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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.

27 COMMENTS

  1. 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

    Not that it ultimately matters, we would never use them anyway.

  2. 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?

  3. 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 😀

  4. 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.

    • 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 boats, crewed by our guys, fitted with our warheads…..

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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