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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.

42 COMMENTS

  1. didn’t know people were that dumb – mind you they’re probably the same ones arguing we should buy the sea typhoon or F4 phantom instead of the Argentinian made F35

  2. My history lecturer pedals this myth to his students when talking about the fall from grace of the British Empire. “Even today the UK does not have an independent nuclear weapons system.” Nonsense.

  3. There were clauses in the Nassau Agreement 1962 negotiated by Macmillan that stated that the UK would contribute to the NATO deterrent but would retain control of her SSBN’s and ICBM’s in the case of an imminent and over-riding threat to the UK. Of course, in the days of the Cold War a coordinated UK-US and for that matter NATO nuclear strike policy had to be adopted … targeting, deterrent patrols etc. The Prime Minister or surviving appointed Deputies are the only people authorised to relaese UK owned nuclear weapons

  4. I think you have missed the point that both defence academics and politians make re the UK independent nuclear wespons and that is like the French we would not lunch an independent strike without 1 UN agreement 2 USA agreement and cooperation and 3 there would have to have been a first strike against us to to invalidate 1 and 2 – for those of us who research this matter this is what is meant by a non indepent deterant. The UK pays for this system which then allows us to dit at the top table of many organisations ‘punching above our weight’ – the UK would be better of without this expensive weapons system and investing around 50% into our conventional forces – i would love to see what targets some on here think we can ‘nuke’ without the agreement of our allies

    • You think *we* are missing the point? Independent use of Trident includes situations where our allies no longer exist.

  5. KK – I think it’s you who have missed the point. The deterrent is independently controlled and would only be used in conjunction with our allies for NATO purposes, in response to attack or where ‘supreme national interests’ are at stake. The UN has nothing to do with it.

    • Still not convinced it’s the best value for money. £40bn would buy a lot of security capability against the threats we currently face who don’t care whether we have a nuclear deterrent or not.

      • That makes at least as much sense as saying you should get rid of a gun and buy two peashooters because there are some kids out there who don’t care if you have a gun.

        What about the muggers out there who *do* care if you have a gun. Are they going to be deterred by your two pea-shooters?

    • I’m not sure either of you understand the significance of the diplomatic adavantage that comes from being a nuclear state.

      Do you think you will carry the day with your moral authority?

      Or do you think the asymmetric threats currently faced won’t be emboldened by a loss of nuclear status? We would become a pawn on the chessboard instead of a rook or bishop.

      • Nato does not “require” three nuclear forces. It allows them. At one time there actually was a proposal for a common NATO nuclear force, but I don’t think it went anywhere. Something about worrying about the Germans.

    • Redundancy. If the first shooter is compromised or destroyed the second or third ensure the response.

      Same principle as on the grass knoll. Ask Lee Harvey Oswald.

  6. Kk – Theoretically we can nuke any thing or anyone we want. The reality of using a nuclear weapon is of course very different, but not because anyone can stop us, simply because the retaliation would be devastating.

  7. Its easy to imagine the USA with a president so weak and feeble that a potential enemy felt able to attack the West without fear of retaliation. The UK and France having independent forces means that retaliation is more likely, and it would inevitably draw in the US, making the deterrent more viable.

    • that means that unless the question to use Nuclear weapons comes up in a NATO affiliated conflict (a russian invasion of a NATO Alliance country in Europe as an extreme example)

      the British can and has always been able to do what they damned well please with their nukes.

    • Trident Are Most Potent Element Of Full Spectrum Deterrence Of Yours And Don’t Forget Its Symbol Of Yours Friendship. Non Nation Provide Their Strategic Assets To Other Nations. But They Given You. It’s Biggest Thing In Matters Of Trust And Friendship

  8. I have to admit… that was very informative… far more was answered than I actually expected.

    now if all the myths about the F-35 both good and bad were put to bed like this…

  9. While the statement that the UK has full operational control over Trident is accurate; that doesn’t mean that the UK has total control of its Trident program. First, the UK’s Trident missiles are leased from and maintained by the US. Second. There is not a uniquely British component in any Trident missile. Third. The UK has no test range or test facilities and is totally reliant on the US for these. Fourth. The US, should it wish to do so in a future situation in which relations have deteriorated ( not inconceivable given Osborne’s continual backstabbing of the US in international finance matters, e.g., the new Chinese World Bank) could withdraw the lease. Any British Prime Minister who launched missiles without US approval just terminated the program.

    • @ PKCasimir
      So how many of these missiles do you think needs to be launched to basically end the world as we know it. We have 4 subs and, presumably, the missiles to fill their silos if needed in Scotland. And even if it was just one sub there is global destruction right there. If we launched and President Trump didn’t like it well tough. Its too late and tearing up the lease agreement would be like realising your house insurance premium wasn’t paid as your house burned down.

      What you seem to forget is these things are only used the once in anger. And its the fear in others that we CAN and WILL launch that has kept the peace since WWII. Works for me ….

  10. Your views on nuclear deterrence and nuclear war short of Armageddon reflect a profound naiveté and lack of understanding. There are multiple scenarios for limited nuclear war. Your know-it-all tone is only a mask for this ignorance. One UK sub firing its missiles hardly necessitates WW3. The UK is now a third rate power and wouldn’t dare fire its missiles without US approval. That is the reality.
    Further, your knee-jerk ignorant statement presuming a President Trump reflects a knowledge of the current US Presidential primary process that could only be obtained from believing the ignorant English tabloid press which understands as much about the United States as I believe you do.
    What has kept the peace since WW2 is the United States and its massive nuclear arsenal. If you wish delude yourself that the UK’s nuclear arsenal has had anything to do with it, then there is no hope for you.

    • Wow your ignorance is only exceeded by your arrogance. And in all that monologue of anti-British crap you never answered any of my points. Always amazes me the ability of some people to be able to write and yet not be able to read.

  11. The SSBNs could carry 16 missile, but they will carry only 8. Each missile could carry
    8 warheads, but will carry only 5. That is 40 warheads per boat, with one boat in overhaul or deep maintenance. So the UK has 120 deployed warheads, less than Pakistan or France. The UK is the sixth largest nuclear power. OK, fifth, if you consider that Pakistan’s are mostly short-range tactical nukes for use against India. Meanwhile the number of nuclear armed states keeps increasing.

  12. PK Casimir – Yes there are multiple scenarios for limited strike use of nuclear weapons, but how do you think that happens ? “we will only fire one if you only fire one ? ” Get a grip.

    What happens in all scenarios is simple, one gets used, two gets used in retaliation, and so the snowball continues to roll down hill until there is no world left.

    The unloading of 120 nuclear warheads would have a large impact on our climate and ability to live on this planet, and by your dumb reckoning we fire 120 the bad guys gets fire 120…. that is an end of world scenario.

    Its called MAD for a reason !

  13. Simply amazing article! I also can be helpful here 🙂 By the way, if anyone is facing a problem of filling Residential Real Estate Lease, I’ve found a template here http://bit.ly/2cVhvQS. You also can esign the form and fax it.

  14. Commons Select Committee in 2015 actually proves this article is false. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmdfence/986/986we13.htm

    It is all very being able to push a button, and launch a weapon, and sail the boats around. However the US has overall control on the system, indeed all tests of Trident are done under US supervision. They also control the GPS system, and while you can fire a missile, you want it to hit a specific target, as opposed to land anywhere. This could be the difference between hitting Tehran, and Telford.

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