Media claims that the UK needs US permission to fire Trident missiles has forced the MoD to once more confirm UK control.

According to the MoD’s defence in the media blog, yesterday’s Financial Times and a letter in today’s Independent suggest that the UK’s nuclear deterrent would need US approval to fire a nuclear missile.

In fact, the UK deterrent is completely operationally independent and UK does not need permission of the US (or anyone else) to launch its Trident missiles.

An MOD spokesperson said:

“The command and control system of the nuclear deterrent is fully independent and decision-making and use of the system remains entirely sovereign to the UK.”

It’s a common myth that the United States has control over the UK’s Trident missile system, that is not the case. Here’s proof.

The Trident missile system is housed on the UK’s four Vanguard class submarines which form the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent force. Each of the four boats are armed with up to 16 Trident II D5 SLBMs, carrying up to 8 warheads each.

It’s often said that the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system is not ‘independent’ or that the UK doesn’t have the ability to use the system without the US agreeing to it, in reality however that is simply not the case.

The argument is often that the US can simply turn off the GPS system and therefore can stop the UK using Trident, this is also a myth, Trident isn’t guided by satellite.

The missile uses a kind of stellar sighting guidance system and inertial navigation to take a reading from the stars to work out the missile’s position and make any adjustments necessary. They do not require GPS.

One source for the confusion could be the fact that, aside from those currently deployed, the missiles are held in a communal pool at the US Strategic Weapons facility at King’s Bay, Georgia, USA where maintenance and in-service support of the missiles is undertaken at periodic intervals. The missiles are jointly maintained, this is much cheaper than the UK doing it on its own and does not give the United States control over any of the weapons deployed on the submarines.

In summary, the UK retains full operational control, to the extent that the US could not stop a launch.

A Freedom of Information request proving that the United Kingdom has full operational control over its Trident missile system is displayed below. It can be downloaded here.

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Daniel Adams

I love arguing with people on the topic. Then they drop the turn of the gps argument. At this point you know they do not know what they are talking about.

Daniel Adams

Unfortunately no amount of evidence will stop the anti nuclear lobby l.


It is possible they do have control, but we don’t know about it. The missiles use US designed code and guidance systems. I am pretty sure if the US wasn’t stupid, and if they had a chance to do it, they would have tried to plant a backdoor into the system, so it couldn’t be used against them. I would assume MOD secruity guys would have been through the systems with a fine tooth comb, to try and spot any issues, but there is no way to really know, or at least i really really hope we never find out… Read more »


I do not think any US president has considered the UK would fire nuclear missiles at the US……

Dave B Philips

How many times must they confirm this for idiots?

Like a petulant child are they going to keep asking the same thing until they get the answer they want?

Ross Hendrie

STOP TELLING THE TRUTH. Also, is it not common sense that a missile system reliant on GPS would be alarmingly vulnerable…?

Daniel Adams

To be fair the Americans did test it once. But decided it was to vulnerable.

UK Defence Journal

It would be Ross, luckily however Trident isn’t.

Paul Hamilton

Trident isn’t reliant on GPS. It uses a combination of inertial guidance and a star-sighting system. And unlike in the past, there are now multiple GPS systems available anyway; such as the European GALILEO, the Russian GLONASS, the new Chinese one etc. So the US no longer has a monopoly on GPS as you suggest.

Ross Hendrie

I don’t believe I suggested anything of the sort? I suggested that any positioning system could be destroyed, rendering any reliant missile system useless.

Paul Hamilton

Ross Hendrie Misunderstanding then, apologies.

Daniel Ducky White

Ross, you plan on erasing the stars ??

Ricky Cox

Mr ducky, what about when stars go away in the day time?

Daniel Ducky White

Your not getting me on that princess 😉 ha ha ha

Ricky Cox

On what ? there are others tho

UK Defence Journal

Stars don’t go away, they’re just harder to see from the ground. Missiles at the edge of the atmosphere don’t have that problem.

Daniel Ducky White

We have a bite !!! Ha ha ha 🙂 well done Ricky Cox 😉

Andrew Sloan

Reasoned, evidence based arguments don’t wash with the great unwashed unfortunately but handy link for those who keep trying anyway.

Alan Duncan

Lefties with heads up ass always pop on, they are the same ones screaming for enquiries into drones dropping justice on daesh and screaming no too air strikes on daesh so frankly who cares on there opinion ?

Dominic Waite

Once more for the journalists at the back.

David Hollingworth

Unfortunately the tin foil hat brigade won’t be convinced!


The problem with this article is that it addresses the wrong issue. There is no question that the UK has operational control of the Trident missiles currently deployed on its submarines and that they could be fired tomorrow without US approval. But, the broader question is that, given UK reliance on the US for these missiles and indeed its entire nuclear arsenal, could the UK really fire them without US political approval and retain an independent nuclear response force? The answer is no.

Michael Thomas

The answer is yes.


The warheads for Trident are UK built from US designs, in recent years we have geared up to manufacture components in the UK once again after buying US bits off the shelf, to reduce the reliance on US warhead components like the fusing and firing, arming system, gas transfer components etc in the future. I think we have invested more than £5 Billion since 2005 in tooling up for future warheads and overhauling an old manufacturing and design base but some of it was scaled back by the Tories to cut costs. As Michael has said, they are on our… Read more »

Shaun Lyon

What most people haven’t realised is that the liklihood of the UK being involved in a conflict requiring a nuclear response without the US also being involved is NIL. The UK would not be engaging any enemy with a nuclear missile without the full, complete and comprehensive support of our NATO allies, if we are firing them, the US will be firing them as well.

David Stephen

The Uk has access to and has had access to Trident for a long time. It is silly to think we have not stripped it down and have all the necessary information to reproduce the system if required. The realy tough bit is the warhead, which we manufacture ourselves. Do you realy beleive that A the US would deny access or B that if they did we could not in short order produce our own version. If the US has withdrawn support then we would not care if they hummed about our reverse engineering of the missile.


Actually, the hard bit is the missile. We built and dropped our own lift to orbit rocket in 1970, the only country in the world which had an orbital lift capability then dropped it.