The fact is, the United Kingdom has full operational control over its Trident nuclear weapons.

A recent article by Brian Feeney – ‘Counting the cost of Britain’s delusions of grandeur’, – incorrectly states that the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent system is not independent and claims that its use requires American permission.

According to a Freedom of Information response, the UK maintains complete political control over its nuclear weapons.

Specifically, it clarifies that “only the prime minister can authorise the use of UK nuclear weapons” and “the government of the United States of America has no involvement in the use of nuclear weapons by the British government”.

It further states: “Can the government of the USA prevent, veto or forbid the UK to use its own nuclear weapons? No.”

These excerpts highlight that, while there is a logistical and technical interdependence due to the missiles being part of a common US/UK pool, the ultimate decision to deploy these weapons is solely a prerogative of the British government, not subject to US veto.

The Trident missile system, housed within the UK’s four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines, forms the backbone of the UK’s strategic deterrent capacity.

Since the late 1990s, the Trident II D5 SLBMs, capable of carrying multiple warheads, underscore the system’s formidable deterrent capacity.

While it is true that the system depends on the US for heavy maintenance and certain logistical supports such as missile servicing in Georgia, this does not equate to US control over the missiles’ deployment.

Unlike some modern systems that rely on satellite-based navigation like GPS, the Trident missiles use an advanced form of stellar sighting and inertial navigation, which independently confirms their position via stellar patterns. This method ensures that the system remains functional regardless of external satellite support, debunking myths that the US could interfere by disabling GPS.

Furthermore, the UK’s Trident does not employ Permissive Action Links (PALs) – a technology used by the US to secure its own missiles by requiring codes for launch authorisation. Instead, the UK’s system is designed to be activated by decisions within the Royal Navy chain of command, culminating in the prime minister’s authorisation, without the need for external codes.

In conclusion, while logistical maintenance dependencies exist, the core elements of operational control, decision-making and missile guidance maintain the UK’s Trident system as an independent and sovereign capability.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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George Amery
George Amery (@guest_821725)
1 month ago

Hi folks hope all is well.
Most of us that engage on this site know that the UK has control over the use of our deterrent. However, some believe we don’t and are subservient to the US over this matter. This play’s into those opposed to the deterrent, and nothing will shift their argument!
Cheers
George

Jim
Jim (@guest_821759)
1 month ago
Reply to  George Amery

The UK certainly has control over the firing of its weapons but if congress or King Donald ever cut us off it would be difficult to sustain the same missiles for years. Given the erratic nature of the US government now and the fact that nearly 50% of the population seems to be fine with electing a despot, it’s time for the UK to look at building its own D5 replacement. I’m sure France would be delighted to sell us M51 design as a basis for MBDA to work on.

Larry
Larry (@guest_821799)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

I see no reason for your insulting comment in reply to Jim. He was expressing an opinion. Something we do in a democracy. That’s why we have WMD to defend our right to disagree.

Jim
Jim (@guest_821838)
1 month ago
Reply to  Larry

I’m not sure Rob values democracy and I can only guess which way he will be voting come November 😀

Geneticengineer
Geneticengineer (@guest_821808)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Hold on a second there Jim. In a few months i’m going to be asked to vote for a pathological liar who is crazy or a pathological liar who is senile. Saying 50% of americans are ok to vote for a despot is very misleading. All of the data suggests that the majority of Americans want neither of the candidates. Biden is clearly not fit enough to do the job, so I assume you want me to vote for someone who I know right now is not capable of doing the job? Trump on the other hand is at least… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_821825)
1 month ago

🤣😂😁👍😳😱🙏

Jim
Jim (@guest_821845)
1 month ago

I don’t envy your choices that’s for sure. however the fact that your even contemplating voting for a man who literally tried to over throw your government and is in the middle of criminal proceedings for over an attempt to overthrow your government is immensely worrying to any of us in the west. This is the kind of thing that goes on in 19th century France not a 21st century super power like the USA. I’m sure you would appreciate that as a Brit I am not thrilled with the prospect of our government investing £100 billion in a nuclear… Read more »

Peter Feltham
Peter Feltham (@guest_822043)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

You are absolutely right.If we share the cost of building a new deterrent with France we can ensure operational integrity and independence whilst reducing the R&D cost.There would also be other benefits, too numerous to mention here.

Ian
Ian (@guest_823111)
1 month ago

Good point, well made. It’s not like our voting choices in the UK are anything to gloat about.

D.Roberts
D.Roberts (@guest_823557)
1 month ago

How are the US allies supposed to be able to trust a convicted fraudster?

Jim
Jim (@guest_821837)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Thanks for your well reasoned and justified opinion

Muppet

Robert Blay
Robert Blay (@guest_822019)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

The UKs defence relationship with the US isn’t solely based on who is sitting in the Whitehouse. The ties go much deeper than that. The president cannot simply cut off technical support to another nation. Certainly not the UK.

Ian
Ian (@guest_823108)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

The French system is functionally inferior and would cost us more. That is why we collaborate with the US on Trident. We previously had to sustain the Polaris system for years after the US ended support in favour of Poseidon. It’s expensive, but not as expensive as developing a separate system.

Darren Sharrocks
Darren Sharrocks (@guest_826542)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian

may be inferior but its completely independent

Darren Sharrocks
Darren Sharrocks (@guest_826540)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

How are the US going to do that? The UK will still have four boats worth of missiles and it would damage UK/US relations big time. The missiles would last for years till parts wear out and in the process the UK would build its own or use the French missile designs. I think relying on the French would be a big ask considering they way the US may cut off maintenance and parts.

DAZ21
DAZ21 (@guest_821767)
1 month ago
Reply to  George Amery

Oh we’re definitely in control. The problem is the US don’t trust us with them so make sure they don’t work as intended. All they provide us with is a plop into the ocean. We need to build and maintain our own deterrent.

Bazza
Bazza (@guest_821731)
1 month ago

Good work. The more people believe things like this are true, the more it becomes acceptable to think. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where the public is okay with ceding sovereignty is such a major way.

Benjamin Rule
Benjamin Rule (@guest_821735)
1 month ago

The persistence of this idea that the UK is not in control of its Trident missiles is down to lazy journalism. As the article says the UK is actually quite unusual in not using Permissive Action Links as part of the firing chain of command. This means that if the two officers on the boat decided to fire there would be nothing that anyone else, anywhere in the world, could do to stop them. There are strong reasons for not using PAL, not least the possibility that a small island like UK could be wiped out before government formally authorised… Read more »

Benson Craven
Benson Craven (@guest_821774)
1 month ago
Reply to  Benjamin Rule

It’s true that pre delegated lauch authority is the height of folly and is replicated throughout the nuclear armed States ( the Russian pre- delegation system ,known as ” Dead Hand”, is fully automated – if sensors in Moscow detect a certain combination of conditions associated with a nuclear explosion, a message is sent to missiles embedded deep within the Ural mountains to launch ). Nuclear armed states do this to deter a first strike but, in so doing, give away the whole farm. Power, as the saying goes, is nothing without control.

Jim
Jim (@guest_821846)
1 month ago
Reply to  Benjamin Rule

Yes a lot of people forget it’s why the UK system is the way it is, the UK a would be whipped out in seconds in a nuclear attack. It’s more likely the Prime Minister of Australia will be authorised the firing of Trident missiles than the British PM.

AHG
AHG (@guest_821964)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Nah that’s why the envelope containing the “in the event…” Orders exists in every Trident safe. Of course the subs could relocate to a friendly nation- if they still exist -after a load of nukes clack down.

JackDusty
JackDusty (@guest_822264)
1 month ago
Reply to  AHG

Those are the “Letters of Last Resort” that are re-written by every incoming Prime Minister in the first few days in office. Reportedly a very sobering moment for the person taking up office.

Ian
Ian (@guest_823112)
1 month ago
Reply to  AHG

One of the options presented to the PM for ‘in the event’ letters is to order the captain to turn over command of the boat to the government of Australia.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore (@guest_823326)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian

You cannot possibly know that. Anyway, why Australia?

Benjamin Rule
Benjamin Rule (@guest_827766)
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Peter Hennessy the most informed and respected academic regarding British nuclear policy describes the likely content of the Letters of Last resort in his book ‘The Secret State’. He says that the likely options available to Prime Minister are to tell the Captain of the boat to ‘1. Put yourself under the command of the United States, if it is still there. 2. Make your way to Australia, if it is still there. 3. Get on with it and take out Moscow… 4. Use your own judgement.’ Of course we do not know what actually goes into the letters but… Read more »

Graham Moore
Graham Moore (@guest_827863)
1 month ago
Reply to  Benjamin Rule

I have heard similar elsewhere. It has the ring of truth about it, but who knows…?

Rob
Rob (@guest_821766)
1 month ago

As a person who is ex RN and was “involved in certain aspects of UK deterrence,” IMO this article is accurate…and we will leave it at that.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rob
Bazza
Bazza (@guest_821822)
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

You could just as easly be making things up as you could be telling the truth.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_821833)
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Perhaps of more significance is the failure of two successive D-5 test launches, though presumably attributable to different causes. This discussion conveniently provides an opportunity to segue into a favorite theme, specifically, the eventual acquisition by the RAF of a squadron of B-21s. Diversification of delivery modes would increase probability of mission success. Believe RAF, given sufficient time and resources, could successfully resume strategic bomber deterrence mission. Rant over.

Jim
Jim (@guest_821847)
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

Speculation I have heard on the D5 failure is that it was to do with testing equipment onboard and a real launch would not have had a similar issue.

Problem for us using strategic bombers for the deterrent role is our bases are all right next to the see and would be whipped out before anything could get in the air.

We looked at building 70 ground based silos in the 1960’s and even then the planning permission/ protests made it a non starter.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_823202)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Re strategic bombers: There could be an airborne alert, in extremis, even if MOB annihilated, mission would not be thwarted.

Ian
Ian (@guest_823115)
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

Two successive launches from our boats- the same system has successfully test-launched from USN boats in the mean-time. If the failure is down to the missile and not the onboard launch system then it isn’t particularly concerning. One of those ‘failures’ launched successfully but the Range Safety Officer then decided to destroy it, for reasons that weren’t communicated. Note also that the Russian ‘Bulava’ missile seems to have a 50% launch failure rate.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_823205)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian

🤞

dc647
dc647 (@guest_821823)
1 month ago

PLEASE NOTE IM A HUMAN As far as I’m aware the missiles are leased from the US but the warheads are British. As for this Brian Feeney the true fact is when ever a new PM is installed they give written instructions to the Captain of the Vanguards given options to the Captain in the event the government is killed he can either launch the missiles independently or hand the boat over to US command/NATO since the missiles in the Vanguard do not require a authorisation number or the two person rule imposed on the US boats. Mind I would… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_821829)
1 month ago
Reply to  dc647

Official policy of HMG is to increase warhead count over time to (260?).

Jace
Jace (@guest_821831)
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

I may be misremembering but I think 260 is “just” the maximum they can currently carry, but that includes the decoy warheads.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider (@guest_821843)
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

Hi FormerUSAF,

If I remember rightly the increase was due to a new warhead being phased into service while the existing stockpile would be phased out of service at a slower rate, creating an overlap and a temporary increase in warheads.

The impression given at the time (a couple of years ago???) was that the numbers would revert back to the previous level. However, it was not entirely clear what the final warhead count might be and given the current world situation…

Cheers CR

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_823204)
1 month ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Articles referenced for post implied a permanent increase, however, presumably each successive government could change the program.

Rick
Rick (@guest_821834)
1 month ago

The UKs nuclear deterrent is independent. However if the US govt decided to end the sharing agreement, London would quickly lose its delivery system it would also become problematic for Britain if the US were to pull out of NATO and the UK was forced to extend its nuclear umbrella over Europe but without the US involvement as is now the case. How credible, for instance, would Britain’s deterrent be if Trump or a Trump-like president suggested the US would cut off British access to American missiles, and the refurbishment of Britain’s deployed missiles, if London was threatening their use… Read more »

Jim
Jim (@guest_821851)
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Speculation I have seen shows trident missiles lasting anything from multiple months to a few years. At present we don’t even have a system to load and unload them although we do mate the warheads to them. A solid fuel rocket motor can probably last up to 15 years so that’s going to be a hard end to how long we could operate them without US support. It would depend on how old the missile we had at the time were. There is no obligation for the UK to return any of the missiles its operating to the USA. A… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF (@guest_823206)
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

The UK has the best possible assurance of aid and support during a second Trump administration. Why? Simples, he owns multiple properties in the UK. 😁

Adrian
Adrian (@guest_821856)
1 month ago

In my opinion it’s a non question anyway, if the circumstances arose where the UK even thought about firing them the US would almost certainly be firing in tandem and to a lesser extent France.

Who would the UK fire them at, Russia or China so by definition either country we would be at war with supporting the US

David
David (@guest_821869)
1 month ago

Whilst the formal position is that Britain’s deterrent is independant, would any UK Prime Minister launch Trident against the wishes of the US? In any event, the reply is ambiguous as the system is in two parts – missile and warheads with the nuclear weapons in the warheads British and the rest American. Moreover, no doubt the missile control system has an abort facility which no doubt the Americans could initiate in extremis.

Dominic Davis-Foster
Dominic Davis-Foster (@guest_821902)
1 month ago

Who is Mr. Feeney and what are his qualifications? I googled the name but got a former Hurler. I hope that’s not the author of the article.

Ian
Ian (@guest_823177)
1 month ago

I think it is.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_821919)
1 month ago

Command is passed to the NOTC in the DCMC.
That’s Pindar, beneath the MoD.
Firing chain then goes by secure link to CTF345 at Northwood.
Then onto Skelton or Anthorn where VLF ULF signal goes to the SSBN.
The CCC is involved at some point with software and may even be an alternate.

The Warhead components are designed at AWE with US assistance, and assembled at Burghfield under the Gravel Gerties.

We have control over Trident but yes we do get considerable support from the US. There you go.

SailorBoy
SailorBoy (@guest_822251)
1 month ago

I wish Google Translate had an option for turning ORBAT into standard English. It would make life in the comments section so much easier.
You sound happy enough so it must be fine but I haven’t a clue what you are on about aside from the last two paragraphs.
👍

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_822263)
1 month ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

😀 Evening mate. I’m sorry, I shall translate. NOTC. Nuclear Operations and Targeting Centre. Once on the 5th floor of Main Building until the late 80s when it was moved into- DCMC. Defence Crisis Management Centre. Nuclear bunker beneath MoD, links to several places throughout Whitehall by tunnels. Was built late 80s into early 90s, costs overrun due to the difficulty of moving all the high tech comms into it. Is staffed 24,7. Other aspects are classified, such as the number of urinals, which would help one work out it’s staffing level. The personnel within it, and in other parts… Read more »

Peter Feltham
Peter Feltham (@guest_821929)
1 month ago

This is almost certainly not the case,if the British continually have to assert that they have sole ‘operational control” of Trident,this leads me to believe they certainly do not.The French on the other hand are not beholden to the americans as they developed their own submarine based nuclear deterrent.

Ian
Ian (@guest_823178)
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Feltham

If people continually assert that the world is not flat does this lead you to believe (despite the lack of evidence and in defiance of common sense) that it is?

Peter Feltham
Peter Feltham (@guest_821930)
1 month ago

The only way to ensure you have ‘Operational Control” is to design and build your own independent system.LIKE THE FRENCH.

AHG
AHG (@guest_821967)
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Feltham

Hardly. Your belief is not evidence sorry.

dc647
dc647 (@guest_822122)
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Feltham

We do have full operational control over our missiles. The warheads are totally British design and build we only lease the missiles body from the US. Going it ourselves👎 if we ever used them we have two locations to restock/maintain here and the US. Plus do you know how many more Billions and Billions it will cost. Plus the Vanguard and the new Dreadnoughts are designed around the Trident launch tubes.

Last edited 1 month ago by dc647
Peter Feltham
Peter Feltham (@guest_822196)
1 month ago
Reply to  dc647

Yes I am aware the warheads are built here, but that’s of no avail if you are unable to launch the missile,and therein lay’s the rub.whether the americans give us the required codes for launch when we need them.It depends upon who you listen to as to whether this essential information will be supplied.As far as the new generation of submarines being fitted out with launch tubes that are compatable with Trident missiles,this is more proof,if any were needed of just how reliant we now are upon the United States,the french do not have this problem.And as for costing us… Read more »

SailorBoy
SailorBoy (@guest_822252)
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter Feltham

Did you read the article?
It has been repeatedly stated that our Tridents don’t need launch codes from anybody (not even the PM) in order to work. Responsibility is entirely in the hands of the captain with no external input.
How are the US supposed to decide whether we launch if even our own government couldn’t stop a potential rogue captain?

JackDusty
JackDusty (@guest_822266)
1 month ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

The birds will only fly with the consent of the whole crew. There is enough preventative measures that mean an un-authorised launch just could not leave the tube.

SailorBoy
SailorBoy (@guest_822401)
1 month ago
Reply to  JackDusty

You’re right, I doubt a crew would just go along with a captain ordering a Nuclear Armageddon without a very good reason.
The principle is the same, though I should probably have said rogue sub rather than rogue captain.

DeeBee
DeeBee (@guest_821963)
1 month ago

It’s Time for the UK to ditch Trident, our conventional armed forces have been cut to the bone due to the billions spent on Trident.

dc647
dc647 (@guest_822118)
1 month ago
Reply to  DeeBee

This is the only thing that would stop Russia from attacking us, Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons on us. With these subs it makes them to have second thoughts. Plus the French and UK are the only two nuclear powers in Europe. It’s up to France and UK to protect Europe from nuclear attack going off the US passed history they are more than likely won’t come to Europes aid. People like you are naive they are a deterrent it’s better to have them and not use them, then to not have them and need them. I agree… Read more »

JackDusty
JackDusty (@guest_822271)
1 month ago
Reply to  DeeBee

The forces were cut during the times of a “Peace Dividend”, which should have stopped when Putin’s armed forces of Thugs went over the Ukrainian border. Across the board (Army, Air Force and RN/RM) the levels should be going up to Cold War levels. However it takes many years to get seagoing vessels built and operational, so we need more deterrence – NOT less. In fact get a 5 or 6 Dreadnoughts operational and then we can easily surge two or three to sea at any one time.

John Weaver
John Weaver (@guest_822424)
1 month ago

Is this the operational control demonstrated in the last sub-launch?

Aidan Hill
Aidan Hill (@guest_822440)
1 month ago

Everyone that serves in Trident Boats has to be vetted so if the Prime Minister is ultimately responsible for authorising the use of the missiles, who vets him?

PJB
PJB (@guest_822632)
1 month ago

Sources discussing the US Navy Trident boats state that up to date data on weather conditions and gravity anomalies is required for accurate targeting. This is delivered to US submarines via a compressed dat burst. Presumably UK relies on US data which could be withheld?

Ian
Ian (@guest_823106)
1 month ago

I think historically some people got confused between the Trident system and the cruise missiles at Greenham Common (which of course were operated and controlled by the USAF). I suspect that Feeney is just being mendacious though.