both Port and Starboard crews successfully launched a POLARIS A3 missile into a downrange target area. HMS RESOLUTION made her first deterrent patrol in June 1968. HMS RENOWN was launched in February 1967, HMS REPULSE in November 1967, and HMS REVENGE in March 1968.

In the early 1970s, the U.K. embarked on an extensive program, known as Chevaline, to improve the effectiveness of the A3 missile system by modifying its front end. In the 1980s, new A3 first- and second-stage motors were procured by the U.K. to replace aging A3 stocks; the new motors were designated A3R. The U.K.'s POLARIS force was phased out in 1996 and has been replaced by a Trident force.

The U.K.'s Trident force is based on four VANGUARD Class SSBNs, each capable of carrying 16 Trident II (D5) missiles. The U.K. submarine was designed by VSEL, Barrow-in-Furness. The first submarine, HMS VANGUARD, was launched in March 1992. Both her crews successfully test fired unarmed Trident II (D5) missiles at the Eastern Test Range in 1994.

HMS VANGUARD deployed on her first operational patrol in December 1994. The second boat, HMS VICTORIOUS, deployed in January 1996. The third ship, HMS VIGILANT, deployed in February 1998. The fourth and final submarine, the HMS VENGEANCE, deployed in early 2001. By the 45th Anniversary of SSP all VANGUARD Class submarines had successfully launched one Trident II (D5) missile during a Demonstration And Shakedown Operation (DASO). Like POLARIS, VANGUARD Class submarines use a U.S. designed missile section. A second-generation Rolls Royce and Associates pressurized water nuclear reactor provides the power.

Royal Navy engineer William McNeilly was sacked from the British military after revealing in May 2015 that the security around the UK Trident nuclear deterrent program — based on the Faslane military site in Scotland — was inadequate and described the overall state of the Trident program as a "disaster waiting to happen." McNeilly reported a shockingly wide range of problems within the facilities — from food hygiene to alarms on a Trident submarine's missile control station being turned off, so that crew members didn't have to listen to them.

McNeilly's report, entitled "The Secret Nuclear Threat," alleged 30 safety and security flaws of various severity, from failures in missile testing to fire hazards, to seawater leaks, to bags going unchecked during security inspections, to safety alarms being muted and ignored.

Since being sacked, he hit out,: "I didn't release my report to discredit the Crown [UK state]. I didn't release my report to discredit the Royal Navy. I released my report because safety and security at the site is not being taken seriously. Because it's risk to the people and a risk to the land. All you need to get on board is a couple of fake IDs. Terrorist groups like ISIS [Daesh] have already shown they can produce legitimate documents. Thousands of Royal Navy IDs go missing every year as well, so they could come across one. Increasing numbers within the UK have radicalized people, which increases the risk of one of them coming across an ID," he said.

McNeilly said the idea of nuclear deterrence did not stop the war in Afghanistan. "If you get a list of all the disadvantages, it would be huge. You could write books and books on it. Then they have one vague reason for keeping the Trident system. And that one vague reason is they say it's a deterrent. Was it a deterrent for the wars we fought recently? Afghanistan? Does it deter the people who were radicalized in Afghanistan? No. All it does is create a target for those people who are radicalized in Afghanistan, so it's not a deterrent for those people, it's an attraction. It doesn't deter them because they know we won't use nuclear weapons in their countries. So it doesn't deter them. All it is an attraction to the people who were radicalized to carry out an attack on our homeland that could bring the UK to its knees."

McNeilly said: "If the UK gets rid of its nuclear weapons, they’ve still got the deterrent there, they don’t need them. We’re not going to be attacked, we’re not going to be invaded as soon as they go.... Anyone who thinks we’re going to be invaded as soon as they vote 'no' on Trident’s renewal, they’re insane. Literally insane. Why would anyone invade the UK?"

According to open sources, Vanguard-class submarines carry so-called ‘letters of last resort’ of the British prime minister that are to be used in the event of a national disaster or an incapacitating nuclear strike. Stored inside safes in the control room of each submarine, the letters are believed to include the orders: “Put yourself under the command of the US, if it is still there”; “Go to Australia”; “Retaliate”; or “Use your own judgment,” according to the Guardian.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 08-11-2017 17:47:24 ZULU