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 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.

60 COMMENTS

    • 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.

      • 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 surprise when Galtieri-assuming UK is not interested invades Falklands -diverting political problems at home.

        Situation resolved by magnificent operation by our forces with the loss of 1000 odd lives several ships etc but in spite of military cuts they won an avoidable war.

        J P Mac Wood
        34 Westwood Drive, Swanpool,
        Lincoln LN6 0HL

        07778817016 mac.xm657@gmail.com

      • 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.

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

    • 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.

      • 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.

  1. 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. 😊

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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 haha.

    • 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.

    • 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 Newcastle after Catterick was hit with a nuclear strike. The entire idea was that the UK would be unwilling to attack its own city with a Nuclear weapon.
      In this planned scenario the reality may be that the only option is the last resort and to launch a nuclear weapon at your own city, as many a military planner will say hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

      So to stop us from been in position to carry out that last resort measure against our own or a friendly countries city is just not a realistic prospect, with such a weapon you always have to plan for the worst case, as this is a worst case weapon system.

  8. 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

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