Britain’s dependent independent nuclear deterrent

One of the major issues which is claimed to make Corbyn unelectable is his views on nuclear disarmament and the independent British nuclear deterrent. Whether this makes him unelectable or not is an open question – like many trusims it may be inaccurate. That though is an issue for another day. Rather it is interesting to look at the history of the British nuclear deterrent.

British scientists were heavily involved in attempts to produce a nuclear weapon. Immediately before the war a number of scientists – ironically mostly German or Austrian Jews demonstrated nuclear fission and the possibility of a chain reaction (vital to produce a nuclear explosion). By 1940 these individuals had, unsurprisingly, ended up outside continental Europe: many of them in the UK. There in March 1940 whilst working at the University of Birmingham Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls wrote the Frisch-Peierls memorandum which was the first technical exposition of how to make a practical and functional fission bomb using uranium 235. This lead to the secret project known as Tube Alloys which intended to construct a nuclear bomb.

The scientists involved in this work moved to the American Manhattan Project which did produce the actual Uranium 235 bomb “Little Boy” dropped in Hiroshima and the technically more advanced Plutonium 239 “Fat Man” dropped on Nagasaki. After the war, however, in 1946 the McMahon Act in the USA unilaterally reversed the agreement between the British and the USA regarding sharing atomic secrets.

The British were extremely unhappy with this development and the Attlee government decided to recommence independent work on a nuclear bomb. The suggested need for such a weapon was (for its supporters) confirmed when under the next Tory government an Anglo French force along with the Israelis attacked Suez. Militarily this was a massive success but the Soviet Union, which did possess nuclear weapons, threatened to support the Egyptians and the Americans also sent a carrier force to threaten the British fleet. Whether the Russians would have used nuclear weapons and whether the Americans would have tried to stop the British and French (or been able to as their forces in the area were smaller than the Anglo French ones) is unclear but the pressure worked and the British and French were rapidly forced into a humiliating withdrawal.

Suez is rightly seen as pivotal in British foreign policy: it ended the ideas of great power status and signposted the rapid end of empire. It also marked the beginnings of the fairly slavish following of the American lead in foreign policy which, with the exception of Wilson’s refusal to commit combat divisions to Vietnam has led us into assorted wars.

In defence policy terms, however, it was regarded as demonstrating the need for an independent nuclear deterrent. As such the already revived independent programme was continued. By 1953 it had already detonated the first Blue Danube free fall nuclear bomb but this was essentially similar to the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki eight years previously. Only a month later the USA detonated the first thermonuclear bomb (these are often called hydrogen bombs implying most of the energy comes from nuclear fusion. Usually, however, fission predominates from the production and then fission of Plutonium 239 by the Teller – Ulam configuration).

Some felt Britain could not produce a thermonuclear device but work continued with a failed thermonuclear device in 1956 (the same year as Suez) until in late 1957 the British demonstrated that they had produced a different (according to some reports superior) Teller – Ulam typed system. This resulted in the Americans changing tack and sharing technology with the British which reduced the latter’s expenses. Either way it was clear that Britain had a functioning high yield thermonuclear weapon and the ability to produce warheads as needed.

The British also went on to develop weapons systems to deliver these bombs. The initial Vickers Valiant longrange strategic bomber was supplemented and replaced by the Avro Vulcan and Handley Page Victor. The theory during the 1950s was that nuclear bombers would fly at high altitude to Russia and drop traditional free fall nuclear bombs. The Victor could actually fly higher and with a larger bomb load than the Vulcan. However, after Gary Powers’ U2 was shot down by a missile in 1960 whilst over central Russia, it became clear that Soviet air defence could stop high altitude bombers – this eventually led to the abandonment of the American XB-70 Valkyrie programme. Instead the emphasis switched to low level attacks.

vulcanFortuitously the Vulcan proved extremely adept at this role and along with the Blackburn Buccaneer both the RAF and Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm had the capability to launch nuclear bombing missions entirely independently of the Americans. The efficacy of the weapons systems was demonstrated in 1960 when as part of a war game eight Vulcans “attacked” the USA and Canada (four from Scotland and four from Bermuda). A Canadian fighter “shot down” one of the Scottish Vulcans but the other seven “destroyed” New York, Chicago and Washington. The RAF repeated the trick in 1961 whilst the Buccaneers proved uncatchable even into the 1970s in part due to their low flying (being essentially ekranoplans at low level). One Buccaneer broke a telegraph wire in the Nevada desert with its tail whilst climbing (in other words they routinely flew below 30 feet).

As such the independent nuclear deterrent was credible in the 1960s. By the later 1960s, however, nuclear deterrence was increasingly moving towards missiles. Technology allowed bombers to be shot down in sufficient numbers to make it more difficult to achieve reliable destruction of the enemy. In addition preemptive strikes could destroy the bombers on the ground. As such the Russians and Americans increasingly diversified into nuclear armed missiles which would fly either as cruise missiles or else fly into low earth orbit before reentering the atmosphere to hit their targets. The British looked at land based missiles and at either their own or American plane launched missiles but eventually like the French opted for submarine launched ballistic missiles.

In some ways these offer an optimal solution: although not especially good as first strike weapons (the early Polaris missiles were not sufficiently accurate) the submarines were and are very difficult to detect. They tend to sail very slowly at great depth in the Artic or Atlantic Oceans though their movements are highly secret (and difficult to track). As such even if an enemy had totally destroyed the United Kingdom they would be very concerned that in the immediate aftermath an equally terrible retribution would follow.

The French have a few land silo based nuclear missiles and still a few aircraft based ones. However, their main nuclear deterrence has been based with French nuclear powered nuclear missile armed submarines. These missiles are of French manufacture and are wholly independent of any other country.

vanguard1In contrast Britain alone amongst nuclear armed states uses foreign missiles – the American Trident II (previously Trident I and prior to that Polaris): these missiles are manufactured by the American firm Lockheed Martin. We are assured that the British Prime Minister can order the firing of these weapons without American consent and that they will fire and target as designated by their British controllers. This may well be true though it would not be inconceivable that some mechanism is incorporated preventing independent British firing of the missiles: just as it is not inconceivable that the British military have a way round such a possibility.

More serious, however, is that the missiles are maintained as part of a common stockpile with the American missiles. As such if the Americans chose to cease the arrangement the British nuclear deterrent would cease to be functional within a few months.

There are of course a whole series of arguments against nuclear weapons. One can argue that weapons of mass destruction are inherently wrong. One can also argue that they are inherently pretty useless in modern conflicts. One can also argue that the only conceivable scenarios which would lead to their use would also lead to the American use of the weapons against the same enemies. All of those, however, are arguments against having an independent British nuclear deterrent.

What we have rather is a situation which seems to be a nuclear deterrent dependent, in all but the very short term, on our closest ally. One can argue against the logic of those who, like Corbyn, oppose a British nuclear deterrent. Instead we have an independent nuclear deterrent, itself dependent on a not wholly dependable ally, whose very undependable-ness led to our perceived need to have such an independent nuclear deterrent. This seems highly illogical. One can take Corbyn’s position but if one does not the French alternative seems much more logical than our own.

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  • Kevin Breslin

    Here’s the thing, radiation exposure can cause cancer … and here’s another thing MODERN nuclear weapons use Plutonium instead of Uranium and so have a much larger legacy, so if the UK did nuke Russia for the “evil lols” it would be closer to Fukashima than to Hiroshima. Nothing Russia couldn’t handle though.

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. I’m saying bombing the **** out of innocent civilians by nuclear weapons is always dishonorable and Japan did not do that. There was no honour in either bomb and you are not going to convince anyone any differently.

    2. French resistance fighters could not be POWs by your logic, because well they had been captured by a French government’s forces.

    On the day of the bombing, an estimated 263,000 were in Nagasaki, including 240,000 Japanese residents, 10,000 Korean residents, 2,500 conscripted Korean workers, 9,000 Japanese soldiers, 600 conscripted Chinese workers, and 400 prisoners of war. Casualty figures are uncertain, despite many surveys (some figures presented here are extrapolated from partial surveys). Estimated fatalities are 70,000 (various published estimates range from 22,000 to 74,000), including 2,000 Koreans and at least 100 POWs. After 1950, deaths attributed to radiation include about 35 leukaemia deaths, 175 other cancer deaths, and 85 non-cancer deaths. New cases of leukaemia peaked in 1952.


    On the day of the bombing, an estimated 348,000 people were in Hiroshima, including 265,000 Japanese residents, 20,000 Korean residents, 12,000 conscripted Japanese workers, 3,000 conscripted Korean workers, 48,000 Japanese soldiers, and a small number of prisoners of war. Casualty figures are uncertain, despite many surveys (some figures presented here are extrapolated from partial surveys). Among civilians, possibly 44,000 to 59,000 were killed the day of the bombing, with another 17,000 missing. Subsequent deaths include about 25,000 through the end of August 1945, 9,000 in September 1945, 2,000 in October-December 1945, and 2,500 in 1946. Many of these subsequent deaths involved radiation injuries. Deaths among survivors after 1946 include greater fractions from natural causes. Less information is available regarding military fatalites, but at least 9,000 soldiers died through the end of 1946. The estimated 130,000 fatalities to 1950 include about 111,000 Japanese civilians, 12,000 Japanese soldiers, and 6,500 Koreans. After 1950, deaths attributed to radiation include about 60 leukaemia deaths, 300 other cancer deaths, and 145 non-cancer deaths. New cases of leukaemia peaked in 1951.

    Those injured in the bombing numbered (through August 1946) 30,500 severely injured and 48,600 slightly injured. These figures do not include a possible 7,000 injuries among military personnel. Of 2,160 medical personnel in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing, 1,980 were killed or injured. Emergency response was supported by the arrival of about 3,270 medical personnel from surrounding areas and other parts of Japan, along with another 2,910 relief workers. An additional 40,000 to 60,000 are registered as having entered Hiroshima shortly after the bombing. Survivor registries include 2,300 individuals exposed in utero. Studies suggest that excess miscarriages and fetal deaths numbered in the dozens, and excess infant deaths (for those exposed in utero) also in the dozens. About 45 cases of microcephaly are known among those exposed in utero, including at least 15 with mental retardation.

  • Starviking

    Why don’t you try to be clearer from the start?

    I suspect that it’s because you pretend to know things, and then keep going despite being corrected.

    On the subject of Japanese nuclear weapons, we went from never developing nukes at all, to they tried, to well, they didn’t use them…

    I guess 20 million Chinese deaths is less dishonorable than Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    And here’s a question for you, if Imperial Japan had a nuke – do you think they would have used it?

    As for the POW debate, you’re moving the goalposts again. A closer analogy would be Bavarian civilians, because, as I’ve told you many times: Korea was a part of Imperial Japan.

  • Starviking

    I’m sorry, I find your analogy confusing: you’re saying that uranium bombs are like Hiroshima, only killing tens of thousands of people – but modern plutonium weapons will be like Fukushima, so killing no one directly, but inflicting casualties on pensioners who have to evacuate?

    By the way, you do know the Nagasaki bomb was a plutonium one?

  • Kevin Breslin

    They didn’t have any nuclear weapons to use, or anything like weapon’s grade uranium. You’re not changing the goal posts, you’re calling the center circle the goal here.

    And as I said before China didn’t come begging to the UK or the USA looking for help. America let those 20 million Chinese die and got involved in the war when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. Germany killed far more Russian troops yet Team America didn’t Nuke Dresden.

    As for this nonsence about Korea being part of Japanese Empire is irrelevant to defining what a Prisioner of War is. What do you call prisioners of war in a civil war then? Apparently by your logic there is no such thing.

  • Starviking

    Jeepers! More erroneous statements to correct:

    And as I said before China didn’t come begging to the UK or the USA looking for help.

    And yet they got it: Financial actions against Japan, the setting up and supply of the Flying Tigers, the USAAF operating in China to strike Japanese forces there and in Kyuushu, Lend Lease supplies, training in India, and an aerial supply route over the Himalayas.

    America let those 20 million Chinese die and got involved in the war when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour.

    You think those casualties all occurred before Pearl Harbour? The US Pacific Fleet was at Pearl harbour because it was moved there to pressure Japan in the Sino-Japanese war – involvement. The Flying Tigers were set up with Roosevelt’s support in May 1940, 19 months before Pearl Harbour.

    Germany killed far more Russian troops yet Team America didn’t Nuke Dresden.

    The Nazis were defeated by the 8th of May 1945, and were a shambles long before then. The atomic bombs were available in August 1945.

    As for this nonsence about Korea being part of Japanese Empire is irrelevant to defining what a Prisioner of War is. What do you call prisioners of war in a civil war then? Apparently by your logic there is no such thing.

    Well, the Geneva Conventions cover POW status in international war, so civil war is a whole different thing. Are you suggesting the Korean and Chinese in Japan were imprisioned civil war combatants?

  • Starviking

    Wow, the Cold War is over? Amazing!

    By the way, nice try with the flip remark to cover that fact that you didn’t even comprehend what you were commenting on.

    The biggest nuclear threat to the UK are nuclear power plant, reprocessing plant or decommissioning failures, followed by French nuclear power plant, reprocessing plant or decommissioning failures.

    Ah, so not much threat from those at all.

  • Starviking

    Up to 1969 the UK system used the V-Bombers.

    After Polaris came online the UK bought all the equipment, and supported it in the UK. They made major upgrades to it themselves.

    The leased missiles are for Trident, and are part of the agreement. The British deterrent is operationally independent of the US, and an attempt by the US to cripple it would be a MAJOR DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT.

    IS that so hard to grasp?

  • Starviking

    Simply quoting from press releases crafted to optimise the positive spin on something is not really all that helpful

    It was to show that your claim that the US had gone over to a new system in 2001 was false.

    Going to your earlier quote from ION:

    “”The ESGs do require considerable more software development and processing, than previously associated with legacy gyroscopes, to accommodate compensation for their complex, but highly deterministic, drift and pickoff errors.””

    Deterministic means that the errors are not random, so the software can correct for them. GPS is not mentioned in the quote, and indeed was not operational during the time covered in the ION article.

    perhaps in the meanwhile you could clearly describe the technical difference between ESGN and the older RLG system

    Actually, given ION’s information on RLGs in USN attack subs, it is the ESGs which are older: 

    “The very large ring laser gyroscopes (RLGs) shown in these pictures were manufactured in about 1980 by the Honeywell Corporation. Designated the GG1389, they are about 8.9 inches on a side. These gyroscopes were proposed as part of a Navy exploratory development program aimed at providing a high accuracy strapdown inertial navigator for attack class submarines.”


    Technical differences? RLGs use interfering laser beams to measure rotation, ESGs use rotating spheres.

    the real issue still remains, how, with virtually every aspect of manufacture, maintenance and software for targeting and guidance of Trident controlled by the US is it in any way an independent deterrent?

    Because we can use it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Straviking, your reliance on others knowledge of technology in your answers has again succeeded in your producing a highly misleading assessment of the accuracy of ESGN.

    “Technical differences? RLGs use interfering laser beams to measure rotation, ESGs use rotating spheres.”

    You are simply describing the technical difference, not how this difference improves accuracy. You have not yet answered my question, so can you now explain exactly how just how ESGs offer more accuracy than RGS rather than simply repeating press release statements you do not appear to understand technically. While the ESGs “rotating spheres” are held in vacuum which lessens to a degree the inertia shift in the laser system of of RLGs both suffer from serious drift which is exactly why the GPS system is used to constantly correct them, which IS the software correction of ESG that is referred to. Between corrections the software simply assesses probably drift as a stopgap. Left without the GPS link a steady drift sets in and the system develops the inaccuracies I’ve mentioned that were acceptable for Polaris but with the smaller payloads of Trident become crippling to its effective use.

    The reason that FOG systems are coming into use is specifically because they have no moving parts and therefore do not experience inertial resistance to movement. Their increased reliability has ensured that they are the preferred system used for high performance space applications nowadays. I have it anecdotally (from US based friends) that they are replacing ESGs for Trident, which I think highly likely as they are so much more accurate a backup. I’m surprised that this is nowhere on the net, but then so much information on the internet is old and inaccurate, as your references appear to show.

    Regarding the points I raised about our subservience to the US in every aspect of leasing and use of Trident you simply answer:

    “Because we can use it.”

    And I can use an old broken down car to sit in, but it will not take me anywhere. Without access to GPs, without the upgrades in software, without constant maintenance which is still US controlled even in UK yards and from UK based companies, the system degrades rapidly. Its built that way to ensure ongoing profit for the US companies who lease it to us. An genuinely independent system would be something we firstly owned ourselves, and secondly controlled the pipeline of supply for. I cannot see why these simple facts are not obvious to you. Trident is simply a leased system that client state (ourselves) of the US pays for, that can only really be used in a context of support for US foreign policy. Ever since the Suez crisis the requirements of the US for a subservient UK foreign policy have been evident to those not blind eyeing the political realities. You may feel that playing with the big boys toys offers Britain some status in the world, but any attempt to take the toys home for our private games will incur a serious slapping.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Starviking, “The British deterrent is operationally independent of the US, and an attempt by the US to cripple it would be a MAJOR DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT.”

    Have you ever come across the Suez crisis? And its not as if the US are not willing to precipitate major diplomatic incidents where there self interest is crossed in any way. The interests of the US always come very much first, and just how would Britain counter the US freezing out or blocking their “independent” use of Trident with the numerous fail-safe systems they can use to do this? Declare war on the US?

    And we’ve been exchanging many words about just how operationally independent a system actually is that relies entirely on US controlled software, equipment and maintenance . Nothing you have yet said there has touched the issues of how independent any system that relies entirely on things outside of their control can ever be considered to be. Without the corrections of an entirely US controlled GPS link the missile ceases to be a “guided missile”. This describes a condition of complete dependance in my estimation. It can be launched, it simply cannot use the software that ensures that pin point accuracy that the weapon has now been modified to require without access to entirely US controlled GPS! I supose we could always dust of the elderly Avro Vulcan on display at Hendon and try and drop the warheads on their targets………….

  • Carlos Fleming

    Nuclear weapons are truely sickening weapons. But Human history as far back as you want to go is characterised by war between nations and countries. Then as soon as the nuclear weapons were created it all stopped (with the notable exception of African nations). I find it difficult to accept that this is a coincidence. Human nature hasn’t changed in the past 100 years or million years only the weaponry has changed.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nothing I said was an error, and nothing you said was a correction.

    Firstly any altruism on America’s part to China was simply an economic way of fighting the war. They’ve done the same to General Pinochet, Osama bin Laden and various dictators and terrorists.

    Germany had a far bigger war machine than Japan but was defeated by conventional force. The deaths in Japan were merely a power play, thinking it would take generations for the USSR to develop anything like them and by then the U.S. would have something bigger.

    There was two effective military tactics effective in reducing Soviet and Chinese nuclear weapon development … diplomacy and reducing its own nuclear capabilities. We have gung ho American Republican Presidential candidates who enjoy nuclear war who’d like to escalate nuclear activity by any excuse.

    To call these weapons a “deterant” is an insult, it’s just a propaganda term they are nothing but a global nuclear stimulus package. Poor countries like India, Pakistan and North Korea developing them wasn’t part of the plan.

    Nuclear stimulus was a nice idea to bomb Japan to justify the Manhatten Project’s budget, but there is absolutely no valid arguement that they deter anything, just correlation is causation arguements. All the nuclear powers know they don’t deter anything.

    There is a naive belief that another Cold War would stop Daesh, or fix the Ukranian situation. Nuclear escalation didn’t help Korea, didn’t help Vietnam, didn’t help Afghanistan and even when the West lied about Iraq having nuclear weapons they didn’t use nukes … The belief that they are going to bring peace to Ukraine or Iraq and the Levant is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

    Now you don’t need to be a physicist to call that insanity, but it helps.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And nuclear warheads today have larger payloads, always using plutonium. Fukushima is a 40 year multi-billion dollar cleanup environmental disaster involving everything from concreting the seafloor around the plants to expensive water treatment processes. Plutonium stay radioactive 10 times longer than Uranium. The key word is legacy.

    That should give you a small sense of HMS Valiant or HMS Victory going off in Fasslane or the North Sea would need to be managed… Concrete, Water filtration., potassium iodine tablets. The Japanese were somewhat prepared for Fuikishima, I doubt the UK is as prepared in terms of emergency response for either a localised nuclear attack or localised nuclear disaster. The only response being invested in is the ability to nuke someone else.

    The fact that the UK is more prepared for Brezhnev having his finger on the botton, than the more feasible likelihood of terrorists attacking a British nuclear power plant or a disaster at Fasslane, tells us everything about the sick rich fantasists and fanatics who run the UK.

  • Kevin Breslin

    South Africa developed nuclear weapons but stopped.

  • I think if Kevin were any more brain dead, you’d have to communicate via ouija board.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Just a final point about how the guidance system actually functions, Starviking: “The Trident II D5 guidance system is a stellar-aided inertial system composed of precision gyroscopes, accelerometers, a stellar tracker, and computer. The guidance system directs the missile on a rectified trajectory counterbalancing for submarine’s awkward position, in-flight effects and internal guidance calibratable parameters, upon launch of the missile.

    The guidance system works as the reference for maintaining missile stability and activating the reentry body separation for a ballistic trajectory.”

    As the final paragraph shows the missile software continues to be linked to the guidance system through its flight, with the all important “re-entry body separation for a ballistic trajectory” requiring GPS for pin point accuracy. The ability to launch the missile without access to aiming modifications provided externally by the US controlled GPS means that the accuracy of the system is grossly degraded. Hardly “independent”.

    Quote from:

  • Carlos Fleming

    Cool story,

  • Starviking

    Thanks for the support atomikrabbit, but I have to give you a heads-up on this site’s comments policy: no direct insults.

  • Starviking

    Fukushima is a 40 year multi-billion dollar cleanup environmental
    disaster involving everything from concreting the seafloor around the
    plants to expensive water treatment processes.

    Not the seafloor around the plants – the seafloor in the port. Finished as of April this year.


    As for the water treatment, it is working.

    As for it being an environmental disaster – not much sign of that.

    Plutonium stay
    radioactive 10 times longer than Uranium. The key word is legacy.

    Really? The longest half-life of the Uranium isotopes is that of U238, at 4.468×10 to the 9 years. The longest-lived Plutonium isotope is Pu244, at 8.08×10 to the 7 years.

    Your statement is not only wrong in direction, but magnitude.

    You also do not seem to realise that isotopes with long half-lives aren’t very radioactive.

    That should give you a small sense of HMS Valiant or HMS Victory going
    off in Fasslane or the North Sea would need to be managed… Concrete,
    Water filtration., potassium iodine tablets.

    And how would that occur? Warheads are not armed in port.

    And as for the remediation needed if the laws of physics were suspended, concreting and water filtration are required for Fukushima because there is groundwater flowing through the plant. As for Potassium Iodate, controls on dairy produce would be the most effective path to take.

    The Japanese were somewhat prepared for Fuikishima

    No they were not. Anyone with any kind of understanding of what happened would know that. The plants didn’t even have hydrogen recombiners, and the emergency power was located in the basement. In their defence, it was a once-in-a-thousand years event.

    Most UK Nuclear Power Plants don’t have hydrogen recombiner either – do you know why?

    than the more feasible likelihood of terrorists attacking a British
    nuclear power plant or a disaster at Fasslane, tells us everything about
    the sick rich fantasists and fanatics who run the UK.

    It tells more about people who have no understanding of geopolitics or technical matters.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think they need to concrete both the ports and the plants … The UK is repeatably concreting over its own decommissioned nuclear power plants, Chernoybl has to have a whole physical barrier put around it.

    Of course if the weapons and plants used the stable isotopes of the elements there wouldn’t be much point. These are isotopes generated by neutron bombardment. Plutonium-240 is around 10 times more uranium-237 and because it decays into an unstable isotope of uranium, the legacy of the radioactivity continues. It’s only when the decay goes to something stable like say lead that the radioactivity falls to safe levels. Thanks for the correction.

    As for understanding of geopolitics, I have asked you several times what selfish, strategic and economic interest Russia would have for an aggressive strike on Europe? The only reason Russia has nuclear weapons is the American threat, and the only global catastrophe that Russia had any involvement in was a civilian nuclear power plant near the Ukraine-Belarus border.

    The governments of the Americans and Russians and United Kingdom are slaves to vested corporate interests who create these weapons in the cheapest and most profitable manner they can get away with.

    Even Russia’s at it.

    The “Geopolitics” these corporations use, would have Russia threatening nuclear war on Ukraine so Russian-Ukrainians would have a country they’d not want to live in. To bomb precious customers in Europe if they want to get involved? I wouldn’t trust a single nuclear weapon on this planet to work the way its supposed to, if at all.

    The real “deterrent” here is that Any government using a nuclear weapon will blow this scandal open. It does help that there are a lot of knowing idiots in the Democrats, the Republicans, Labour, Conservatives and French, Russian and Chinese politics to play along.

    Why else would the UK and France want Chinese and Russian investment, if there is still a “Trident necessary threat” posed by both or either of these countries?

    It’s not an economic leverage angle because the Chinese can spend and have spent more on a nuclear power plant in Myanmar/Burma.

    Nuclear weapons are nothing but a corporate scam, allowing rich American companies and Russian oligarchs in mining and electricity generation to get large sums of public money and international markets access. Considerably more nuclear physicists end up in energy in comparison to the next to none used in defense.

    If Trident didn’t exist the UK would be a richer and safer country.

    There are hundreds of countries that don’t have nuclear weapons who don’t get nuked. Look at Saudi Arabia for example. How did it get rich without using nuclear weapons to protect itself?

  • Anaximandrecles

    Don’t waste your time. He’s going off on unrelated tangents. Totally lost the plot.

  • Anaximandrecles

    Yeah, the more I read the more skeptical I am of his maths and physics degree.

  • Anaximandrecles

    In other words, you’re wrong.

  • Anaximandrecles

    Swivel-eyed mutterings

  • Starviking

    Sorry for the late response, holidays and back-to-work rush.

    You are confusing the guidance system for the submarine – which must know where it is to provide a starting reference for the missile – with the guidance system on the missile – which needs to check that it is on the right track.

    The webpage you reference is not particularly clear, and does not explicitly make a distinction between the two.

    Here are some excerpts from the Global Security page on the Trident D-5 Missile:

    The post-boost flight of the C4 and D5 ES and reentry vehicle releases are different. With C4, upon completion of the TS rocket motor burn and separation, the PBCS positions the ES, which is maneuvered in space to permit the guidance system to conduct its stellar sightings. Guidance then determines any flight trajectory errors and issues corrections to the ES flight path in preparation for reentry vehicle deployment.

    In the case of D5, the ES uses its PBCS to maneuver for stellar sighting; this enables the guidance system to update the original inertial guidance as received from the SSBN. The flight control system responding to guidance reorientates the D5 ES and enters a high-thrust mode.


  • Starviking

    Suez is a very interesting episode in history, but it was not just the US, but most of the international community who opposed the Anglo-French operation. There was also considerable discord in the UK over it.

    It lead the way for France to take a more independent role in the world, and despite the US response, two years later the US was sharing its nuclear secrets with the UK.

    The US unilaterally withdrawing support for UK Trident would lead to a response more like the French after Suez.

  • Starviking

    Seaan, relying on the knowledge of others is nothing to be ashamed of: that’s why academic and technical papers have reference sections.

    The ability to process and understand the knowledge of others is a key skill, and one I possess in certain fields of science and engineering. Just as important is knowing when understanding is lacking, it is also a skill I have.

    If you search for information on the accuracy of Inertial Guidance Systems, you can find information like this:

    The best mechanical gyroscope is still in the 10−6°/h level, while the best optical gyroscope is in the 10−4°/h level.

    Gyroscopes are one of the key sensors for Inertial Navigation Systems (INSs), and are used widely for underwater robots, cars, airplanes, satellites, etc. .The Global Position System (GPS) can
    provide high accurate position information and is used everywhere in our daily life, but GPS cannot be used for underwater and indoor navigation. Meanwhile, GPS signals are easily disturbed, so GPS
    based navigation systems cannot work alone in some situations such as navigation for airplanes

    The above from “Advances in Atomic Gyroscopes: A View from Inertial Navigation Applications” by Fang and Qin at

    And this, from “Navigation sensors and systems in GNSS degraded and denied environments”, by George Schmidt

    Position, velocity, and timing (PVT) signals from the Global Positioning System (GPS) are used throughout the world but the availability and reliability of these signals in all environments has become a subject of concern for both civilian and military applications. This presentation summarizes recent advances in navigation sensor technology, including GPS, inertial, and other navigation aids that address these concerns.

    GPS can be Jammed.

    I also include Figure 5 from that paper, titled “Current gyro technology applications” Note the most stable and accurate gyros are the mechanical ones for subs and self-aligning strategic missiles.

    That’s a 2015 paper, and is available at:

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you for getting back to me Starviking. I had a research trip that would have interfered with my own responses anyway, but hope you had a revivifying holiday. However, the link you offer relies on subscription (“in order to keep reading”) so I’m quite unable to check out the entire article. However, my understanding of the situation, as described to me by someone who is a high flyer at Cisco and a computer systems expert. is that the back up systems are currently entirely reliant on the GPS rectifications. Anyway, how the in-flight computer may modify positioning from stellar sitings is entirely academic as there is constant contact between those US based computers that mediate the GPS to the flying missile through its software, and it does not defy understanding that the traffic of information could permit the US based computers to interfere with the flight trajectory.

    But thank you for the time and trouble you are taking to seriously discuss this important issue and to inform both myself and the other readers.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, Starviking, “The US unilaterally withdrawing support for UK Trident would lead to a response more like the French after Suez.” something most devoutly to be wished for, especially if it led to a more realistic assessment of what Britain may actually have to offer a world where the “battleship” mentality of an “independent nuclear deterrent” has become rather anachronistic.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Starviking, “relying on the knowledge of others is nothing to be ashamed of”, I entirely agree with, but you are ignoring the all important qualification I’m making, that “your reliance on others knowledge of technology in your answers has again succeeded in your producing a highly misleading assessment of the accuracy of ESGN”.

    The important thing is that even scientific papers are not entirely objective, despite the accepted fiction that they are, rooted in the perfectly honourable effort to strive for high standards of objective accuracy. Because physics and engineering (just to mention two things relevant here) quickly show bias or inaccuracy in practical application, they tend to offer a higher standard perhaps than my own field, history, where as F.S.L. Lyons notably said, since the discovery of unconscious motive, few of us would have the effrontery to claim utter objectivity. But it is notable that even so papers tend to misrepresent on issues such as gyro accuracy, where successfully presented research may mean ulcerative contracts from the military. this has always been the case. Perhaps you have not encountered the way that those irking with technology within the forces speak about the credibility gap between claims and performance.

    I have family who sail in the Pacific and find that the combination of GPS and gyro back up systems works for their needs, and I imagine that the current Trident back up gyro guidance is rather more sophisticated, but I still feel that it would be inadequate for the pin-point accuracy that the smaller payloads of Trident war heads require, although the all important feature would be electromagnetic pulse, in order to pull down electronic systems, something that the lack of pin point accuracy would not interfere with. But not something that would be 100% successful against, say, Russia, who have retained older electrical valve using systems of radio communication alongside modern technology specifically to avert this weakness.

    However, for Trident, the real issue is that the use of US based GPS ensures a constant link between the local computer that manages the flight pattern and US home based computers that can probably interfere with guidance software systems leased from them in the first place. Are you entirely certain that in a war situation where we had to deploy Trident against the US, say, this would not be the case?

  • Starviking

    I don’t think it is credible that so many scientific or technical papers could be biased on the matter of gyro accuracy. Where are the papers that show the true case? Where are the physicists claiming the papers are breaking the laws of physics?

    The smaller warheads of Trident (100 kT vs. 200kT in Polaris) are still devastating. Military equipment is hardened against EMP too.

    GPS is something used by a sub to get a position fix – it’s nice to have, but a sub has to approach the surface to use it. If you want to use your 100kT warheads to hit hardened targets, like missile silos, I would think it would be very useful – but not essential for deterrent. I would hazard a guess, that in most scenarios where the use of Trident by the US or UK would be considered, there would not be many operating GPS satellites in the sky at all.

    GPS also operates by transmitting continuously from the satellites – there is no link to US-based computers required.

    If there was a situation where the UK needed to threaten to use it’s deterrent unilaterally, and the US “turned off”* the GPS constellation, traditional stellar fixes could be used to establish location, with the Trident missile star tracker providing course corrections for fired missile. GPS is not used in this.

    *If it could be done at all. The US relies on GPS itself, and any switching off of the satellites always brings the danger that they might not switch back on as expected. The US, and other, use GPS jamming in situations where they need to degrade an adversary’s navigation.

  • Starviking

    Personally, I think it would cause large strains in the NATO Alliance, and that is something I think would be very destabilizing.

  • Starviking

    The link pop-up disappears if you hit backspace, at least on my machine. I’ll provide other links.

    Page 2 of this US Government Accounting Office report has an overview of the guidance of the Trident Subs and Missiles. No mention of GPS on the missile, but mention of star trackers.

    This webpage below also has information on the guidance system of the missile, and again, no mention of GPS on the missile.

    Page 205 of this report below goes into the advantages of star trackers:

    The Introduction section of this paper below gives a brief statement on the advantages of using star tracking to update inertial navigation systems:

    You might want to also pass the links on to your Cisco contact.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Starviking for taking all this trouble to scan the internet for information. The problem remains, where does all this information originate? Usually form the papers of those with a stake in its success, many of the researchers working for the companies that will go on to market the product. With journal articles the information sources wills seldom be from original research but from the press releases of the companies who have the information, i.e.: those developing the product. I do not see anything here I would not wish to question, and will stick to “The Cisco Kid”, one of these people who first developed the Cisco brand and someone I’ve not had cause to doubt on any other issue. Having had too much direct contact with marketing in my career has made me leery of all claims where serious money and government contracts are involved

    But I’ll check out those articles I’d still have to pay to view that you link to above at the McClay perhaps.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “GPS also operates by transmitting continuously from the satellites – there is no link to US-based computers required.”

    You are still not getting this at all, Starviking. Have you ever used “the cloud”, or software that has constant link? For example, how does a company like McAfee or Kaspersky monitor your computer for malware? The on ship computers and the in flight rocket computers have such links, so that any software failure can be remotely corrected, or the missile even taken over in a catastrophic software collapse. The GPS guidance (and the other guidance systems) are managed by this software even if the missile directly picks up their signal. This software issue, rather than the argument we are having about gyro accuracy and suchlike, is the real issue. The software is recognised as vulnerable to control from outside, but as this is by the leasing power, it is perfectly a acceptable part of the arrangement. But it drives a coach and horses through any suggestion that we have a deterrent that is other than an auxiliary system to the main US deterrent. It’s like a Masareti sports car on a lease agreement, while the lessee gets to show off to the impressionable, the real owner who holds title can claim the car back if the rigid contract is in any way infringed.

  • Starviking


    I think we can discount ballistic missiles subs and their missiles having a constant link to software updaters for the following reasons:

    The subs try and stay far from detection, deep and silent. This means that the only way they can normally stay in communication is by trailing a long antenna which can only receive, not transmit VLF radio transmission. These transmissions only have a low bit rate, and are used for text communications. Software updates would be difficult, as the sub could not respond to the external signal, and the update time would be very long. There would also be the need to ensure that a false update was not being sent.

    The missile itself faces the same restrictions in the sub, and out of the sub faces the problem that it is moving, requiring a radio signal (still not great for bit rates) for an update, and moving so fast that it will get out of range of a given broadcast quite quickly – that’s if it is in a position to receive anything, these subs do not stay close to land. There is also the problem that the sub faces – what if a false update is being sent? Anyhow, the missile is going to be in flight for tens of minutes – why would anyone build in a software update capability to cover that length of time.

    Then again, why do they need software updates? We need them for our PC anti-viruses because our systems can be updated and changed easily: they are mutable. Submarines and missiles, on the other hand, are built to achieve fixed goals – they don’t have to be able to accept new software on the fly. They also aren’t in constant communication with a world wide web of computers. The sub doesn’t need the MS Office Patch 12345x vitally, nor does the missile need them.

    From a scientific, technical and operational point of view – broadcast software updates to missile subs and their missiles make no sense.

  • Starviking

    They are diverse links – GAO, people working on the Trident guidance system, a report from the US Office of Technology Assessment, and a peer-reviewed paper.

    I have also posted links to other peer-reviewed papers

    Only one of those links is from someone developing the product, and two of the links are from the GAO and OTA – people who seek to assess procurement and technologies.

    Whatever you think about peer-reviewed papers, if they seek to reverse well-known physical principles they and their authors will be challenged. I have found no challenges to those papers.

    Also, journal papers are absolutely not from press releases, but from data collected by the researchers, which build on previous work reported in the scientific literature.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Coming from an army family, I have little problem seeing how the software situation makes no military sense, but that is not why it is mandatory within the system. It is the very issue of US control of the missiles, not for any operational purpose, although the to and fro of “save and backup” the system seems to require can be offered as a reason. But you are ignoring the move to centralised control of every aspect of warfare that the use of drones is but one example of. The sophistication of modern communications systems has permitted the high command and their political masters to have fingertip control of the big toys for the first time in history.

    Like the stories about Jimmy Saville and young kids I heard working in the media in the 1980s, the knowledge of how every modern weapon system is now affected by computer linking is well known through the west coast computer world from Santa Clara to Seattle. You are forgetting that once surfaced the missiles are open to signals from satellites, used to bounce any message to them in flight. I’d imagine that their rectification software is entirely controlled thus, as the sub is unable to qualify any fault, being underwater and out of easy transmission, as you say.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Starviking, are you seriously telling me that the links you are posting are all from “data collected by the researchers, which build on previous work reported in the scientific literature.”

    Most look like cheer leader magazine articles rather the from academic journals, although I note at least one princeton digest. Certainly you have posted on for two links that flag research by the writer, but this appears to be in the context of funded research by parent companies developing the object of the research. Most are still clearly the fruit of a scientific journalist working from press releases to the science press, or direct description of product. Others reading can easily assess this for themselves, now they are alerted to this.

    Very little “pure” research is now done in any field where what is being examined has any commercial application. This really needs to be fully taken into account when offering such sites as evidence of anything whatsoever.

    I will stick to my scepticism.

  • Starviking

    Sorry, the missiles and sub control systems are well-known systems. I cannot see how they would have the need for software updates to be beamed to nuclear missiles in flight to deliver the apocaypse.

    The satellites to perform that task would have to be capable of beaming high-bandwidth to the missile, would need to be capable of tracking the missiles, and would also probably need to be able to receive confirmation from the missile.

    Considering how many missiles would be in flight, that would mean multiple steerable antennas. It would also mean infrared telescopes to detect launches, and optical telescopes to detect the missiles.

    That’s a lot of cash.

    Considering how the enemy would like to stop such a response, they might also be targeting the satellites, or using their own to send incorrect information to the warheads.

    That’s a lot of vulnerable cash.

    And all this just in case they need to update the software just before the apocalypse? I find that silly, considering this is a well-tested system.

    As for drones being an example of centralized control spreading – that is a non-sequitor – drones need centralized control because of their concept – with our technology and legal requirements there could be no other way to make them work.

  • Starviking

    “Starviking, are you seriously telling me that the links you are posting are all from “data collected by the researchers, which build on previous work reported in the scientific literature.””

    You left out the part where I was referring to journals. I could look for more, but you’ve also previously disregarded other peer-reviewed papers on the issue of iFOGs – so why bother?

    Most look like cheer-leader magazine articles? One academic paper, a report from a government agency (Office of Technology Assessment, Princeton excerpted from them), a communication from another government agency, and ONE article from an technical engineering journal website.

    I think the only way you could possibly be convinced would be if your friend from Cisco commented in my favour, and that is unlikely to occur for many reasons.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, Starviking, you are entirely on the wrong track. The whole point is that the missile software is linked to the submarine control system which in turn is linked to the . Interference through the in flight software occurs in the same manner that malware takes control of a computers operating system, and is a final failsafe for primary US control of trident, without which, as suggested before, it could be used against the US mainland. Of course there is no need whatsoever to send “software update” the missiles in flight but the guidance correction links offer an in for a centralised system to engage with the missiles software. The real silliness here is to believe that the US would offer another power full control of one of their powerful weapon systems without reserving final control of its deployment through the ability to interfere in any genuinely independent action by Britain.

    You are still hung up on the publicly declared legitimate purpose of the software, but this is not the way these things work at all. Trident’s systems are in the final analysis controlled by its actual owners, the US, and the notion that it is in any manner independent is as much a “smoke and mirrors” deception as the current Fiscal Charter which absurdly suggests that it can control the actions of future administrations.

    Oh, and regarding the centralisation issue, the fact that drones have shown how much control may be exerted centrally has opened the way for a dramatic increase of computer based centralisation of control of all systems. Can you really imagine any military that is entirely happy with the chaotic nature of personal initiative, no matter how often this has been shown (as with our own Blair Mayne, for example) to be the very essence of success.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And you are genuinely expecting these government sources to offer the public an entirely objective assessment of something they are spending a great deal of public money on warts and all? I’ve already mentioned my distrust of simply using the term “academic paper” as some five star proof of objectivity, something well borne out by that particular paper.

    Regarding my characterisations of these assessments as “cheer leader”, I leave it to others to evaluate this, in the light of their own critical faculties. I realise you are seemingly desperate to believe that Britain is still a world player who controls an independent nuclear deterrent, but this is simply not the case in the real world. We are simply “federates” to the “American Empire” (not mine, Gore Vidal’s description), permitted to use this particular “Catapulta” against enemies of the United States only, and the leased Trident system has been crafted to ensure end control by the US through satellite and computer links. You really would not expect anything less were you viewing this as a US citizen, rather than from a British perspective.