Britain39s Defense Secretary declares his confidence in Trident nuclear missiles

Britain's Defense Secretary declares his confidence in Trident nuclear missiles after reports of a failed test off Florida

LONDON (AP) — British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps sought to reassure British lawmakers Wednesday that the country's nuclear deterrent weapons program is operational and ready to be used if needed, following reports that a second consecutive missile test failed. According to the British newspaper “The Sun”, a nuclear-capable Trident II missile launched on January 30 in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida crashed shortly after take-off.

The missile was fired from a Royal Navy HMS Vanguard-class submarine – with Shapps on board to observe – but its first stage booster engine failed to ignite, causing it to fall back and then sank, according to CBS News affiliate network BBC News.

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Although the British Trident missiles are designed to carry nuclear warheads, they are not armed for test launches.

A British Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarine undergoes maintenance at HM Naval Base Clyde in Faslane, northwest of Glasgow, Scotland, April 28, 2023. ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty

In a statement to Parliament, Shapps confirmed an “anomaly” during the missile test but insisted it had “reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK's nuclear deterrent”.

The BBC said it was the second consecutive test in which a Trident missile had failed, after one of the missiles also went off course off Florida's Atlantic coast in 2016. The test launches don't happen often because each rocket costs the British taxpayer more than $20 million.

The cause of the 2016 failure was never revealed, but at the time The Sunday Times newspaper reported that the rocket had suffered a “malfunction” during flight.

“The UK's nuclear weapons program is not working and needs to be urgently reconsidered,” David Cullen, a former activist and now director of the UK watchdog group Nuclear Information Service, told CBS News on Wednesday. “This failure occurred against a backdrop of the Navy struggling to sustain itself [Trident submarine] Costs for patrols and balloon rides.”

However, Shapps described the Trident system as “effective, reliable and impressive”.

“The test has confirmed the effectiveness of Britain's nuclear deterrent, in which the government has absolute confidence,” Shapps said in a written statement delivered to lawmakers in the British Parliament on Wednesday. “On this occasion an anomaly did indeed occur, but it was event specific and has no impact on the reliability of the larger Trident missile systems and stockpiles. There is also no impact on our ability to fire our nuclear weapons should circumstances arise in which we must do so.”

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a U.K.-based group that has long called for an end to Britain's nuclear weapons program, derided the test as a “colossal waste of money.”

“We have to ask ourselves whether this is a wise use of the defense secretary’s time — going to Florida for photo opportunities, which was ultimately a costly failure,” campaign general secretary Kate Hudson said in a statement.

The UK's nuclear deterrent program consists of four Vanguard-class submarines, each capable of carrying up to 16 Trident II D5 ballistic missiles. There is always at least one submarine in action, the location of which is one of Britain's most closely guarded military secrets. A second submarine waits on standby while a third conducts training exercises and the fourth is called in for maintenance.

The Ministry of Defense says that at least one British nuclear ballistic missile submarine has been quietly patrolling the seas since the system was introduced in April 1969. The “deterrence” principle of the Trident system is based on the fact that Britain's global adversaries never know the exact location of the deployed submarine.

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