The dummies guide to the UK’s nuclear deterrent aka “Trident”

In this post, I present the A-Z guide for the UK’s nuclear deterrent, colloquially and erroneously called “Trident”.

A is for Atom. The Atom and the splitting on the atom is needed for two vital parts: First, to create the nuclear reaction for the reactor plant of the SSBN (the ballistic missile submarine that carries the missiles which carry the warheads) and second, the nuclear reaction that occurs in order to classify the warheads (and missiles) as nuclear-related weapons or if you like, weapons of mass destruction. A is also for Atomic Weapons Establishment, the facility in Aldermaston where UK nuclear warheads are built.

B is for Boat. A Submarine is a submarine, but the sailors and military people, call it a “boat”, NOT a ship. This is a common mistake in fiction novels and movies.

C is for Continuous-at-sea-Deterrence (CASD). CASD is not unique to the UK; The US, France Russia (to some degree) and now China, and India and possibly Pakistan (but not yet for North Korea) maintain SSBNs that patrol 24/7/365. The major difference between the UK and others is that only ONE, yes, ONE SSBN is on patrol 24/7/365. The three others are on training, maintenance or ready to deploy. This is because there are at maximum FOUR UK SSBNs and only four to maintain the “minimum credible deterrent.” C is also for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the full anti-nuclear weapons, anti-war, anti-military movement.

D is for Disarmament. The UK supposedly maintains its SSBNs but works to create multilateral disarmament. There have been a range of global nuclear disarmament talks such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty(ies) (which the UK was not a partner of) and recently, the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (not that such a topic is needed–everyone should know what a nuclear–fission or fusion–explosion would do). “Multilateral Disarmament” is just one means of reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles; there is unilateral disarmament, which some politicians advocate.

E is for Project E, a previous UK-US agreement to provide RAF bombers with nuclear weapons. One of the first UK-US nuclear agreements. Google it.

F is for the Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent White Paper, published in 2006. It was one of the first post-Cold War UK government papers to advocate retaining an independent nuclear deterrent through to the 21st Century.

G is for the Guidance System
. I’m not exactly sure if the UK version is the same as the US version which uses an “astro-inertial guidance” system. Does this mean the UK’s nuclear deterrent is 100% independent of the US and others? See “I”.

H is for Operation Hurricane, the very first UK atom bomb test.

I is for Independence. The UK is the only P5 member of the United Nations Security Council not to have its own delivery system. The Trident II (D5) UGM-133A missiles are American-made and shared through a “joint pool” with the US. The warheads (see W and A) are UK-built. With the missiles US-made, many claim the US “controls” the UK’s nuclear deterrent and a UK Prime Minister is unable to even set the launch without a US Presidential approval. Opponents say no, due to I, the UK has control over its missile launches. See this old FOIA release for how the UK’s weapons are independent.

J is for I guess, Justification for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent.

K is for Kiloton, the measurement in which some nuclear yields (see Y) is measured. The best public evidence on how large the tonnage for UK-built warheads in at least 100 kilotons.

L is for Legality. It is one of the major arguments for and against the UK having nuclear weapons or a nuclear deterrent. L is also for the Letters of Last Resort, the dreaded letter a British Prime Minister has to write when entering office. It tells the SSBN commander what to do if the UK has been nuked and Command and Control is limited or lost.

M is for the Ministry of Defence, where the full super Top Secret nuclear deterrence and launch scenarios are held. M is also for Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which is what nuclear deterrence is (if you hold that view.)

N is for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows the UK to be a nuclear weapon state and this may be considered as legality for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent. It also may cause question about the UK’s status and role, since it called for nuclear disarmament. N is also for Northwood where CTF 345 personnel will receive the order from the PM (and his team, UK doesn’t officially say if it has a two-man rule at that level) for strategic missile launch.

O is for Operational Control, again related to Independence. As stated in the FOIA states, UK and US and French nuclear weapons are assigned for NATO security. This was supposedly stopped after 1992 (see this evidence and this/a>).

P is for Polaris, the missile that came become Trident. Polaris is, as with Trident, erroneously referred to the whole UK nuclear deterrent. IT IS NOT. P is also for PINDAR, The top secret bunker beneath Whitehall where the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff would hide in during a nuclear crisis or attack and where they would issue the order for a UK strategic missile launch. Official name: Defence Crisis Management Centre (DCMC).

Q is for (yes) the Queen. Supposedly, according to Lord Guthrie, the Prime Minister of the day isn’t the final part of the fail-safe mechanism for nuclear missile launch. The Queen is the ultimate head of the armed forces and could stop a made PM from launching a nuclear missile or starting nuclear war.

R is for ROF Cardiff, a former nuclear weapons site. R is also for the Resolution-class submarine, which carried the Polaris missiles (see P).

S is for the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, which pledged to reduce the UK nuclear force to “ewer than 160 to no more than 120” warheads. (See page 38 of the 2010 SDSR). This was officially met on 20 January 2015. “All Vanguard Class SSBNs on continuous at-sea deterrent patrol now carry 40 nuclear warheads and no more than eight operational missiles”. S is also for Submariner, the personnel who man the SSBNs and who may lose their jobs if the whole system is scrapped.

T is for, of course, Trident. This as I stated, is the missile, NOT The entire nuclear deterrent!!! You can read about the whole missile here.

U is for Ulysses, an UK nuclear warhead. U is also for the 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement.

V is for Vanguard, the class of SSBN submarine which carries the Trident D5 missiles which carry the UK-made nuclear warheads. V is also for the V-Bomber force, which once carried nuclear gravity bombs.

W is for Warhead. As stated in K (kilton), the warhead is the main part of the whole system that delivers the thermonuclear explosion. The Submarine does not, the Trident missile just guides the warhead to the target. W is also for the WE.177 nuclear gravity bomb, which the UK had until it was removed it 1992 (Royal Navy depth charge) and 1998 (Royal Air Force). This removal is often hailed by politicians as the UK’s major unilateral disarmament, which no other nuclear power followed suit. Therefore, the UK still retained the submarine-launch nuclear deterrent.

X is for Weapon X, “an emergency capability ‘stop-gap’ laydown weapon intended to enable the Vulcan bomber force to operate at low-level for a few years, until the Royal Navy Polaris SLBM force became operational at the end of the 1960s.”

Y is for Yield, the nuclear yield.

Z is for Zodiac Mk3, another UK bomb.

NSS and SDSR 2015: My review of the military context

The National Security Review and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 has been published, rather late in the day but nevertheless published. One immediate difference from the 2010 reviews is that both the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) are combined together. That makes a big difference, but I’ll deal with the strategy part in a later post. First, the military (which forms the defence part):

The Royal Navy:

* Senior service in the NSS and SDSR 2015 stays almost as expected.
* Major ships in surface fleet stay at the small number of 19. But only eight/8 x Type 26 Global combat Ships will be ordered, the anti-submarine variant with Sonar 2087. Five more will appear later, but possibly more with a revised version for “General Purposes”. As many point out, this goes back to the original C1 and C2 variants. Would we thus get more than thirteen/13 type 26 frigates? What exactly will this GP variant be like? Will it have Mk41 Vertical Launch Silos (VLS)? Or are they copying my old idea?
* The graphic shows “up to 6 Patrol Vessels”. Batch 2 River-Class Frigates for sure, plus HMS Clyde, plus the two more that the document (page 31) that will be ordered. I suspect these two/2 additional vessels will also be Batch 2 River-Class? So goodbye to the Batch 1 Offshoere Patrol Vessels (OPV). All seems really good–These can help patrol the Caribbean to some extent and release Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels for other more pressing commitments. It well, also means the Scottish workers have more secured jobs for a while. Lucky them.
* No mention of other patrol vessels, especial the Gibraltar Squadron. Will there be any change?
* Only twelve/12 Mine-counter measure vessels are specified in the graphic, down from the fifteen/15 the Royal Navy has at present. No mention if these are the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) future variant, though they are likely to be. That’s ok but only if they can extend their reach to the present commitments–the MENA area–or possibly elsewhere.
* Goodbye HMS Ocean. No mention in the graphic or elsewhere. Instead, “We will enhance a Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier to support this amphibious capability.” That, as I and many others point out, is not a practical use of the QEC but well has to be.
* The LPDs and LSDs will stay, ok.
* No mention of the Point-Class Ro-Ros, but they will likely stay.
* No mention of the Merlin HM4/Mk4 variants, oh wait, they put that under the Army graphic. Typo or just saying it’s Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) controlled?
* Royal Marines with Arctic capability. Well, not exactly new; they have operated in Norway for a long time.
* Six/6 Fleet Tankers. Is this four/4 Tide-Class tankers plus the two/2 Wave-Class fuel and support tankers/support ships? Will the Wave-Class ships be replaced in the distant future? Ok, not a worry.
* Three/3 Fleet Solid Support Ships. At present it is RFA Fort Victoria, RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin. Will Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin be replaced by newer Solid Support Ships, again built in South Korea?
* No mention of a replacement for RFA Argus and RFA Diligence. So sad though you did say it it was to be considered. Liar.
* Likely or most likely no change in the number of Merlin HM2/MK2 ASW/ASAC helicopters. Which you know, means a tight Tailored Air Group (TAG). Boo…
*Type 45s may be part of a future Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).
* Not forgetting the Queen-Elizabeth Class Carriers. Still no confirmation how they will operate, especially with HMS Ocean going away. The TAG is questionable even with the 138 F-35B order which will arise only in the distant future. There are still questions regarding the order. For example, this report says “It means the UK will have 24 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft available on its two new aircraft carriers by 2023.” Does that mean 24 on one operational carrier or 24×2 = 48 on both carriers? Let’s take it as 24 on HMS Queen Elizabeth. What about the 138-24 others (besides OCU and OEU?) As Justin Bronk points out, could they be the A version?
* Of course, Successor-class, that is the SSBNs will be procured. The submarines that cannot do anything.

British Army:

* The Army 2020 model is no more; it is Army 2025. Instead of the austerity-linked but nice plan by General Sir Nicholas Carter (see this), the Army 2025 plan alters the Reaction and Adaptable Forces. Now there will be two/2 x Armoured Infantry (AI) Brigades, down from 3 from the original plan and a change from the typical division size. Wait, two/2 “Strike Brigades” that that could quickly deploy anywhere with independent logistical footprint.
* Strike Brigades?! They want to draw in the 589 Ajax (SCOUT SV) Brigades to form these brigades. But Ajax was to be for the original 3 AI brigades, not playing with a new fantasy fleet concept. What will these Strike Brigades consist of? Say one of the existing AIs and one brigade from the Adaptable Force (AF), maybe 7th Infantry Brigade. What else besides Ajax? Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) formerly UV, formerly FRES UV. Ok. But what else? How on earth are they independent in terms of logistics? And if you need to deploy a division, will the Strike Brigade (single) become a AI?
* A further question: What happens to the third Challenger 2 Armour regiment with these Strike Brigades? Will the disband/stay in suspended animation or will they be re-organised into the two other AI brigades? Good that Challenger 2 LEP will continue but well tank’s gun is outdated.
* Warrior CSP will continue–will all the six/6 Armoured Infantry battalions get the CTA 40mm gun?
* Upgraded helicopters–expected, nothing new.
* “Two innovative brigades comprising a mix of Regulars and specialist capabilities from the Reserves able to contribute to our strategic communications, tackle hybrid warfare and deliver better battlefield intelligence.” From the AF brigades? What will these be? MRV-P centred?
* 16 Air Assault Brigade stays but any change?
* Field Hospitals stay in the Joint Force (Command). See below.
* No mention of the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV).
* No mention of upgrades or replacement for the Defender planes or Gazelle.
* No core mention of MIV and MRV-P and other key projects that will replace soon to OSD assets.
* Of course, the magical 77th Brigade will remain as a soft-power enabler.
* Hey look, Commander Land Forces is now Commander Field Army. Great priority change.

The Royal Air Force

* It gains the most as it did in the 2010 SDSR. Junior Service wins.
* 20 “Protector” RPAS, basically MQ-9 Repear upgraded. Not new, announced before.
* Nine/9 PBoeing P-8 Poseidon, the expensive US MPA, to be based at RAF Lossiemouth. The usual cheers around, and it shows how incorrect Mark Hookham is. But 1) They wont appear instantly; 2) RAF and the Royal Navy have no air-launched Harpoons left so they can’t conduct ASuW 3) UK Stingray torpedoes and MK 11 depth charges need to be integrated onboard. Its “overland surveillance capability” is questionable.
* Amazingly, Sentinel R1, the formerly to-be-scrapped aircraft, will stay on “into the next decade”. Possibly they will help the P-8s or act as interim aircraft until the P-8s reach Full Operational Capability (FOC).
* They “el-cheapo: Shadow R1 will stay on until 2030. Really not bad for a propeller plane that could be taken up be Defender (theoretically). And the UK will get two more of them, bringing the total to eight.
* Sentry E-3 and the Rivet Joint (not Air Seeker!!!) stay on till 2035. Any upgrades darling?
* Hey, you didn’t want to keep the C-130s before. Hey! You are keeping 14 of the J models. Plus still aiming for 22 A400Ms plus just only 8 C-17ERs. Suddenly there’s the money to keep the C-130s? Ok, the Special Forces are really happy. More on that later…
* Along with the P-8s and keeping of Sentinel R1, you get this new drone that “will fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end”. As Beth Stevenson points out, it is likely to be the “Airbus Defence & Space Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellite”.
* T1 Typhoons to form additional 2 x Squadrons, but only around 12 planes each, down from the 13-15 as seen in FOIAs like this. It is yet to be seen where they will be based given that RAF Lossiemouth will be choked full of planes.
* F-35s as above. But with the great projected order, isn’t it time to given all light blues and all dark blues to Squadrons and dark blue FAA Squadrons?
* Voyager Fleet: You get Cameron Fore One or PM Force One. Save money, give prestige it works out well. But please UK, don’t abuse it.
* The Future UCAV research project with France will continue. Yay..

Joint Forces (Command):

* Special Forces will get the most high-tech equipment. But with a shrunken active force, you would (still) struggle to get enough people to operate this. More later…
* Will you even have enough reserve special forces personnel?
* Joint Force Command, particularly, PJHQ, will get more stars (my FOIA). With a shrunken force, don’t try a top-heavy leadership. Won’t sound out well with the lower ranks.
* Space Operations Centre–a mouthful. For non-military means as well?
* How much effort will be place on cyber, since it is a Tier One threat?

Larger questions:

* So much of the SDSR and NSS is on equipment. How about personnel shortfalls? Getting women and minorities into the armed forces is only one bit to gain strength. You won’t get enough personnel for these major high tech assets–the carriers, the surface ships, the submarines, the F-35s, the additional Typhoons, the Army units etc. Personnel shortages hasn’t but must be addressed.
* When will the new equipment and assets be ready?
* Buying Yank stuff. Do you have a plan if prices increase?
* Will you really spend 2% of GDP on Defence and ho much contingency money is there?
* Any plans to increase, not alter, the personnel size? Or will you make cuts to unit strengths? No use claiming to have a division-sized force when the companies or battalions are under-sized.
* Will the joint model between departments (not JFC), ie. DFID, FCO, improve?
* How much change will there be for this Joint Force 2025 between now and 2020?

Next up, reviewing the Strategy…

PS: Did I miss anything out?

From SDSR 2010 to 2015: The “positives”

Well the Conservatives are in full power and they will dominate the decision making for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). People of course will remember the Treasury-led 2010 SDSR which was more of a review to find monetary savings, not to instruct defence plans and to consider security threats. Inasmuch as it wasn’t really a review, the years after until 2015 saw several “positives” for UK defence assets and policies. Below is a (quite incomplete) list of UK defence procurement and initiatives that hae take place, due to the 2010 SDSR as well as the security threats subsequently.

Royal Navy/Royal Marines

* The creation of the annual COUGAR task force/the Response Force Task Group (RFTG)

See for example COUGAR 11

COUGAR 12

COUGAR 13

COUGAR 13

* The ordering of the four MARS Tankers (under the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA))

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

* The ordering of the Sea Venom and Martlet missiles

* The planning of the Type 26 Frigate

* Bringing both QECs into active serivce.

* Arming up to 4 x Type 45 Destroyers will Harpoon ASuW missiles

British Army

* Forming Army 2020

* Bringing Herrick Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR)s into core

* SCOUT SV planning and contract

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

Royal Air Force

* Planning and ordering of support aircraft such as the Voyager, A400M, Rivet Joint

* Typhoon enhancements

* Chinook JULIUS project

* The Taranis demonstrator/Unmanned Combat Aircraft (UCAV) project

Joint Forces

* The creation of Joint Forces Command (JFC)

Defence 

* Levene Reform (which resulted in the the creation of the JFC)

To be updated

The Royal Tank Regiment: Back in the CBRN game

NB: An edited version was published here: http://www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk/defence-news/british-armys-cbrn-capability . I thank defenceviewpoints for publishing the article.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review mentioned a clear role for the/a Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (CBRN) unit as part of the future high readiness force. Yet, on one of the lesser known impacts of this SDSR was that the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear Regiment (not the best link, do search the archive yourselves) would cease to be a joint unit. Instead, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment would transfer all CBRN authority/work/equipment to the Royal Air Force, specifically the RAF Regiment’s 27 Squadron. This was formally announced by the Royal Tank Regiment on 05 August 2011 and in the 2011 CBRN newsletter.

Personally, there is nothing wrong with shifting the CBRN role from a joint Army-RAF unit to just a RAF unit (27 Squadron is actually backed up by a RAF Reserve Regiment, 2623 (East Anglian). Together, they make up the “Defence CBRN Wing”, or 20 Wing RAF Regiment.) After all, 1 RTR was slated to merge with 2 RTR under the Army 2020 plan. It could be argued that this transfer out removed the key vehicle for CBRN, Fuchs, as seen in this House of Commons Written Question by MP Angus Robertson (Robertson loves to ask a heck load of defence-related questions as compared to front bench shadow ministers!) That would mean despite having the CBRN Wing, the CBRN capability might be reduced–one wonders which vehicles the wing used/uses now. However, Fuchs or no Fuchs, CBRN wasn’t exactly removed from the British Armed Forces, as so idiotic blogger suggested.

Fast forward to 2013/2014. The Royal Tank Regiment became the full RTR in August 2014. But before then, the Colonel-in-Chief issued this statement about the RTR’s structure:

We have therefore decided that, upon amalgamation, the three armoured squadrons in the Royal Tank Regiment will be known as AJAX, BADGER, and CYCLOPS. Command and Reconnaissance Squadron will be known as DREADNAUGHT, and Headquarters Squadron will be known as EGYPT. Should there be a future CBRN Area Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Squadron, it will be known as FALCON…Finally, I should take this opportunity to say something about the formation of the CBRN AS&R squadron. As I write this message, there is a strong possibility that the RTR will be invited to generate an additional squadron to meet this task, over and above our Type 56 Armoured Regiment role. But the Defence Board has not yet made a final decision, so the task may yet fail to materialise, or (less likely) could be given to some other unit to perform. I have been involved in a host of high levels discussions about this task, both as your Colonel Commandant and as a member of the Army Command Group. My position throughout has been that the Army and Defence need an AS&R capability, that the RTR has demonstrated the ability to provide it, and that we stand ready to do so again. My one proviso has been to say that it would not be sensible to double-hat this capability with that of an armoured sub-unit: it needs to be a squadron in its own right. Hopefully, we will know the outcome on this issue within the next few months.

(see the full news article.)

And then came another House of Commons Written Question, this time by MP Nicholas Soames. Minister Mark Francois replied with a hint:

Under the Army 2020 structure, the Royal Armoured Corps will be formed of 10 Regular Regiments made up of three Armoured Regiments, three Armoured Cavalry Regiments and three Light Cavalry Regiments with the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment continuing to support public duties and ceremonial commitments; four Reserve Regiments and one independent Regular squadron providing a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Area, Survey and Reconnaissance capability.

(see the full parliamentary reply.)

And true enough to the above statements, the British Army news release (above) stated that the new RTR would consist of “three Main Battle Tank squadrons (AJAX, BADGER, CYCLOPS), a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Area Survey and Reconnaissance squadron (FALCON), a Command and Reconnaissance squadron (DREADNAUGHT) and a Support squadron (EGYPT).” So in effect, the CBRN role is back under the British Army’s control again.

Several questions still remain. First, will this squadron be joined back with the RAF CBRN Wing or remain separate? The news release states that the RTR will be under “part of 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade and 8 Engineer Brigade.” We know from the old Army 2020 orbat that the RTR will be under 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade. But the report stated “8 Engineer Brigade”, a Force Troops Command unit. Could FALCON squadron be under 8 Engineer Brigade, and which unit specifically? Second, what vehicle(s) will FALCON squadron use? A quick search reveals that actually the Fuchs vehicle is “back”, unlike what then Minister Peter Luff said. So could they be back on Fuchs? The Fuchs vehicle is ageing and will need a replacement. Perhaps a version of the SCOUT SV/PMRS? Third, and back to structures, how will FALCON squadron operate? Will it be part of the capacity building part of Army 2020? Will it remain under Land Command or come under Joint Forces Command? These questions still linger as we welcome the RTR back into the CBRN game.

Note: To correct the silly mainstream media reports, the British Army is NOT “reduced to a single tank regiment” (I dont want to hyperlink the media sites) Army 2020 plans (see my ORBAT or the British Army Orbat), states that there will be 3 Type 56 Challenger 2 Regiments–The Royal Tank Regiment (as above), the Queens Royal Hussars and the King’s Royal Hussars. These will be backed up by a single Yeomanry regiment (Army Reserve), the Royal Wessex Yeomanry. Understand this!