One of the most common myths around the system is that the United States has control over the UK’s Trident missile system, that is not the case.

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

The Royal Navy has operated the UK’s Continuous at Sea Deterrent since 1967 when the first SSBN – or Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear – HMS Resolution began patrolling armed with the Polaris missile system.

In 1996 HMS Vanguard, the first submarine armed with the Trident missile system, arrived on the Clyde and took over deterrent patrol duties from the Resolution Class.
The four Vanguard-class submarines form the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent force.

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.

Who controls Trident?

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 the UK does retain full operational control over the system.

One common argument is 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 leased 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.

Does the system require American codes to launch?

American operated Trident missiles are controlled through the US Navy chain of command by the US President. ‘Permissive action link technology’ prevents anyone other than the president or someone he has delegated control to authorising a launch.

In 2007, the UK Government revealed that its nuclear weapons were not equipped with Permissive Action Links. Instead, the UK’s nuclear bombs to be dropped by aircraft were armed by just inserting a key into a simple lock similar to those used to protect bicycles from theft, the UK withdrew all air-launched bombs in 1998. The current UK Trident warheads can also be launched by a submarine commander with the support of his crew without any code being transmitted from the chain of command.

The British missiles are controlled through the Royal Navy chain of command all the way up to the Prime Minister. In reality the Prime Minister would make the launch decision in concert with whatever was left of the British government.

The key point here is that the British deterrent does not have permissive action link control, which means it does not rely on the use of codes to fire the system. The UK’s Trident fleet relies purely on military discipline to prevent a launch.

In summary, the UK retains full operational control, to the extent that the US could not stop the UK from using the system. A Freedom of Information request proving that the United Kingdom has full operational control over its Trident missile system can be downloaded here.

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Martin Melvin
4 years ago

Nice touch including the FOI request, too many window lickers often utter the phrase “the US controls it”

derek hannon
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Melvin

so do that mean the war heads are all preloaded with a target if head man is taking out and sub commander fires with help from crew how dose he know where to fire

عمر خالد علومي

What can the great little Britain do if the Americans so decide not to return the stockpile housed in Georgia?

UK Defence Journal
4 years ago

Hello, the United Kingdom would have to service and maintain the missiles in the UK in that scenario.

عمر خالد علومي

Thank you, for sharing. I had not been aware of the extent of American influence and control over the assets of even closest ally and the political ramifications thereof. But to answer your question in an indirect way, the political elites in the UK should not lightly overlook 1956 Suez Crisis and divergence of American and British interests.

J P McConnell-Wood
J P McConnell-Wood
3 years ago

Good example of how inept our leaders are….Eden took UK into an unjustified conflict -without clearing it with US. UK defence policy :Compare and contrast : 1. 1977- Labour gov under Jim Callahan….Argentine make hostile noises about Falklands take over. Callahan sends nuclear sub and two frigates to Falklands-considers an exclusion zone but decides against and lets the Argentine know without advertising the situation. Situation resolved. 2. 1982 -Conservative gov under Margaret Thatcher, removes HMS Endurance from Falklands, denies Falkland Islanders UK citizenship, authorises Marconi to build nav beacon for the Falklands -code MVA (Malvinas) and then is taken by… Read more »

Will
Will
3 years ago

Spot on

Ben
Ben
8 months ago

With all due respect it may be wise to remove your personal details from your post, you never know who is lurking and identy fraud is so common these days online.

KieranC
KieranC
3 years ago

I know I’m late to the party but just in case you read this again, Eisenhower admitted to numerous officials towards the end of his life that not backing Britain and France over Suez was his biggest foreign policy mistake.

He broke a golden rule of diplomacy, reward your friends and punish your enemies.

Neil Marsden
4 years ago

As history has shown and with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps a divergence the US has come to regret.

Jason Surrage
4 years ago

Eventually we’d do it ourselves. The fact that we don’t build our own missile systems doesn’t mean we can’t build them.

Prestwick
Prestwick
4 years ago
Reply to  Jason Surrage

We did it before with our own unofficial upgrades to Polaris performed independently of the United States.

Mr Nice
3 years ago

No, the Prime minister is controlled by the President…. 51st State and that. But that is just age old international relations… The bit of the article we should be concerned about is; “The UK’s Trident fleet relies purely on military discipline to prevent a launch.” We are truely fucked… you seen the state of most of those muppets… let’s just say the top minds of the British population do not go and join the forces haha.

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr Nice

American ignorance is outstanding! Not one word of your comment is fact! Look in the mirror.

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr Nice

By the way. If it wasn’t for British colonisation, America would not be the economic superpower that it is today. You now have my permission to go and sulk in the corner – ‘butthurt’ if you like.

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago

Great Britain can do quite a lot; to think otherwise is pure ignorance!

Ian Allen
4 years ago

Makes sense. If in the events of a nuclear strike on Great Britain then if Trident used GPS then it’s a no Brainer to say that it’s enemy first target would be the GPS satellites. I’d like to see them try to knockout a star. ?

Tom
Tom
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Allen

Good point, gave me a good laugh.

Boris
Boris
7 months ago
Reply to  Ian Allen

Using stars for guidance now has an additional problem. The number of satellite constellations that proliferate from the likes of spaceX means the missile would have to clear these obstacles first or risk being confused. It could also be that is one the intended purposes of recent satellite launches.

Paul Linfield
4 years ago

Yanks may not control our weapons. But they do find and control our early warning system. (Their early warning on our base).

Jack
Jack
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Linfield

You don’t need an early warning system to realise that you’ve been hit by a nuclear device. my point is the independent deterrent still stands with or without an early warning system.

P Gahan
P Gahan
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Linfield

Would you hand a doomsday weapon over, and not be able to ensure it is not fired at you, a friend or against your strategic interests? Nor would I.

The fact that our leaders constantly use the phrase independent shows that it is anything but.

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago
Reply to  P Gahan

The British taxpayer funded ‘trident’, trust me, we can launch without American permission, quite rightly so too. We owe the Yanks nothing, our ancestors helped shape modern America. Anyone who thinks that America has the ‘say so’ on the use of our nuclear weapons needs to lay off the Hollywood movies.

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Linfield

Yes “on our base”; we don’t and shouldn’t take orders from countries government with under 300 years of modern history, also, it was shaped by British colonisation, we have to politely remind certain American folk of that fact from time to time.

Sean
Sean
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Linfield

Early warning system doesn’t matter, it becomes pretty obvious when a country has been nuked.
And under those circumstances, the captains of the UKs SSBNs can launch Trident missiles without any orders.

Laurie Booth
4 years ago

The targets are pre programmed into the missile. UK can launch them but where will they go?

UK Defence Journal
4 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Booth

Where the UK want them to.

Laurie Booth
4 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Booth

Washington then. 🙂

Will
Will
3 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Booth

Would you rent out ballistic missiles with that option?

Tj
Tj
3 years ago
Reply to  Will

Would You buy something that someone else has control over?
You would. Not rent a car and then be told where and when to drive it.

Tom
Tom
2 years ago
Reply to  Will

You don’t have enough of a technological advantage to enforce this. We developed nuclear technology before you started and let the US build it and test it. We started missile research before you and are capable of building our own. So the US profits from contracts to refurbish and rotate the missiles but has never had the ability to deny the UK an independent capability.

Luke Thompson
4 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Booth

Iraq/Syria

Bob Fry
4 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Booth

Britain was compelled to develop it’s own nuclear programme when the US cut off all technical support after WWII. The US relented when we succeeded, as did the French, who still don’t buy in their technology.

Jason Surrage
4 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Booth

They are not pre-programmed for god sake. Come on you can’t really believe that.

Just a Nobody
Just a Nobody
3 years ago
Reply to  Jason Surrage

All the missiles have pre-programmed targets but they are all fishes in the middle of the ocean for safety 🙂

Laurie Booth
4 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Booth

How are they controlled then?

Gregory Haggis Chats Harris

Nothing to stop them installing a kill switch command on the missiles software though, is there?

Richard Day
4 years ago

And you think that nobody would check for that?

Gregory Haggis Chats Harris

Seeing as they’re serviced in the US we have to take their word on it, don’t we?

david southern
david southern
4 years ago

The missiles are jointly maintained in the US.

Shawn Dunn
Shawn Dunn
4 years ago

If I may digress: A much different collaboration between the US and the UK involving one Lord Randolph Spencer and American Jennie Jerome resulted in the man who led Britain during her finest hour. Winston Churchill also forged deep and enduring bonds with Roosevelt and Truman resulting in many concessions for the UK and strengthened the foundation of the special relationship that to this day, makes an arrangement such as the US maintenenance of the UK’s nuclear deterrent an example of partnership, not partisanship between the two countries.

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago

I’ve seen that altered nonsense before, nice try though. Even though I cannot believe you fell for that old chestnut.

mike saul
mike saul
4 years ago

Who will supply the targeting data for the Trident missile? I understand we rely on the US to provide such information without it who would we independently fire them at? Just fire them at Moscow regardless who attacks us?

frank Spencer
frank Spencer
2 years ago
Reply to  mike saul

Are you suggesting we can’t read a lat and long off a map?

david nash
4 years ago

so you don’t think its possible that in all they USA software they haven’t sneaked
in something we don’t know about?

Kimpatsu
Kimpatsu
3 years ago

Only the private US contractors are allowed to fix UK subs when they break down. Why is that not mentioned?

Richard
Richard
1 year ago
Reply to  Kimpatsu

That simply isn’t true. I know people who fix the subs!! They are British and employed by British defence contractors.

Joey
Joey
3 years ago

So much money wasted on destruction when so many people in the UK are in such bad need of the basics. Food, and shelter. Yes there are countries where the situation is worse but that doesn’t excuse the fact.

Tj
Tj
3 years ago
Reply to  Joey

Would You buy something that someone else has control over?
You would. Not rent a car and then be told where and when to drive it.I agree but 95% of world countries are in a worse state than the U.K…..The way your talking anyone would think we are a third world country.

Larkin
Larkin
3 years ago
Reply to  Tj

So, because those in poverty happen to be in a “first-world” country (whatever that means) they don’t count? Just because you write with the collective “we” it doesn’t mean that those who are badly off are magically elevated to some kind of parity with those who are considerably better off.

Edwin Millar
Edwin Millar
3 years ago

In a word, bullshit. UK pays for it by leasing it from USA, USA controls and deploys is accordine to the needs of USA. UK pays for the “privelidge” of holding a seat on the UN Security Council, a body which has achieved absolutely nothing in 60-odd years. Sure, there are countless “resolutions”, but neither Israel nor USSR allies have taken any notice whatsoever.

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago
Reply to  Edwin Millar

The Americans like to think that they control Great Britain, but it only appears that way. The United States is a joke, plain to see.

Richard
Richard
1 year ago
Reply to  Edwin Millar

Devoid of facts or examples to support your rather bold assertion Edwin. The UK practically invented nuclear weapons. Highly unlikely we’d allow ourselves to be entirely dependant in the US. It’s an economic arrangement that works well for both parties. Just like most of the UK/US relationship. Based on mutual interest.

uk defence whistleblower

good job defence uk is not involved in the establishmentensuring th truth never reaches the people

Franj
Franj
3 years ago

Britain is going down the drain. People are left to die on the streets – homeless, uncared for, in physical and mental distress. How dare your journal try to sell us the myth of MAD. The military-industial complex is only interested in making money or, rather, skimming off profits from unbelievable waste. Trident does nothing useful – not even deter. The supposed jobs supported by the programme should be in the renewable energy sector and investment should be in better battery development. Very soon there will not be a viable society worth protecting, even with conventional arms!

Tj
Tj
3 years ago
Reply to  Franj

But still 95% of wor!d Countries are worse off than the UK.

Will
Will
3 years ago
Reply to  Tj

196 X 95/100 = 4. So you reckon only 3 countries are better off than the UK? Which ones are they and how did you work that out?

Brian Pope
Brian Pope
1 year ago
Reply to  Franj

I know this was an old post, but I see it is the first that questioned the relevance of MAD and deterrence (,also relevant to various targeting discussions). MAD only works in a 2-party situation ie the old NATO vs Warsaw Pact. Now however, there are (at least) three effective players:- NATO/US, Russia, China. You can perhaps suggest other (“rogue”) state possibilities. A stable arms race was possible with roughly matching numbers of weapons since the time of SALT and other such control treaties. With more than 2 players, there is no way for any 1 player to match the… Read more »

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[…] given the dependence of its nuclear and intelligence capabilities on US sponsorship (according to this, we could launch nuclear strikes independently of the US but missiles not currently at-sea are […]

Mr Nice
3 years ago

Martin Melvin October 4, 2015 at 07:05 Nice touch including the FOI request, too many window lickers often utter the phrase “the US controls it” No, the Prime minister is controlled by the President…. 51st State and that. But that is just age old international relations… The bit of the article we should be concerned about is; “The UK’s Trident fleet relies purely on military discipline to prevent a launch.” We are truely fucked… you seen the state of most of those muppets… let’s just say the top minds of the British population do not go and join the forces… Read more »

Alexander Barber
Alexander Barber
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr Nice

You’re an idiot! Not one word of your comment is fact, just hatred, you are probably an American, too stupid to understand anything outside your own borders.

Dennis
Dennis
3 years ago

Bloody helll there’s some serious window licking conspiracy nut here
The whole point of a deterrent is we don’t use it!

Gareth
Gareth
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis

The idea that the US would have a block on any missile been aimed at set places such as US cities is rubbish and actually makes no military sense, should you be at the stage of using a nuclear weapons then it may be the last line of national defence on your own territory. A good example is from the cold war, there was an Airborne Brigade of Soviet forces based in Lithuania and their role was to follow in behind Nuclear strikes on UK targets including command and control locations, and military garrisons. This Brigade was tasked with taking… Read more »

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[…] people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meanthttps://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/no-america-doesnt-control-britains-nuclear-weapons/ showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your […]

John Tibbles
John Tibbles
2 years ago

Why on earth would the USA allow a country to have nuclear missiles that could be sued against them. Extreme left government in Uk-possible- Extreme right govt in USA , we ll we are already there.
US doesnt trust the UK on anything, we are after all their oldest enemy not their oldest friend and one way or another they would have the last word , they would be doing their own country a disservice if they didnt retain some form of control.
And lets face it who are the things aimed at-can hardly be Russia these days

J Eyre
J Eyre
1 year ago

Odd that so many think the UK can’t simply check a missiles computer for hidden locks.

It’s an advanced country of 65 million. It’s not exactly difficult to inspect some code or enter some target coordinates if given the time & engineers.