Trident ‘Nuclear’ Missile Crashed Into Sea During Failed Test Firing Off Cape Canaveral

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A British-launched nuclear missile test in January in the presence of the head of the Royal Navy and the Minister of Defence failed and splashed back into the sea.

A Trident missile launched off the East Coast of the United States in January from British ‘bomber’ submarine HMS Vanguard “crashed into the ocean” after launch. The missile had a ‘dummy’ warhead and no nuclear material onboard.

British tabloid newspaper The Sun revealed the launch failure, and stated the Ministry of Defence had confirmed the story. The ministry insisted despite the training test-firing failure the nuclear deterrent remains “effective”, and that the “anomaly” was “event specific”. The Sun report states claims from the government that it was the test conditions themselves which contributed to the failure, although there was no discussion of what they may have been, although a preference towards using time-expired older missiles due to be scrapped for training could feasibly play a part.

Update 1600: Testing equipment caused failure

UK Defence Minister says the government has “absolute confidence” in Trident after the failed nuclear delivery system test last month. The Times notes he called the missiles: “effective, dependable and formidable… beyond doubt”.

The report further notes former defence committee chairman Tobias Elwood MP said the crash was directly caused by testing equipment “strapped on to the missile itself”. Had the equipment not been present, the missile would have launched properly, he said. Nevertheless, the MP remarked: “yes, of course, this is embarrassing. We don’t like to see this happen.”

The original story continues below 

(Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

A government spokesman said the weapon “could absolutely fire in a real world situation” if required and “The issue that occurred during the test was specific to the event and would not have occurred during a live armed fire”.

An anonymous source cited by the paper stated “It left the submarine but it just went plop, right next to them”, suggesting the first launch stage — where the missile is pushed out of the submarine and to the surface by a rush of gas, succeeded. The missile is then supposed to ride on several rocket stages, allowing it to leave the Earth’s atmosphere at thousands of miles an hour.

The failed launch took place off the coast of Cape Canaveral, where the United States and United Kingdom perform all nuclear ballistic missile testing. Another British-launched test failed there in 2016.

A specific January date was not given but British Minister of Defence Grant Shapps, who was present for the 2024 test, was in Washington D.C. on January 31st.

Given British and American Trident missiles come from the same “commingled” stock, unless the U.S. consciously passed substandard missiles to the British during routine rotation, and if the failed launch in January occurred after the missile had left the submarine as is claimed, circumstances suggest this could be a problem for the United States submarine deterrent as well.

Although most aspects of the Trident missiles are of course classified, it is well known considerable parts of the system are American in design, construction, and even execution. The Trident missiles themselves are leased from the U.S., and are not wholly British-owned. While the UK’s nuclear submarines themselves are made in Britain, they depend on U.S. technology and systems to perform their primary mission.

A 2015 summary of the 2006 Defence White Paper on Trident by Politico notes of the degree to which elements of the ‘independent’ British nuclear deterrent is, in fact, American and on loan at the sufferance of Washington. While the true picture is complex, down to a combination of official secrecy, “mingled” ownership of weapon systems, and decades of system growth, the report stated:

The report makes for striking reading. The UK does not even own its Trident missiles, but rather leases them from the United States. British subs must regularly visit the US Navy’s base at King’s Bay, Georgia, for maintenance or re-arming. And since Britain has no test site of its own, it tries out its weapons under US supervision at Cape Canaveral, off the Florida coast.
A huge amount of key Trident technology — including the neutron generators, warheads, gas reservoirs, missile body shells, guidance systems, GPS, targeting software, gravitational information and navigation systems — is provided directly by Washington, and much of the technology that Britain produces itself is taken from US designs (the four UK Trident submarines themselves are copies of America’s Ohio-class Trident submersibles).
The list goes on. Britain’s nuclear sites at Aldermaston and Davenport are partly run by the American companies Lockheed Martin and Halliburton. Even the organization responsible for the UK-run components of the program, the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), is a private consortium consisting of one British company, Serco Group PLC, sandwiched between two American ones — Lockheed Martin and the Jacobs Engineering Group.

The British government did however make clear that the United States cannot prevent a British nuclear launch through a 2005 Ministry of Defence statement. While American nuclear weapons are governed by a chain of command flowing back to the President — the famous ‘nuclear football’ being the President’s ever-present terminal — British nuclear weapons have no such system, and are under the command of the submarine captain.
A government statement on the launch failure is expected later.

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